Monday, March 26, 2018

Skip Lawrence Workshop at Bon Secours: Intuition meets thoughtful integration

Once a year I allow myself the indulgence of studying with the extraordinary painter and teacher, Skip Lawrence ( I spend a week with a wonderful group of artists at a quiet and beautiful retreat center near Baltimore, Maryland. This year a poorly timed snow storm kept me from driving the 90-minute commute on two of the days, but I was still able to get a lot out of the workshop and managed to produce some paintings.

Each of these paintings is 21" X 21". They are done on watercolor paper coated with gesso. I've been working mostly on wooden cradle boards for a while now and wanted to return to the different experience of working on paper. Over the gesso I applied thinner paper using a matte medium, letting it wrinkle and crease for texture. I then used a scraper to apply many layers of various colors of acrylic paint, accentuating the texture. I also scored the paint with the edge of the scraper to make random lines. This gave me suggested shapes and objects to explore and emphasize.

Normally, I let intuition reign and don't think much about the rules of composition, trusting that this childlike approach of easy play will produce a painting that is in some way accessible to the viewer, and to myself. During the workshop, Skip encouraged me to go beyond that and think about how the features I add to my surfaces can be more integrated into, and add to the whole concept of the painting. Instead of sticking a shape or object onto the surface, pretty much willy-nilly, I thought of the added thing as being more in relationship with all that was there.

I take these workshops with Skip because I like being pushed in different directions with my work. I get away from some of my default approaches and see what else I have to offer.

Maybe relying on pure intuition to paint is enough, maybe it isn't. One thing I find is that when I do produce whimsical work (from my intuition) I'm not sure what people are responding to when they say they like it. Identifiable objects are obviously more accessible for the viewer and these paintings from the workshop, more like moods than objects, may not be so. They are not the kinds of paintings one would be drawn to from across a room and I doubt if they even come off very well on a computer screen. I think they need to be experienced in person from a few inches away.

The painting above is an example of trying to combine the two ways of working; intuition with thoughtful integration. I was sorely tempted to put one of my big, black bird shapes at the bottom of this painting, because that is what I saw in the surface texture. Instead, I tore paper into a form that took up the same space as a bird and, after applying it, blended it into the composition with pastel.

And this one was fifty different paintings. It had horses and all kinds of stuff. It was turned up-side-down and on its side and finally just became this. Whatever it is. I invite you to decide for yourself.

You may have noticed that the second painting in this post seems somewhat less...let's call it "worked" than the others. That's because I was encouraged by Skip to consider it done. He said he was "afraid of what I would do to it". So I resisted the (strong!) urge to go at it with more layers. He now owns the painting. I love that. Besides, it would have have driven me crazy to keep it.