March 23, 2011

"Red Teeth" Revisited

At the risk of boring some readers, I thought I'd show the changes I made in this painting and discuss why I still don't think it's successful. The reworked painting is above, and you can see that I darkened the top area of reddish color, thinking it would compete less with the green. In order to balance the whole, I made the green shape a little smaller at top, so it wouldn't dominate the composition as much, and darkened the bright line at its upper edge.

But...the green and red shapes still read too much like flat shapes and have no physical presence. I now believe that this characteristic is at the heart of this painting's problem and it was pointed out by a Facebook friend, Jeff, who wrote that the realistic and abstract spaces, usually coexisting well within my paintings, were pulled apart here. This made me realize something essential to my work: that there is a fine balance to be achieved between the real and the abstract.


  1. you're right, doesn't work. glad to see how it looked though.

  2. Hi Altoon--

    this topic is so very intriguing and complex.

    in my view, what we usually refer to as “real,” that is “realism,” is actually illusionism and involves a re-presentation of something from one’s experience of the visible.

    on the other hand, the “non-objective” refers to nothing (directly) outside itself. in that sense, it stands as a “reality” all its own. in other words, it is real in and of itself, rather than a “re-presentation” of something else.

    in any event, your piece here seems to straddle the fence a bit; the top two shape compartments do not “read” as things identifiable, while the bottom passage may read more illusionistically due to the “modeling” of the dancing little “knob” forms.

    so, does this complex treatment of the space result in a painting that “does not work?” I am not so sure. The ambiguity in the way different passages “read” presents an intriguing sense of mystery and dissonance...

  3. and by the way...
    i feel energy and presence in the surface quality of the green shape... and to a lesser extent in the red-brown one.

  4. I have to say I agree with rappel, though Steve, I appreciate your thoughtful comment. As you point out, my language was not very precise here, as I should have said a "fine balance between the representational and the non-objective", though that phrase doesn't trip so lightly off the tongue.
    Another interesting thing with these photos is that there seems to be more energy in them than in the actual work, at least for me.

  5. I'm wondering whether the problem isn't more that there is too much going on in the non-representational red and green areas. If you've already written off this painting as a failure, in a way it's the perfect time to give it another go. See what happens when you really flatten those red and green shapes - to not have so much rothko derivative (excuse me but that is what they remind me of) atmosophere in them and really make them flat. I think it will result in less competition with the fore-ground - making it more active. i would also try and mute the contrasts between the red and green shapes. maybe this painting won't succeed, but it might give you the they solution to the next one.
    Btw, I really appreciate getting to see a work in progress along with the deliberations you are making. Its like getting to hear the white noise that goes on while painting, but from someone else's head.

  6. That's interesting, A. because one choice that crossed my mind was to totally simplify the bottom part of the painting, to play with it as a completely non-objective composition. But to be honest, I think it would be a whole lot less interesting than my initial conception.
    My example to avoid is Charles Sheeler's late paintings, which were more abstracted from perceptual reality and for me a whole lot less interesting than his precisionist work with its tension between the image and the abstract composition. I want that tension. This painting was simply poorly composed and for me nothing could fix it.

  7. When comparing two paintings, can you place them side by side so one doesn't have to scroll up and down? It would make it easier to follow your comments.

  8. A, thanks for the suggestion. The next time I write a blog post like this I will also include a side-by-side.