Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spanish thoughts

We are in the small fishing village of Cudillero, on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain, a week into our trip. This region of Galicia is among the rainiest in the country, and its coolish, damp, seaside character contrasts dramatically with the rest of the Iberian peninsula, which is either drier and rockier, or warmer and more Mediterranean. This land is green and gray, with steep ocean cliffs and soft hills covered with grasses, shrubs, and trees reminiscent of the northern California coast. Eucalyptus trees, for example, are everywhere, with their tall straight trunks dripping strips of bark and their pungent, peppery scent. Streams run down to the ocean, and river deltas open out into lovely clean beaches. There is very little population pressure here, and the Atlantic stretches westward into the unknown.

It is hard to imagine a landscape that would provide more contrast to the sandstone cliffs and mesas of the American Southwest. The pinks, oranges, and sages of the latter are completely absent, and there is scarcely a straight line to be seen other than the western horizon, which at home is generally not straight. The smaller patterns and palettes that present themselves are more complex, and somehow more mysterious, than at home: gone is the cleanliness and honesty of the arid desert. Swirls of moss and shadows of pitted granite; nuances of green deepening to black; glossy slate shingles in deep blues, rusts, grays. On a less tangible level, this land has been inhabited since pre-Neolithic times and has a traceable history that reaches much farther back than in the New World. That, plus the strongly Celtic cultural heritage (another contrast to the Latin character of the other side of the country) lend a completely different aura to being here.

Had I time and materials, I would settle in for a week or two of painting, to see what it would be like to transform my reactions to this place onto canvas. I'd like to see what would happen, and what the process would be like; and whether and how it would differ from my work at home. Just the palette and the marks would be so different. I am going to try to retain these nonverbal memories in some mental place where I can access them at home, and see if I can resist the local environment there long enough to record some of these impressions.  Maybe the Colorado Plateau isn't my only muse; perhaps I can use my senses and my skills to record other places and times.

The first photo above was take from the train, and shows a bit of reflection from the window, but it also gives a sense of the coast south of here. The second photo is of some of the ancient rock that is at the base of all the vegetation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Part of my activity in the weeks since the Telluride workshop has been to clear out space in my studio. Most of this was the usual semiannual clean-up of accumulated stuff of no real value, and the organization of what remained. (The space is almost too clean at the moment, but I know that is only temporary!) I went a little farther, though, than in the past. I wanted to create a space whose openness reflects and enhances the receptivity that I seek in myself as I paint. I also wanted it to reflect the present clarity of purpose and mind, and the new connection with values and priorities, that are pulling me forward in my life. I got rid of more "stuff" than in the past -- a whole box of interesting, now very dusty bottles that I had accumulated over the years, for example. I also put a new shelf along the south side of the room above the windows, to hold the smaller paintings-in-process that need space to dry but also need to be accessible. This freed up counter space and made the whole room seem larger, oddly enough. The photo above shows the new addition.

By getting rid of a lot of detritus, the purpose of the room seems clearer. For whatever reason, it is a more welcoming space now, a space that encourages immersion into the painting process. My tools and materials are more easily at hand, and my notes to myself are  pinned to the bulletin board for easy consideration. Also, I threw away a lot of old work, keeping only a very few pieces that still seem to speak in a relevant way. A large step was getting rid of drawings and exercises that for years have constituted a kind of back-up justification for seeing myself as an artist: see, I can draw the human figure, I do know linear perspective. That past work had perhaps become a crutch that that I thought I needed to support my creativity, but that also had come to feel almost like an albatross about my neck. Getting rid of it was very freeing.

All this was also a prelude to being gone for a few weeks: Jerome and I are about to leave for an exploration of northwestern Spain that I know will bring new perceptions and thoughts. This house cleaning was in part to create room for that new input after we get home.

Friday, September 7, 2012

activating the surface

One of the early exercises in Expressive Drawing is named "Working with Flux Nonobjectively." Similar to the "scribbling" exercise that we did with Rebecca in Telluride, this exercise consists of short, timed bursts of drawing interspersed with bursts of "veiling" or partially covering over what has just been drawn. The idea is to stay loose, to not try to draw an object, nor even to think much about gestures made and marks created.

I had a couple of panels in the studio, one red and one blue, that needed to be woken up and made part of the little population of paintings-in-progress that are occupying the space. They were monochromatic, simple, barely begun, and almost dusty with neglect.

This exercise was the perfect method for getting back into these two paintings. I laid out both chalk pastels and oil sticks, choosing to stay within the color frame already established, poured some mineral spirits into a cups, and set out a soft 1" brush. Standing back a bit from my table, I scribbled some, then brushed over with mineral spirits, then scribbled some more, then brushed some more. I stopped sooner on the red painting (above) than on the blue painting, because I like the dynamics, and I know that later layers will interact with what is there. But in both cases, the drawing exercise provided the mechanism for a loose, new approach that resurrected a couple of moribund paintings.  Plus, it was fun!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

concepts and layers

Further development of my list of conceptual words has provided me with a wealth of ideas to work with. Perhaps it is my librarian background, but I found myself wanting some organization of them (and alphabetization would not do). There were almost too many to consider at any one time. So I created a loose grouping of the words into some eight or ten broader categories, none of which I defined or labelled. They are intuitive rather than logical, though I'm sure that I used some kind of logic in the groupings.

I like this. As I approach creating a new layer on a painting, my first impulse is to decide what I want to do in terms of color -- whether to contrast or complement what is already on the canvas, for example. My next step is to determine the conceptual content of the new layer. Now I can choose, not a single word but rather a group of words that has meaning for me and for the painting. I find using a group more freeing and stimulating than a single word. I have posted a piece of paper that shows the various groupings on the wall of the studio, and I occasionally add a word to one or more of them. It is a little corner of verbal creativity in my otherwise non-verbal work area.

The image above is of a piece I started in Telluride, and to which I applied my then-new approach of a concept-per-layer. It is not finished, indeed it only has four or five layers on it, but I can still see some conceptual work: strata, complexity, stability, scratchiness, fluidity. I hadn't developed my groupings yet, but still, each concept does come from a different group, as it turns out.