Sunday, July 27, 2014

To Get Somewhere Different

Warning - LOTS of links in this post.  I'm connecting many things.

I have always had a strong habit of making the same shapes and marks - particularly on a blank surface.  I tend to echo or reinforce what's there already, or things tend towards an "X" overall, or shapes all around the edges, but not engaging the middle (sort of a circle).  The predictable marks of tic-tac-toe.

So I find it useful to get initial lines and gestures from somewhere outside me, and then react.  That gets me somewhere new.

Usually this means pencil lines on paper.  Today, however, I took a sheet of paper I had already covered with a loose and somewhat muddied blue/red/yellow scheme (mostly blue) and covered over most of it with a cream colored acrylic (a warmer white).  Then I made marks through the paint with the handle end of a paintbrush.  The result is above (not a good photo, I was in too much haste to let the paint dry and I had to shoot from an angle that got no glare off the wet paint - but you get the idea).

That was pretty unsatisfying, as I was falling into usual patterns, and that is making me twitchy, lately.  Discontent.  So I pulled up a photo of something fairly random, but between pleasing and not pleasing in shapes and composition.  A photo that I both like and dislike (I'm not neutral, I'm conflicted).  Here's today's example - from Flickr.

Then I did blind contour drawing forcefully with a purple pencil while looking at this photo.  Maybe you can see some of the tag shapes in here - or at least a few of the circles where the string goes through the paper, but I was not working for resemblance.  I wanted a more unpredictable mess of lines to have to deal with.  I threw on some yellow watercolor while the acrylic was still wet.

All of this took about 15 minutes.  The whole point is not to think too much about it (until after - and generally not then, either).

This surface is just begun.  It's still too predictable.  It's not rich enough.  Nothing has emerged of interest yet (to me) - or at least I can't see it yet.  I was reading The Great Discontent this morning and I was struck by several sentences from the illuminating interview with Elle Luna.  She was talking about her life, design projects and products, and about painting - all at once.  "I'm in the exploratory, divergent phase, where you brainstorm a lot and encourage wild ideas and defer judgement.  I believe that the longer you can hang with that ambiguity or unknown, the greater the results will be at the end."  I am doing this with the paintings I am working on at the moment.  The Roeliff painting (more on that mess in a later post - I worked on it yesterday and will do more today), this piece, the weird automatic drawings I am doing before bed each night...  I'm making a mess because I'm refusing to do anything "right."  Right goes to all the usual places, and those haven't been where I want to go...

On a different, but related note:  I no longer have much interest in painting non-representationally (what many people call "abstract" painting).  I like to paint recognizable things, shapes, and symbols.  I am fascinated with trees and animals, in particular, and some architecture (particularly houses).  So this "painting start" will have to find it's way to something I want to paint.  Right now the accidents and lack of control are about getting the unexpected into the surface, where I have to react to it, change it, still see it under whatever I add later...  They're not an approach to a final painting.  I love and appreciate a number of abstract and non-representational painters' work (Richard Diebenkorn, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, to name a few), but I'm the most intrigued and engaged by late Matisse, Hundertwasser, and the compositions of unique representational masters like Degas, Hopper, Toulouse Lautrec, O'Keefe, Benton, Lawrence, Schielle, the Wyeths (NC and Andrew).  (Links are not general reference links - they show works I find particularly inspiring by these artists.)

When I was at UNC-CH in a painting class with Marvin Saltzman, he told me that I surely did not want to be an Abstract Expressionist.  "They're all old men, and doing nothing new."  That was the day he asked me the tough question I still haven't answered, though I'm now more engaged with the question than ever before:  "What do you WANT to paint?  If you want to paint fruit, do it, but make them your own.  If you want to paint red, paint the reddest damn red in the world.  Paint what you want to paint - all the rest is crap."  I HATED that question.  I love it now - even if I still can't answer it.  NO - BECAUSE I can't answer it.

But I am getting closer...

Increasingly I am finding that what I want is to recapture the fascination and glee of painting when I was a child.  I sense that the heart of the garden is brightly lit and deliciously unembarrassed about the simple love of shapes, things, and colors.  That's where I'm going.

Some of my paintings to-date are directionally correct, but still only pointing to that place.  Below are a few - they provide some hints.  I can't describe how each of these seems to point the way - what it is about each.  Maybe you have some ideas.  I'd like to hear them.  

Paintings below are (all rights reserved):  Amaryllis Chickens, The Dragon Keeper's House, Trilobite, City, Coming Home, Toad.  Of these, Coming Home feels closest.


susan said...

I'm curious as to how you'll find a realistic image in the painting you've begun. I'm sure you'll admit it still pretty abstract-expressionist at the moment.

I've been bored with my own work lately too, but every so often something appears that I kind of like. Finding our way home seems to be the name of the game.

Steve Emery said...

Susan, bored was indeed part of the mix. I think the results mattered too much before, and now it's more interesting to mess things up to see what can happen. I know my control will always reassert itself (all too soon) so it's not much risk, really. I hope you find more excitement for your work - I love it.