Two new teeny puppies arrived at my doorstep ready to see, smell, and touch the world for the very first time. I have been watching and tending to both Henry and Juno for several days and have begun to see curiously interesting connections between the process of painting and my new companions.
Our new puppies pounce, dart, and roll around much like an abstract painter approaches the canvas. Fresh, new dogs bring life to the surface of the canvas and to the creative process itself , giving freedom to the brush and letting energy flow.
My painting is very much about being fully alive, present, and staying in the moment, and I find inspiration in the way our new puppies will run around the rolling hills of Roxbury. My new terriers prance about, appreciating every moment this world has to offer. When I approach the canvas, I immerse myself in the world of my painting. I find myself observing new forms to explore and develop, very much like these two puppies who are ever so new to the world.
There are many times when painting is very much like putting a ladle into “the big soup” of life and seeing what pops up.
By “the big soup” we refer to a rich mix of memories, word associations, visual images both consciously observed and subconsciously observed, snippets of poetry, road signs, names of places visited in life and nearly everything else.
- the memory of both, and
- the myriad unexpected combinations of forms in space — moving and still.
Some forms are observed in real time and space. Some forms arrive in dreams.
The soup differs for each individual.
For me, the pot gets bigger and broader and deeper as the years go by and I see more and experience more in life. Both large events and the simplest of daily pleasures and activities broaden the pot. The soup of life is everything and nearly nothing at all.
The soup of life can be the remembered shape of a childhood toy or the profile of an Egyptian Pharaoh glimpsed out to the corner of one’s eye, passing through a museum in New York. It can be the blue green shadow surrounding a tropical plant or the edge of a table as the sun dips low in the evening sky.
An abstract painter like me plays with forms in space. Some paintings have more forms, others more space.
Sometimes space and forms arrive in equal amounts. Neither is better or worse than the other.
The space of a painting can be vast or it can be close at hand. A shallow space may sit right up against the plane of the canvas. In contrast, a deep, deep space moves far, far away from the eye of the mind.
I have long wondered why some artists -whether they be painters, sculptors, photographers, or conceptual artists- choose to work large or small or perhaps somewhere in between.
Some of the considerations for working large have to do with physical mechanics and how one navigates the space of a painting. Some artists use ladders or long handled brushes to make the painting itself. There are also issues of moving large artworks around from one corner of the studio to another or storing large scale works. Painting a large painting can be terrifically liberating. It might allow the artist to open up the space of a painting in a way that a small scale piece might not. Working large could encourage a wider arc, a bigger brushstroke or greater stretches of colour. On the other hand, a large painting could be intimidating and can start to feel like being swallowed up by the enormous and cavernous space.
Painting a large painting can be terrifically liberating. It might allow the artist to open up the space of a painting in a way that a small scale piece might not. Working large could encourage a wider arc, a bigger brushstroke or greater stretches of colour. On the other hand, a large painting could be intimidating and can start to feel like being swallowed up by the enormous and cavernous space.
Working small scale for a painter could allow for great intimacy. One can see the entire canvas in one breath and navigate the surface in minutes rather than hours. A smaller scale canvas can allow for the artist to see the whole and the parts at the same time. A large gestural stroke on a small scale canvas can feel gigantic of great power.
For some artists, a small scale canvas can feel limiting. It may feel cramped and claustrophobic to work in such a conservative area.
Large and small are cousins on the artistic plane. There is no right or wrong to working in either size. Every artist must find their comfort level through exploration of both large and small.
While looking at the art of Grandma Moses, it occurred to me how very much her paintings looked in spirit- and even form- like the landscapes and still life paintings of Fairfield Porter. Fairfield Porter was born in 1907 in Winnetka, Illinois and studied at Harvard, later entering the New York School art scene and producing representational art during the height of Abstract Expressionism. Porter’s art was both heartfelt and simple, depicting scenes of domesticity. Porter was fond of painting dappled lawns where the sun breaks through the trees and throws a pitter patter of small organic shapes on deep green lawns.
Both artists painted white open farmhouses with front porches and shadows cast by large oak trees, painting the true American landscape. While Grandma Moses yielded a smaller brush and worked in a more detailed fashion, her appetite and love for the simple chores of life, the beauty of farms and villages and the charms of a cloud about to nestle over a church steeple, was very similar to the vision of Fairfield Porter.
I am back from ten glorious days on a teeny tiny island floating in the Bahamas.
The island, with its exquisite blue green waters, pink sandy beaches and swaying palm trees, provided me with a great deal of calm in a tumultuous world. I breathed in with the ocean and gazed up at the deep blue sky.
Curiously, a great deal of the local architecture has remains unchanged over the past decades.
Like Havana and Cuba you can see white washed walls and beautifully repainted sides of buildings and doors where color comes thru color, much like an abstract painting.
There are stone walls that wrap around churches, painted a deep yellow or azure blue. These walls at time are pockmarked in quite beautiful and unexpected ways. They reminded me of the surfaces of paintings by Jean Dubuffet and the arte povera movement in Italy in the mid ’30’s.
There are also sections of curved walls where a top layer is painted a different color than the remaining wall. A lime green atop a rich grey, or a deep cerulean blue atop a swath of whitewashed wall. Much of this reminded me of the cakes that I make, as one color sits atop another in unexpected combinations.
On the faces of many buildings are doors, either beautifully faded or painted a deep dark red or lemon yellow creating an unintended richness.
An abstract painting, whether by Komarin or Matisse, where color is applied over other color, scraped down and repainted: all of this appeared around nearly every turn in the road.
I could imagine Vincent Van Gogh, walking these streets, corncob pipe puffing away looking at this magnificence of color, as past and present meet in the Bahamas.