Friday, December 26, 2008

Painting Resumes - 2009

I did manage to paint a little bit on during Christmas Eve, and even a few minutes at the end of the day on Christmas. But not much. I completed it as a watercolor, though, and was not happy with it. The bottom is too choppy, some areas are too dark, I repent certain color choices and shapes, etc.

So I got out the acrylics and changed things. That was interesting. I'm not sure I like the results, but it was different. I prefer the brightness of the watercolors - acrylics are more matte and dull in comparison, I believe that can be helped with mediums, which can add some shine or translucency, but I needed the opaque capabilities of the acrylics, in particular. I still feel like portions of the painting are too raw, and the colors don't all play well together.

I feel I did help resolve some things in this version, but I still can't promise not to just cut this one up for parts. I think there are several promising little compositions within this one - the most obvious being this one... But I'll put it away and think about it again later. Comments are welcome at this point.

Then I got out the line drawing for the Mount Greylock painting, and opened the photograph the Cunning Runt sent me. He posted it earlier on his blog - here - and I commented that I'd like to paint it, which led him to send me a larger version. So here is my first pass - watercolor only, and a literal interpretation. I may go on to do some other passes at this, taking more license, and getting more into the composition isolated from the content - but I can't commit the artist child to anything that serious. If it happens, it happens.

I have had two other dialogues which have set the stage for painting into 2009. One was an e-mail exchange with Linda of Vulture Peak Muse, in which I finally answered the question a college painting professor asked me: "What do you want to paint." It just came out in the e-mail conversation and only after I typed it did I realize it was the answer to that question. "I want to paint the inside of my heart." I do not know what this means - but I do know it's true.

The other conversation has been in a series of comments on a Piet Mondrian post over at The Pagan Sphinx. During the course of those comments (I quote some excerpts below) I discovered that several artists produce abstracts that sing or speak, to me, and I want to see if I can produce anything that does the same thing.

Excerpts from my comments, and I added some illustrations - see the entire conversation and post here >>>>>>>>

"I was just thinking, after my e-mail, that what isn't obvious about Mondrian is how emotional the completely abstract final works are. He was always painting something interior, I think - or his emotional response to something. In some cases it may have just been his own response to the bars and colored zones on the canvas, but these are ALL about his feelings. The final piece you posted caused me a sharp intake of breath and then laughter because there is no bar bridging the center of the canvas! The intake was a visceral reaction to the piece, the laughter was when I realized what an abstract language it really is, and that I have no idea what it might mean! It's like hearing a recording of something in a foreign language and understanding none of the words, and not even getting the emotional content, but being able to tell there's lots of emotion there. Am I making any sense?"

I can see what you mean about it being easier to see the emotions when there is some evidence of the artist's movements, like in a Pollock, or a deKooning. But I can hear emotions just in spacing and lines and colors and shapes - even if they seem dispassionately rendered. That's what I'm hearing in Mondrian's works, I think, though I can't make out the words. Am I making any sense? I don't see/hear it in all abstract work, but I sure do in many Mondrians, and I do in Diebenkorn, as well. Not Albers, though. Ordinary objects do this to me, as well, but then it's usually just noise. Sometimes it's pleasant noise, but it's accidental and not words. I recall a stand of cypress trees in VA that I could hardly be dragged away from because they sang - it was the way they were spaced, and I think it was mostly accidental, though part of whay I couldn't tear myself ways was that I kept looking to see if I could see human intention. Like the word "love" that seems to emerge in the tarnish on a copper roof - is it really a word? I'd keep looking to see if I could detect the hand of someone, so I could know if someone WROTE a word there, or if I was, indeed, just seeing pictures in clouds, so to speak. I did that with those cypresses. Then again, sometimes I see an arrangement of objects by certain very talented people I know, and I hear the words or the music clearly, and they seem to, as well. And it's not just about being pleasing or not - the tolerance points are stretched or played with in ways that vibrate and push at the mind and make words..."

