July 5, 2012

A New Painting: "Centered", and My Confusion Moving Forward

Centered, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 6 1/2 x 5 in.

I enjoyed making this painting, except for the detail of the chain, which made me drag myself kicking and screaming (I hate doing this!), forcing myself to work with calm and patience. It's odd to say this, considering the precision of my paintings, but I'm not at heart a patient person. All the details in my work are there in order to push the sense of an actual physical presence, not because I love them for themselves.

Centered, detail

When I can be calm and focused, I'm able to approach painting this kind of small machine part with pleasure. The quality of light, the color, and the basic simplicity of the composition appeal to me in this image.

But when I began to work on the next painting, which was the black image at right (the blue one was to follow), I had an eruption of rebellion, and deep uncertainty. The image seemed too fussy and too full of small things. Ditto the other image. (Of course you have to take into account that these photos are studies, and the paintings that come from them will be greatly simplified and in some parts changed.) There I was, painting this picture while also thinking about my upcoming print projects and a textile in progress. (You can see my three recent prints here.) I began asking myself why I can't make an abstract painting, like I make abstractions in my other mediums. 

The answer I think is that my decades long involvement with representation still pulls at me; it makes me feel that I can find much more interesting compositions out in the real world than I can invent. Using wool, or now cardboard for prints, sets me free from custom in a way that I am not in paint...though that may change over time. The image above, shot this spring, is one I will attempt in paint instead of the blue and black pair. The way forward, instead of giving up on painting for now (which sometimes seems attractive I have to admit), is to continue to make the images more abstract.

After spending lots of time photographing on farms, then choosing, cropping, and printing out images, I tack them up on boards where I can contemplate them over a period of weeks and months. A lot of winnowing goes on; I may start with 70 images and end with 35. Right now I'm feeling that I have to go out and find more images which will fit my desire for simplicity. I still feel confused, but I guess we all have to move ahead even with tremendous uncertainty. Ah, where is the assuredness of youth?!

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