Thursday, June 27, 2013

comfortable discomfort

With a couple of weeks of experimentation under my belt, I am feeling increasingly comfortable with and intrigued by acrylic and watercolor paints, and increasingly curious about using them in a "cold wax" style. My first effort, 20"x16", is shown at left. It is not a total success, but neither is it a complete disaster.
I have a lot more to explore about the way that these water-based paints interact with each other and with the various mediums that are available. At the same time, I am using pen, pencil, charcoal, and chalk pastel in ways that I never have done before, and in ways that oil paint does not welcome. This is encouraging me to return to my fascination with mark-making, about which I've written before

I am remembering things I used to know about water-based media, as well as learning new things. Acrylic revolution by Nancy Reyner is a very useful reference for how acrylics work and what the mediums do, all new territory for me. I'm using Multimedia Artboard rather than paper; the artboard is paper impregnated with resin to make it stiff and resilient, and I like its similarity to my usual Gessbord panels.

So a studio session these days is an interesting blend of the new and challenging, and the old and comfortable. Rebecca Crowell recently posted a thoughtful essay on "the comfort zone" (see her blog of June 23d), and its relevance to my current circumstances resonated. I am quite deliberately pushing my discomfort in terms of materials while I am still within the comfort of home and routine, so that when I get to my residency at CAN, away from home, I will have attained some level of comfort with my materials. I hadn't really thought about it in those terms.

Rebecca delves deeper into the topic, asking "what is home in terms of painting?" and suggesting that it is what feels honest and right, and true to oneself. She adds, "Home in any sense is a source of joy and comfort, and there is a place for this in our work." This also resonated: My first approach to experimenting with acrylics and watercolors was to pull out the "beginners" books (for lack of a better term), how-to guides that I purchased twelve years ago when I was just beginning to paint. I obediently began to do the exercises prescribed. It felt all wrong, as though I were trying to do someone else's work. I put the books away, heaved a sigh of relief, and painted from my own center, as it were. The painting above is the result of my first experiment done without "help", using my fledgling knowledge of and comfort/discomfort with the materials in a way that answered my own inner voice.

So I am using the opportunity afforded by the residency this fall to push my comfort zone, and it feels like exactly the right thing to be doing at this stage of my painting career. I am feeling my own way, in my own fashion, keeping to my path but opening myself to new ways of exploring it, not through anyone else's instruction, but on my own.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

medium explorations

As I begin the preparation for my residency at CAN (see my post of June 4), I find myself working on least two levels: Conceptually, I mull over my "roots and tempests" idea and probe it for both integrity and depth, while on a more practical level I contemplate getting myself and all my art supplies from here to there. The Centre d'Art i Natura is in the tiny town of Farrera, in the Pyrenees mountains close to the French border. The final stage of travel, after various flights and a two-week car trip with Jerome around northern Spain, will be a five-hour bus ride from Barcelona. In terms of what to take, lightweight and compact would be two good qualities.

Following Phyllis's example when she flew out to Utah, I easily decided to use paper rather than board as a support. Following my colleague Rebecca Crowell's suggestion, based on her numerous residencies in Spain and Ireland, I've also decided to use watermedia (fluid acrylics and watercolors) rather than oil and cold wax. There are acrylic products now that can simulate the oil-and-cold-wax process, allowing for layering and texturing. Water-based media are lighter in weight than oils, and they avoid the airlines' prohibitions against carrying flammable materials on board.

So I have pulled out my old acrylic and watercolor paints as well as my drawing supplies, and have retrieved from my flat files a variety of papers that I have accumulated over the years. I am reacquainting myself with the paints and their properties, and pushing them beyond where I took them back when I was just beginning. At the same time, I am testing the various papers, from 140# cold press watercolor paper, to the same paper in a heavier 300# weight, to a supposed "multimedia" paper, to an innovative "multimedia artboard" that is as thin as paper but has been impregnated with resin and is stiff.