"I can't speak it, usually, though a few of my pieces come close, and one or two say a word or two (Sunny Hillside has some parts that speak quietly - I think it's why it's been in my office at work longer than any other piece - I've swapped the other frame three times since then) - but I can hear it when a master speaks it."

"I looked at the painting again and I got all worked up all over again. I'm not sure emotions is the right word, exactly... Maybe I should say that he FELT these - they're not just mathematical. It sends shivers up my spine to see things like the exact widths of the three vertical sections, and the way the horizontals all correspond across the gap, but the left hand, shorter bars are so much fatter (up and down) than the ones on the right... And that gap, with nothing bridging it. It's like a precipice, and it gives me a pleasant kind of vertigo to see it. He's speaking a language or making a music of the tensions in shapes."

"If it weren't for the odds being so stacked (so MANY Mondrians, for instance, speak to me - and several other artists do this, too) I'd think I were imagining it. But I know I'm not. I'm just tuned in to some frequency most people don't pick up. Or they just see it, while I see AND hear it. Or something like that."

"Robert Motherwell does it, too. In the National Gallery in DC there is a large Motherwell, visible from a number of places in the huge space. I wandered around the spaces, dragging my youngest with me, gaping at it while it sang and sang and sang. Morris Louis does it, too."

"Henry Moore almost does it. I have looked at dozens of his pieces, and they seem ABOUT to say something, but then they don't quite. When I had first found his work, in my late teens, and I had not yet found any of the others I now love, I kept coming back over and over to his work, trying to get it to fully satisfy me, and it never could quite. I still love much of his work... but actually I find, in general, that sculpture doesn't lift me the way paintings do."


L'Adelaide said...

I liked the watercolor and, tho I could see it didn't look done yet, I wouldn't go cutting it up! I think it looks like things are missing, there is a lot of blue and violet with not much to punch it up and then the acrylics, I think dulled it more? not sure by my side of the screen ... I am not liking the biggest bird, I don't care for his brownish color (?), is that what color he is? and have a feeling you might not like him either and he is sort of the star of the show...the houses kind of disappeared? well, not sure what you can do but I think it has more redeeming features than you do at this point...I can also see why you want to call it done...I like your photo-painting so far although it's very plain right now-it certainly has lots of potential!

I cannot speak at all to your conversation about modern painting, so I just will be quiet ;)

Steve Emery said...

Linda - Thanks for your cnadid comments and particularly about raising that point about the larger bird - I'm not sure I like that color, either, and I'm also not sure I like the way I drew and divided his light and dark zones. He has been bothering me, as you sensed, though I've been ignoring that feeling. He is a bright rusty brown, almost orange on the back edge of the top wing, but he probably does need to be a different color. And he won't lose much brightness going to acrylic. So maybe I'll paint him white and then try again with some other scheme. I am primarily not happy with the transition from the background to the foreground. These are very different painting areas and concepts, to me, and I am having trouble getting all of this to work. It may be that I can't reconcile all of it. As I said in an earlier post, this is the fifth or sixth attempt at this image, or something like it. This is the first one that actually got past a drawing, though. I'm trying to break into a new space with this image, a new visual vocabulary and style - one that I sense will serve me for other things I have not been able to paint. While I'm sort of stuck with this painting, I'm also excited, because I know this is a fruitful process and direction for me. It's clumsy, but it's a door into someplace else, and it's on the road to my goal of painting the inside of my heart. I need to learn a lot before I'll be able to accomplish that, and some of the lessons are in this painting.

So I'll keep at it. I think I need to leave it for a bit, then come back and think and feel my way one step at a time. And I also agree that the houses are probably understated now. And I don't like the shapes of the trees coming down to the bottom edge - I will have to work out something else.

In a way this painting feels like me visiting a buffet and trying to do too many things in one plateful. I may not be able to make all of this work in one image - but I really want to.

