October 23, 2009

A Craving for Images

Blue and Black, 2008, 12 x 12 inches, egg tempera on panel

In my post "A Walk in the Woods", I touched on my desire to gather images and that painting, rug hooking, and photography all satisfied that desire, but in different ways. I'd like to expand on that idea and tease out more of the meaning of each for me. I'm sure that those of you who work with more than one medium notice that each process engages the mind or body differently.

I am primarily a painter, having put paint to canvas or board for over 40 years. If I don't paint for a few days, I get itchy, wanting to work, sometimes for the simply pleasurable sensation of working a brush over a surface. There is also the deep satisfaction of creating an image, one that convinces the viewer and has a tactile presence. As years have gone by, this "making" of a thing has become more important to me; previously, my landscape work was more visual, an illusion of deep space. What has remained constant for many years is the meaning I attach to farming subjects; agriculture is an essential activity that is sometimes destructive; it is noble, endangered, and hopeless. These thoughts are important in motivating my work; I wouldn't want to paint details of carnival rides, however colorful.

Turquoise Circles, 2006, 12 x 10 inches, hand-dyed wool on linen

Except for a few brief forays into abstract painting, I've always worked with images. But I love abstract painting, especially minimalism. When I started making hooked rugs in 2005, my idea was to have a few handmade floor coverings, but it soon became evident to me that this medium was ideal to explore my interest in abstraction. Because it was new to me, it didn't carry years of experience in a representational style as painting did. A hooked rug's marvelous colors and textures allowed for play within simple shapes. I was able to honor, by imitating yet changing, many of my favorite paintings. When I'm painting, I have to devote my full attention to it (except for the radio, playing in the background). Hooking a ruglet, once the design is drawn onto the backing, is relaxing handwork, which I'm able to do while watching tv in the evening. There is something almost sculptural about a finished ruglet; our experience of it is very sensual. For me there's less of intellect and more of direct line-shape-color than in painting. My years of hooking have truly influenced my paintings, though, as they give me a clearer way towards abstraction. See a wall of ruglets here, and the later paintings here.


When I was an art student, I took a photography class before I learned painting; sometimes I think that my method for composing paintings was fixed by this first contact with a camera and its limiting viewfinder. For many years, I used photography as only a drawing aid for my paintings, an easy way to record details for later studio work. For a short while I had a small photo business, making cards and prints of still life. I loved composing and shooting the objects and the light, loved the challenge of creating variations within the same format. For me, time is a distinguishing feature of photography, in that I am capturing a moment. The study for a painting is done over the period of an hour or so, with the light being a composite of what I saw; the making of the work takes hours more, and that time is inherent in how we look at painting. Rug hooking is also a lengthy process. When I take a photo, it is a record of a moment, carefully composed to be as expressive and beautiful as possible. My camera is my eye saying "look at this wonderful thing". This is an immediate pleasure that has become a necessary activity for me in my daily life.

And finally, I'd like to say a word about writing, since it's an essential part of this blog. For most of my life I felt I couldn't write, then in the late 90s I was asked to write a short piece about my work. I found that I loved crafting words, that it was almost a physical pleasure, certainly a mental one. Words are a essential part of the making of this blog, adding content and complexity to images.


  1. pleasure to read this, Altoon. I love the connections back and forth, and the history/ development.
    question: how would a ruglet & painting duo look? I have no idea, just wondered if you'd explored this at all. (not as digital reproductions, but the actual physical objects.)

  2. Thanks, glad you like the post.

    I've never thought of a ruglet/painting pair. My thought processes are so different for each; paintings come from an actual object and ruglets from abstract painting or from my abstract thumbnail sketches. Maybe at some point I'll be able to design a hooked piece from a painting, but I've always shied away from repeating any image in another medium. I like the way painting/ruglet converse now, but one never knows how that will change in future.

  3. Brilliant posting, Altoon. Dense with images and information. Your writing is a gift to be shared and appreciated as are your so many other talents. I wish I could figure out how to images throughout my posts, not just the beginning.

  4. I really like the spatial feeling in "Blue and Black".

    Regarding rappel's comment, (although this isn't exactly the same idea as an intentional or literal pairing), I would enjoy seeing a gallery show of your work where the paintings and ruglets are curated in pairs based on the shapes and colors they contain, since you zero in on shape and color in both mediums.

  5. I'd enjoy that too, Mona; I often think of a grid of ruglets hung next to a grid of paintings. If there were only a gallery willing to be so adventurous....