I've been working on three paintings for about two weeks. Most of that time I've been agonizing over the fact that they just weren't happening for me. I couldn't find a connection with them.
True, the election result has me in a terrified funk, but I also seem to be crossing into a new approach with my painting.
I recently met with a small group of artists interested in learning about abstract art. It was conducted by the esteemed painter Joe Mayer (www.joemayerart.com). Each of us talked about our art and what abstraction meant to us. Then Joe gave us some exercises to work on, which, if you know me, you know its the kind of challenge I find really energizing. The photo below is of some ideas I played with after the workshop because I was fascinated by one of the projects: to draw a shape that touches all four sides of a visual field and place three to five shapes within the large shape and add lines. (Yes, those are Cooper's toes on the right, to show scale.)
These exercises made me start to think more seriously about composition. I've always depended solely on my intuition when composing a painting. This has been fine until recently; I feel I'm losing trust in my intuitive playfulness. Or I need something more from it, from myself.
Joe had also given us a list of terms used in discussing and thinking about abstract work, such as dominance and contrast, unity and variety, aesthetic homeostasis, to name a few. So, I was looking at this list, and looking at my unloved paintings and getting more and more confused. To add to this unproductive state I pulled Kandinsky's Point and Line to Plane from my bookshelf, where it had been undisturbed since I bought it decades ago. You know, when you have a question in your mind and a book seems to grab your attention and say, "I have all your answers right here, just read me!". So I got through about fifty pages and I didn't have a clue what he was talking about and I felt really stupid.
TA DA Fran Skiles to the rescue. I have the great good fortune of being friends with Fran, a brilliant abstract painter and dear and generous person. Check out her work (www.franskiles.com). I had the opportunity (the timing was perfect) to spend some time with her in her studio where I brought my three floundering paintings and Joe's list of terms. Fran and I spent wonderful hours talking about our work, referencing the list of terms and finding ways to move where stuck. The helpful principles that stayed with me from our discussion were those of balance and rhythm.
When I came back to my studio I found I had a better vocabulary for solving the problem issues and at least some ideas for what to look for as solutions.
I've posted below the three paintings in various stages. They are not yet resolved, but I'm feeling more of a connection with them at this point. There is starting to be a dialogue.
Each painting began with a good deal of collage made with the pieces I mentioned working on in my last post. It is beyond me why I don't remember this, but starting with a collaged surface doesn't work for me. It inhibits any painting I feel I want to do. So the pieces all got pretty far along before I stopped and ripped much of the collage off and painted over everything to start again. The good part about that, aside from it definitely being the right thing to do, was that I ended up with all these beautiful pieces to apply to paintings after I've gotten them to a point where the collage works for me.
Here is the beginning of painting #1, with collage material plastered all over it at random. The mindless intuitive at play... (In my defense I was still reeling from the disastrous election and just making myself do anything.)
Here it is, still struggling for identity, still not making me happy...
Painted over with a roller. Much improved, more potential...
In its current state, not yet finished, but now we're talking. More authentic to what I want my paintings to look like. Also, thinking about rhythm, for example, repeating the black and white pattern from the left to the right in a contrasting, not so checkerboard, but still black and white repeated pattern. I've rotated it one turn clockwise, too.
Here is painting #2 going through similar stages...
Again, not yet resolved, but on its way. Also turned a quarter turn.
And then #3, the most changed, the least resolved; same approach of creating, destroying, going back into...
Still didn't work. Fran talked about how isolated the figure was, or I think she used the word "encapsulated", as in having all that space around all four sides of it, which was interesting to think about. (And good to get rid of.)
Here another bird is beginning to show up, but more lyrical, maybe?
It will be interesting to see where all of these go. I do feel as though I have something to work with besides just my gut feelings. I don't want to give that up completely. I want to integrate the intuition with the concepts of working elements. I just don't want the indigestion.
And Cooper has the last word.