January 15, 2013

A New Painting, a New Idea, for the New Year

Untitled (Red, Blue, Yellow), egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 7 3/4 x 5 5/8 in.

A couple of weeks ago I had a curious brain wave; I had just done some sketches for new textiles (see below) and for some reason found them so compelling that I thought I'd try painting a similar motif: "ribbons", or flowing, curving, long thin shapes. I took out various pieces of wool left over from my textile projects––I save it all and have 3 shelves full––and played with colors and shapes. I think that part of what excited me so much was the idea of working with a greater range of color than my machines afford me, and having the ability to move things around at will, like a real still life painter. 

Untitled, detail

My paintings of agricultural equipment have always had a subtext for me; in addition to their formal qualities, there was always the meaning of farming in today's world. But this work, and others to follow  are more purely formal, about color, and gracefulness, and tensions across surfaces, and light, and weight. I don't know if this first painting in a new format is all that successful, but I don't care. I do know that as I work at something, it does get better over time, and I have quite a few ideas I'd like to pursue. At first I thought I'd give up working on the machinery images altogether, but as I looked over the studies I have, I was able to choose several that still seemed strong and compelling. They have wide ranging compositions that I could never find in a studio still life; so, I will do both. And why not, since I seem to be doing a little of nearly everything these days, except for sculpture. 

Here are the sketches for textiles that got me so excited. There was something about the forms that just pleased me. 

I put my three most recent works together to see how they related to each other; I think they're a bit like first cousins. For me the big difference is the light, with the two machine paintings painted in sunlight and the ribbons in a subdued light, but I can work with more cast shadows in future. The ribbons take some getting used to for me; the curled forms are so different, and I'm not sure of their emotional presence. But as I wrote above, I'm going to push on with them.

And I'm going to have some other fun: I began to think about shapes I could add to the still lives, so went out and bought some dowels, and some Play-Doh; along with potato and cardboard prints, it's a return to childhood. I can mold shapes that I might need (ah, maybe this counts as sculpture!) and smell that unique scent that takes me back years and years to youthful play.


  1. It is so much fun to be inspired to try something new. Well done.

  2. How wonderful! I've always loved the idea of still life generally, and of making objects to paint. The ribbon painting has beautiful color, and for me, emotional resonance too. Kudos!

  3. Thanks so much for your supportive comments, Lisa and Ravenna. You help make it easier to move forward.

  4. Thanks Altoon. You mind is fertile and viewers of your blog can always expect something new that you have thought about as you give others new things to think about.

    Looking at your sketches for the textiles that got you so excited, I was wondering what a painting by you would look like if the objects were separate from each other as in the sketch. This is something I began thinking I want to explore myself after recently reading a comment by John Gage on Matisse's "Gourds." It is this painting, Gage says, that Matisse attributes to where he "began to use pure black as a colour of light and not as a colour of darkness." (Gage, Color and Meaning, p233).

    1. Joan, there are many compositional possibilities that I hope to explore with this series. I love the Matisse quote and remember it from the Matisse show at MoMA a couple of years ago.