The landscape, on the other hand, is a sketch, and I wasn't planning to do more on it. I may do others, though, that go further, or do more. I want to play with the shapes and the colors in this photo - I want to hop them up and see what happens. What I chiefly liked about the photo and this simple, literal sketch, is the cool vs warm areas (especially the burnt sienna accents) the white tree trunks, and the intense blue shadow on the peak below Mount Greylock.

And as for the modern painting conversation - I posted it more as a signpost, a "by the way - another direction I'll be going in." The next steps about that will be my first attempts to speak my own words or sing my own songs with simple shapes and colors - like I see Mondrian, Motherwell, Louis, and others doing. I don't know much more about it, yet. But I'll probably start in black and white, in my moleskines. It's something I can do on my lunch hour at work... and that would be a good thing indeed.

Unknown said...

I have often thought that your comments on my art posts deserved more visibility, so I'm glad to see you have turned them into a post of your own.

Your reactions to Mondrain and Motherwell fascinate me; though I cannot really sense it the way you do. But I will tell you: I don't think I can ever pass by another Mondrian or Motherwell without thinking of how you react to them. Fascinating.

I want to try to allow works of art to affect more than just visually or emotionally. Let's see what happens on my next museum visit, which should be next week sometime to MoCA and The Clark in western Mass.

Steve Emery said...

Pagan - It makes me happy that my words and thoughts might add to your experience of art. It is such an enormous pleasure to see how you "get" works of art, and how much you enjoy them. Have fun at those museums. Museums usually make me itch to paint so badly I can hardly bear to get home. They were the hardest thing for me when I wasn't painting. Painful. Now I'm tempted to bring materials in the car so I can start something before I even drive home!

The Cunning Runt said...

It's amazing to me how attaching words to visual/visceral constructs does so much to illuminate them, as though perception is somehow hollow without conception.

Any your rendition of Mount Greylock, while still a sketch in your mind, has captured and even clarified much of the essence of the original photograph, in particular the reflected blueness of the north facing slopes and the tide of evening rising around the cattle in the corner.

That's pretty cool.

Steve Emery said...

Cunning Runt - Your kind comments about my Greylock sketch get right at the very heart of Art for me - and so does your conception/perception comment in the earlier paragraph. I would say that the difference between a photograph and a painting/drawing is that the photograph is more mechanically rendered, while the painting has to pass, stroke by stroke, through the mind/heart of the artist, and this means the end result will have some of her/him in it. Maybe a lot of the artist will be in it. It will show the world what the artist sees in the objects depicted. This is what is so powerful about portraiture, and part of my shyness about doing portraits other than SELF portraits. I'm comfortable showing the world what I see about me - but I'm not sure I'm ready for others to see what I see about them. It's more personal than putting up a mirror.

All that said, as an exercise and comparison, there is a LOT more going on in a photograph, too. The photographer is also an artist, and is bringing his/her experience of the subject to the framing, the lighting, the exposure, the cropping later, and now, of course, to the software editing. So photography is not really mechanical, either, when the camera and PC are wielded with intent - with conception as you put it. In this way the camera is just another tool, like a paintbrush. It does more at once, perhaps, than a paintbrush, but that just ups the ante each time you open the shutter.

I sure hope you happen back by to read this... ;-)

Regina said...

I am so delighted to have come across your blog via CED! Let me tell you where you had me-
" "I want to paint the inside of my heart." I do not know what this means - but I do know it's true."
May I borrow that phrase when I'm asked what I paint. I don't want to be narrowed to a genre because I'm curious, I'm searching, I love the process.
I also like how well you articulate your thoughts on your own art as well as your comments on modern art. You have openned my eyes to a deeper appreciation of aspects that have thus far escaped me.
Lastly, I like the paintings you've shown here. The Mount Greylock painting reminds me of Quiller & I must say that your colors sing to me.
I will be following your blog.