I have always enjoyed water-based painting, although it is oil paint that resounds most strongly with me. To undertake to express myself in fluid acrylics and watercolor is an exciting and intriguing challenge at this stage in my work. As I remember how to manipulate the paints, and explore the various gels, pastes, and mediums with which I'm not familiar, my compositions remain based on my Colorado Plateau concept about which I've written here in the past. The concept, and the cold wax process, guide my experimentation. If I can be satisfied with the use of the new (to me) materials to express a concept with which I am so intimate, I will be ready to use them to explore the "raices y tempestades" concept that I have proposed for CAN.

So far, I haven't played with all the different papers, so I haven't decided what I prefer. None that I have tried (the 140# and the multimedia papers) stand up to the type of layering and texturing that I hope to do. Fortunately, I have about two more months before I need to purchase what I am actually going to take. A summer project!

The image above shows the final version of Soundings (30"x24") that I didn't quite finish in Helper last month. Along with Passages, it will go to the gallery next week for our 4th of July open house on the 6th.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

more assemblies

During the week in Helper last month, my friend Phyllis worked on paper rather than board, to avoid the need to carry heavy and awkward supports on the plane from Oakland. She cut the paper into 12" squares, then taped them together, overlapping, into a 30" square, and painted them as a single piece. The interplay between the whole and its parts was charming, and the finished pieces are lovely.

Inspired by her adventure, and wanting to paint something big without a huge investment in a single support, I am trying an experiment. I have nine (as it happens) 12" x'12" uncradled  panels that I have carried to various cold wax workshops over the years, in order to have inexpensive surfaces on which to play without committing to a "real" painting. None are finished pieces, and most only carry two or three layers of paint. But I like all of them, for one reason or another, and can't bring myself to throw them away. Nor, it seems, can I bring myself to paint over them individually. They have been languishing in my studio, moving from one dusty corner to another, each carrying fond memories. So there is an emotional investment in them as well, come to think of it. No wonder I don't want to toss them.

After I left Phyllis at the Salt Lake airport for her flight home, and before heading home myself, I stopped at an art store and purchased a large piece of lightweight foam-core board. Over this past week, I fashioned it into a 36"-square, and glued the nine tiles onto it. The result is shown above. Unfortunately, the foam-core board is not strong enough to be completely rigid, so the assemblage feels a little wobbly, but a second piece of foam-core glued onto the back should cure the problem. I have to wait for a trip to a big city to purchase that, and I don't want to work on the whole until I have reinforced it, so nothing is happening with it right away. But I think that the wait is a good thing: For the moment, I am so captivated by the piece as it stands that I am loathe to paint over it. By the time I get it ready, though, I will be happy to cover up and unify the conglomerate of ideas and impulses. And I look forward to working with the built-in grid lines, to push and pull against them, to counteract their straightness, to play with the compositional fact of their existence.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

roots and tempests

Looking out the window above my desk, I see the stable, rusty-pink wall of sandstone cliffs that line the north side of our valley. Above them, in contrast, shifting thunderheads gather in advance of an afternoon storm. This contrast between the solidity and depth of the earth and the instability and storminess of the sky is one of the things I love about living on the Colorado Plateau.

I like to feel my feet on the earth, to feel its support against my weight. At the same time, I like to watch the sky, to see it change, to watch storms gather and disappear, to send my spirit outward. Just as the contrast in the natural environment fascinates me, so too am I intrigued by the contrast between the core solidity of my life (my feet on the ground) and the series of events -- some tempestuous -- that mark its history. Two aspects of myself: Continuity and change. Earth and sky. Roots and tempests.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to bring a greater depth to my painting practice. My current work engages me technically and intellectually, but I would like to feel more deeply involved at a personal level. When I paint what I think of as "land", I feel its solidity. When I paint what is in my mind "sky", I feel its transience and lack of substance. What if I added to that my personal sense of roots when I paint "earth", and my personal experiences of tempests when I paint "space"? What if I just painted my own roots and tempests?

These themes are the substance of a project proposal that I submitted for an art residency this coming fall at the Centre d'Art i Natura in Catalunya, Spain. I will have nearly three weeks on my own in a small community dedicated to "art and nature" to explore new concepts as well as new materials (I plan to paint on paper and/or lightweight artboard, given the travel involved). I feel as though I've been given a gift. More to come!

The image above is Passages (24"x18"), which I finished in Helper. It is headed for our local Gallery 24.