Tuesday, October 29, 2013

processing change

Ten days after arriving home from Farrera, the results of my artist residency are as unsubstantial as my project proposal was. Yet I would term the experience an unqualified success. It is as hard to describe the outcome as it was to describe the original idea that I wanted to pursue. Yet after four or five studio sessions here at home, it is clear that I am painting from a different place than I was before the challenges and discipline of the residency.

I am more relaxed, less hurried, more involved in the process and in small refinements. I have a sense of more resources at my disposal, and a greater awareness of the variety of techniques available to me. I am glad to get back to cold wax and oil, but am also glad to know about the possibilities of acrylics.

I have reacquainted myself with my studio and my materials by finishing up some old pieces such as that above (8" x 8"), and have put initial layers down on two large fresh panels without any specific plans or ideas. I just want to get my hands wet, as it were. I have a sense of waiting for something, whether inspiration or energy, I am not sure. I can't just pick up where I was before the residency, because something has changed. But I am not clear about what it is, and it feels right to just take some time off and let whatever it is come into sight.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

coming to a close

My last day in Farrera. I have been painting spontaneously these last few days, using up materials and just letting process flow. The last trio of pieces is unfinished (the one at left, 16"x 20", is definitely a localized palette), but I am pleasantly happy with where they are going. I asked Phyllis, to whom I sent photos, if she thought they looked like "my" work, and she said yes. And when Lluis came to choose the piece to be donated to the Center, he also chose from this final trio. Both of these responses seem to validate my own satisfaction with them.

Phyllis asked me if I feel that the pieces look like my own. I'm not sure. Certainly they have characteristics similar to to other work I've done, yet they are the result of a looser and more casual process than I usually undertake. Part of what I like about them is their very looseness and informality. On the other hand, these are certainly not definitive pieces, and are almost throwaways. Indeed, I probably won't finish them, but will take them home, as reminders of what I've done here.

So after literally weeks of pushing my own limits, and of questioning nearly everything I do in the studio, it is hard to come to any conclusions. I have recognized that my orientation is toward abstract landforms rather than close-up details, or surfaces, or actual landscapes. I like to have structure and shape in my paintings, but these are referential rather than representational. I have gained strength from my experiments and from the persistence of showing up every day and keeping going. I think that the conclusions, if any, will come later, after I have returned to my own studio and my own environment, and can explore where this experience leads me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

mid-residency report

Most of my time here in Farrera has been spent exploring the moods and emotions that I bring to painting, and that painting invokes in me. I spent the first week of my residency trying hard to paint from a place of emotion, and just got frustrated. I don't paint emotionally, but rather from responses and impressions to what is around or in front of me. Music contacts my emotions; visual art fills a different role and expresses a different side of me. The image at left is one of the works, 16" x 20", that resulted from that first week of work.

My second experiment, inspired by my recent contact with Diebenkorn's work, was to paint from representational compositions, approaching them abstractly and trying to express an emotional response to the original scene. The emotional aspect again did not work, and after struggling for a few days, I also realized that I was dividing my process into two parts, starting a piece figuratively and then abruptly switching to abstraction. The transition occurred when I got frustrated or bored with the restrictions or misdirections of the figuration. At that point, however, I would resort to compositional knowledge, seldom referring to the initial scene, and working randomly rather than following a plan. Working from representation doesn't seem to work for me, just as planning the process in advance does not work.

My overall project here is to bring increased personal meaning into my work. The question remains, how to do that? I thought to take as my model abstract expressionism, which is non-representational, seeks spontaneity, and looks for emotional intensity. My finished work is definitely not representational. Since a strong element in cold-wax painting is to let the process lead, it also invokes spontaneity. The remaining issue is that of emotional intensity or, put another way, personal meaning. But it is not working to try to force that.

Where to go next, in my final week here? What do I want my paintings to convey? I still want to find a theme that is mine, a vocabulary that is mine, an internal geography that is mine. Perhaps I should work instinctively and responsively, and not try to force “meaning”. My own vocabulary/geography will evolve naturally.

During the first part of the residency, I've tried to (a) work from emotion, and (b) work from figuration. Neither has worked very well, but they did lead me to the insight that I was dividing the process. Yesterday I started three new pieces, neither trying to define what I was saying nor consciously using any internal geography or vocabulary. Just painting, seeing what comes from the momentum of the past two weeks. The experiment continues.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

world enough and time

My thoughts about being in Farrera are evolving with time, so I thought to capture some before they morph into the next iteration.

An early reaction, not unexpectedly, was an appreciation of the luxury of time and place.
I have no obligations beyond studio activities, and the Centre is isolated amid natural beauty, which encourages a continual focus on making stuff. I have all the time in the world to follow a creative spark, to nurture it into flame, and to bank the fire and let it rest until later if I want to.

After a first few days of excitement and adjustment, I could feel myself beginning to relax into the flow of time and process, letting go of cares and worries not related to painting. I realized that this time is also an opportunity to let go of tensions that I carry around about painting itself: the fear of losing an idea, of trying to control the process, of pushing production. I made a resolve to use my time here to sink more deeply into the flow, to explore, not to worry about finishing anything, to trust myself to move in the right direction.

This all sounded wonderful, and I have let myself relax quite a bit. I even have spent time just sitting on my little balcony and enjoying the view. In the studio, however, I find that at least some of my demons have accompanied me here. I'm writing this partly to remind myself of what I said above, because it is too easy to slip back into old patterns once I settle down to work.

When I am not in the studio, I take walks, meditate, listen to music, cook lunch, but nothing that really takes me away from the creative process. I muse a lot. I breathe. I feel as though I am still trying to slow down. After sort of letting go of any structure to my day at first, I now have imposed a tad of discipline, to keep myself in the studio and engaged with the materials rather than letting myself avoid them.

The isolation of Farrera helps: there is literally nothing else to do, in the sense of places to go or people to see. Until we gather for dinner at 9 p.m., everyone here is working on his or her own projects. As my paintings progress and need time to dry, or need time for the next idea to come along, I am unpacking more and more of the peripheral materials that I brought, and playing with them. I am sure that this is a good thing, and something that I hardly ever take the time to do at home. My studio is so lovely and big (see above) that I can have everything out and visible. An initially empty space except for tables and chairs, it is slowly filling with works in progress. The more it fills up, the more fun it is to come in, because there are so many more possibilities for exploration and development. All my media -- acrylics, watercolors, pastels, crayons, pencils, ink -- and all my tools are spread out where I can see them and reach them. It becomes easier and easier to spend time working, because I have a greater variety of things to work on. And because I have let go (well, almost) of the requirement that I take home finished pieces, I can work in the moment and not worry about the future. I think. I am going to try.