July 31, 2014-August 7, 2014
The 30 by 40-inch painting on canvas, “Origin”, marked the first new work this year. It was a difficult painting, laden with starts and stops and layers of decisions as I built up the surface searching for the final state.
ORIGIN 2014 30 x 40 inches acrylic on canvas
Even as I struggled with this work, I sensed a change. Questions come to mind. Have I finished with this series of dot and stain pieces? If not, where am I going? And significantly, what connections are there to my past work and to contemporary art being created today?
As I mentioned recently, the creative well has been severely depleted. So it is wonderful to be working at all. As in past times of such depletion, I am slowly emerging from the anaesthesia. I am looking at art again, art of all kinds. I am looking at what is happening in the capitals such as London where The Tate Gallery is of course in the forefront of exciting contemporary art. A link from The Tate’s website to the iconic institution WhiteChapel Gallery has led me to their series of anthologies, Documents of Contemporary Art . Historic and contemporary aesthetic ideas and issues are written about by artists, curators, and scholars.
My first two choices in the series are “Time”, edited by Amelia Groom, and “Chance”, edited by Margaret Iverson.
I chose the volume devoted to “Chance” because I had been thinking about the switch about a decade ago from work that was primarily figurative to non-representational work or abstract. I had been thinking of conversations with a colleague who was struggling with her first attempts at abstract painting. I offered the advice to “search for the pattern” in the marks already made in her painting. This led me to analyze my own process, particularly in the ongoing series of stain/dot paintings. I had been thinking of the staining aspect in terms of “chance” and was considering a blog post on this process about a year ago. My tentative title, “The Game of Chance And The Search For Pattern” now seems flawed, at least in reference to my own work.
Rather than chance, especially in this recent piece, perhaps accretion would better describe the process.
The origin of the staining method began with the textile work decades ago. The application of fluid color onto the stretched canvas, a fabric after all, causes a similar result as my old dye processes on silk and cotton. There is a slight sense that the stain begins with no authority of mine, But that’s where any possibility of chance ends. By tipping, blotting, spraying, I guide the flow of color as much as possible. I search for a pattern, yes, but one that fit my sense of composition on the surface.
These photos give a bit of of the steps in the process of trying to work out this painting. As the top photo shows, it as a difficult process, with attempts covered over.
At some points, it seemed the solution was in hand. But no, the painting was far from the final state. I was tempted to resist the usual complexities of the dots, to leave the composition in a far more spare state of positive and negative.
But there seemed to be in irresistable force at work. I felt driven to continue finding “islands” of color and dots in the field of the canvas.
This photo gives the “terrain” of the painting. From these “islands” developed the pattern that also sustained the stains from which the picture began.
Here are details of the finished painting~
The process of naming this painting was just as difficult as making it. I really searched my associations for a title which would not be trite or overly suggestive and narrow. In the end, a television program on until now unseen formation of stars gave an idea. Photographs beamed from distant space showed what astronomers called a “natal environment”, a place where a new star might be born. This painting was actually a beginning in a sense. It did record, in the process of its making, the state of chaos that precedes solution or manifestation. So rather than the rather unpoetic “natal environment”, the title “Origin” seemed appropriate.
In answer to my question of whether these dot and stain paintings have come to an end, the answer is no. The blank canvases await.
“Rift” is a word which can indicate a split, a chasm, or an opening. A “rift” can describe a crack or fissure in the earth, a break in the clouds, or when relating to humans, a separation.
While working on this new work on paper, I felt that I was foundering. While I loved the wonderful wrinkled texture of my favorite Okawara paper, this piece refused my efforts to find a conclusion. After days of study, turning, observing, late one night I decided perhaps it would be better to divide the whole into two vertical pieces. More study, observation…days of it. The solution came on another very late night when I decided to mount the two, separated from each other. Wetting the paper along a straight edge helped me tear a soft edge, preserving the beautiful quality of the paper. With that, I still debated.
Finally, seeing a half-sheet of the Okawara, I floated them onto it’s beautiful “naked” surface and found the solution. Once mounted, the space between seemed to somehow allow completion in a way I never expected. The two separate sections spoke to each other, complemented each other in a way that the unaltered work did not.
And again, after some days of contemplation, the title suddenly came to mind~”Rift” seems right.
“Archipelago”-a chain of islands, or an expanse of water with many islands. It is the name that came to mind when I looked at this new work on paper. And it is amazing to me that such a title appeared for it is not a term that I often, if ever, use.
But it seems to describe the image that came on the wrinkled, stained, and “dotted” topography of the half-sheet of my favorite paper, Okawara. It calls up ancient landscapes and mythological journeys, or perhaps the topographies of the imagination, of memory, of vaguely-remembered outposts of our dreams. “Archipelago” is a map of these and other invisible landscapes.
