Sunday, May 24, 2015

Interpreting a photo

The Dance of the Red Pails
12 x 12

This little painting is, as always an attempt to subvert the photo reference and do something painterly from a fixed and frozen image.  I've painted the little guy on the left a few times because I love his dynamic balance and the sense of continuing motion in his pose (score one for photography).  You just know that he's going to continue to move forward fluidly and unhesitatingly from this moment in time, and that quality of movement is what keeps putting him back in my sights when I look for something to paint.  

Still, there's a lot not to like in the photo, so I spent some time doodling ideas before tackling the painting.  At first, I thought about using the large, patterned bum behind the boys and adding even more abstract patterning to the background and around the children.  It would have been a painting about patterns.  But a rough sketch of the idea got it out of my system; I wasn't interested enough to commit it to paint. 

At that point I committed to the idea of children in motion, and chose a generally cool colour scheme with cool grey toning and dark green to lay in the composition.  This would enhance any warmth in the skin tones, but meant that the pails had to change colour or be lost in the overall greenness.  

The red of the pails was slashed on in the general vicinity of their final spots, so that I'd avoid that frozen motion quality.  I chiseled out their shapes through negative painting slowly, always checking in a mirror to see when I'd made enough marks to identify the objects without hitting the viewer over the head with overt "PAILS".  A lot of a painting can be left ill defined and the viewer will fill in the omissions with ease and with pleasure; I believe that viewers like to participate in a painting and appreciate an opportunity to interpret and complete areas of visual ambiguity.  My goal is to paint something that offers surprises and delights long past the first viewing.  

Happy painting!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The distracted mind

12 x 12
Like all working artists, I'm a recluse, spending more time in the studio than anywhere else and seldom seeing people socially.  But I have my handy headset which, when connected to my phone, allows me to paint and chat with friends at the same time.  There are two benefits to this: I remember how to speak to people other than myself, and I paint without over thinking the process.

This little painting was done during a phone call.  I happened to notice that a sunbeam was tracking over my little vase of fake flowers and turning them from something ordinary into something very special.  The problem was that the beam was moving at amazing speed.  Luckily, I have a tall computer table on wheels in the studio, so I popped the vase on it, grabbed a linen panel, and began speed painting; all while talking about a friend's holiday and - hopefully - making sense.

I had to move the computer table every 10 minutes or so to recapture the light, and I didn't have much time for mixing or thinking, but it was a joyful, playful thing to do.  Painting that quickly forces you to avoid wasted movement and just makes you to get on with things: grab paint, smack it down; figure out where your impasto will be and get it on thickly and quickly; glance at colours and make snap judgements about what they are rather than stare and begin to doubt that first impression; and don't worry about details; just paint the big stuff.  

The phone call added the extra complexity of divided attention.  I couldn't stop and ponder if that yellow mixture was too bright, or figure out how to modulate the dark background, or count the number of leaves that I was seeing; my rational mind was occupied with foreign lands and adventures (not my own, sadly).

When the sun's angle was totally different than what I started with, I stopped painting.  We were done our phone call, anyway, and I knew that if I continued working, I'd have slowed down, begun to tweak, and totally lost the freshness of the piece.  Knowing when to stop is the most important part of the process, and it's often much sooner than you'd think.

Happy painting!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Creating worlds

Minute and Imperceptible Motion
20 x 20"
At a certain point, you might decide that a painting is done.  Then you either stop painting, or, if it doesn't excite you, you throw a foreign object at it (to paraphrase Alex Kanevsky).

This painting was heading down a path that was working: beige skin, warm cheeks, all very plausible and all very ordinary.  I could see its finish while I was in the middle of it.  And that was incredibly dispiriting.  If I couldn't find any excitement in producing the painting, who would be excited by looking at it?

So I put it aside for a bit and did some thinking and looking through old photos.  On a trip to the Met. Museum in NY, a few years ago, I saw this Kees Van Dongen painting:
It dominated the room.  While my photo is probably colour skewed, it doesn't matter: it reminded me that I am creating a new world within each painting, and in that world, I make the rules.  If I can't at least create an interesting new world, then there's no point in painting.  Why create mundane things?

When the painting was dry, I oiled it out and put a rich coat of pale green over all of the flesh tones in the light and into the background.  Suddenly, I'd created a world that held some interest for me and I was off!  After that huge transformation, the painting began to offer new ideas and possibilities, and I tried to pursue as many of them as I could.  Green skin was my foreign object and it started up a whole new conversation between me and the canvas.  When I decided it was time to stop, I didn't feel like I'd arrived at a place that I had seen coming from miles away; I was standing on new ground in a new world.  And I'd had a great ride on the way, and that's the whole point.

Happy painting!