The newest painting, “Viridian”, is named for the beautiful blue-green hue that was developed in secret in 1838 in Paris and patented in 1859. This popular pigment was used both for fine art applications by such artists as Van Gogh as well as for commercial uses.
“Viridian green hue” in this new painting is a modern acrylic version of the original pigment. I chose the color solely because of an aesthetic attraction, using it in Golden’s fluid form. The fluid acrylic’s consistency allows me to continue my interest in the materiality of surface and medium. There is the same ability to exploit the characteristics of fluids on both cloth and paper which also defines my interest in color on cloth using pigments and dye processes.
It was after the fact, upon the completion of this painting, that I recalled the relationship of this green to my dreams as well. Many years ago, I had an amazing dream, “the green dream”, in which no specific image was seen, only billows of beautiful green, as though viewing the essence of it, clouds of it. That was all. But it was to be an indelible dream memory and helped me to understand the future dreams in which a “vocabulary of color symbolism” developed. Over the years I began to understand that green appeared in my dreams various ways and signified my creative life. As people from time immemorial have assigned various meanings to colors, I believe that we also continue to use color as cues in our dream life. I suppose you could say that, as in blogs, we “tag” important information for future reference.
“Viridian” holds a tribute then, to the power of this gorgeous color as a signifier in my life of being an artist. Beginning with a color is only the beginning, of course. I decided to use a medium which I have used before, an acrylic absorbent ground, on top of the gessoed surface. Since I had just finished working on “My Country”, using fluid acrylics on the receptive surface of my favorite Okawara paper, I wondered how this ground might approach similar characteristics on canvas. I wanted to continue the staining and dot process. I used only one coat of the absorbent ground, though the product label advised that increasing coats also increased absorbency. In this case I am glad that I made only one coat. The separation of color, the tidemark created, and the interesting crusty characteristic of the thicker dots as they dried must be attributed to the ground. There is a “sinking” of the dots in the buff color which caused me to re-paint and build up the fields of dots surrounding the green explosion in the painting’s center.
In the end, the “sinking” was a beneficial element that led to wonderful layers, glazing, to build the visual texture surrounding the green “splash”.
Staining and dripping fluid acrylic on the reverse side of a roughly cut piece of Okawara paper were the beginning of “My Country”. Misting the red paint with water allowed the pigment to achieve a matt surface as it stained and was absorbed into the receptive, cloth-like Okawara paper. The very thick drops of pigment retained the original gloss of the paint.
After some initial work it soon became clear that the image was failing to meet my expectations. Flipping the paper over I continued by working from the stained image that had bled through from the original side. As with earlier pieces, I decided to use a wrinkling method to add interesting texture. An attempt to accentuate the ridges and valleys of the relatively soft wrinkles with Nupastel was not a fruitful path. But the wonderful texture of the wrinkles created a kind of “landscape” on the paper and the large red stained central image evoked a map and thus the title “My Country”. And as with the previous works, dots continue to create fields of color.
I love the possibilities that wrinkling paper gives and have used it on crisper drawing papers with dry media like Nupastel where I could follow the “geography” of the crushed and wrinkled paper easily.
The qualities of paper and canvas have long been the subjects of investigation and relate to my work using dyes and pigments in textile design as well. (Working with dyes on fabric results in the same elements of staining that appear in these recent pieces.)
Okawara paper has a dual-sided ability to accept both wet and dry media and its durability allows physical manipulation like crushing and wrinkling as well as folding and creasing. (Four Maps For Karibib)
“My Country” continues the investigation of properties and process of materials and media that was more formally begun more than a decade ago.
In this triptych, “Three In Red”, from“The Threads Project” I used red and white to create analogous images using different materials. The section on the left is wrinkled drawing paper and Nupastel. The center work consists of loosely-sewn red thread on tulle, while the right work uses shades of red and pink thread on cotton sateen. Each is approximately 17 x 17 inches.
“Dots” have been used in a long series of my paintings on canvas, such as LUSH“, NEBULA, DELTA, RED DELTA, and the triptych DREAMING OF INDIA. In keeping with my spirit of questioning how material and means affect the outcome of a work, I decided to use my favorite paper, Okawara, as the support for this new work which continues the use of dots.
The strength and clothlike quality of Okawara has provided the ideal surface for many applications in my work, especially its ability to withstand wet media such as the fluid acrylic I used in this piece.
Although I had plans to wind down my obsession with the dots in my paintings, the new, large canvas, titled “Lush”, took on a life of its own and the dots most certainly prevailed.
As with every new work, decisions are made moment by moment. “Lush” demanded an endless number of those decisions, with some hinging on the possibility of abandoning the painting altogether. Some time away usually helped see what needed to be done and kept the painting going. But I lived with it everyday, considering it even when brushing my teeth.
Sometimes I feel, as other artists do, that naming a painting limits the interpretation, but in this case, there is no doubt, in my opinion, of the descriptive power of “Lush”.