Although it seems far more recent in the mind’s eye, it was back in the late 70’s that my dear wife and I rented a house out in the summer of 1979 in the Springs, East Hampton, where I was painting for my very first New York exhibition at Maxwell Davidson Gallery. Little did we know till a few days had passed that we had in fact rented next door to the world famous and very talented painter: Willem de Kooning.
I had been a devoted fan of de Kooning’s work ever since I was introduced to it in art school and very much loved his free swinging brush, and the way he would put a painting together, take it apart and put it back together, usually much stronger for the passages and necessary torture, it (the painting) went through. I am writing this piece from a cottage in Southampton, New York, looking out on grassy fronds and blue green bodies of water, all of it reminding me of that summer in the Springs. East Hampton and other sections of the east end of Long Island had great attraction for many painters of the early 50’s who were working in gritty downtown lofts, often dark and dank, and noisy from trucks rambling below. For de Kooning, the Springs reminded him of parts of Holland with its low lying land and pools of water and grass and a big sky overlooking everything. One would see de Kooning bicycling around in high white painter pant overalls and we chatted just a bit and he rounded this and that curve in the county roads.
At Bobby Van’s one summer night, (a local retreat where many painters and collectors gathered and way less busy than it is in the present day) I came up on de Kooning at the bar. I was drinking bourbon at that time, and we had one or two together and he was soft spoken and very smart and one could almost feel his intelligence combined with his dry wit. De Kooning’s paintings with their broad strokes and carefully ‘felt’ spaces between forms always spoke to me and still do. To this day, as one might imagine, I am still moved and appreciative that we had that drink and conversation in Bridgehampton that summer night and endlessly humbled to be part of the legacy that de Kooning, Pollock and Guston helped to form.
Southampton, New York
Collectors and curators often ask about the scribbles in Komarin paintings and works on paper. There is a curious set of differences between drawing in painting and scribbling in painting. Many people equate scribble with childlike play and there is much truth to that. Children draw and scribble openly, free from the constraints of order and clarity. They may attempt to describe a form of some kind, or more often the scribble will be a kind of energetic release, visual play with crayon or paint or pencil. Cy Twombly, a most respected abstract painter in this country who lived and worked in Rome for many years, used scribble often in his work. Twombly combined his sense of Greek and Roman history with aspects of American abstract expressionism and the free swinging of the brush. The works appear completely unplanned and have terrific energy and beauty. They often seem accidental and allow for a great variety of mark making. A Komarin painting incorporates scribble along with drawing in paintings and works on paper. The drawing often loosely references vessels and hats and common shapes from everyday life, though from to time an alien spacecraft of two will seem to pop up. So that the drawing in initial stages at least may describe consciously or unconsciously the description of “forms in space.”
Scribble in a Komarin painting will be most often unplanned. A Komarin painting will ‘need’ to have a certain amount of mark making to open up the space and bring new life to the drama unfolding. The scribble can be put down/ painted out and put down again. These rhythms have a life of their own as a form is drawn, erased, redrawn and then moved to another part of the canvas. Scribble is play but it also serves a serious function in the making of a Twombly, a Komarin…and those paintings, whether Picasso, Miro, Twombly, or Komarin paintings that combine drawing and painting together in a most organic manner. The scribble swims with the painted forms in a floating sea of activity.
Many people, whether collectors, curators, art critics or simply curious individuals with an appetite for learning ask: is abstract painting work or is it play? Of course answering this question depends a lot on how you define work vs play as these terms often overlap and mean different things to different people.
For me, painting is a lot about play. One gets into the studio not really knowing how the moments will go. The loaded brush moves quickly on the canvas, dripping this way and that, a form filled in with paint, scraped, removed, and then perhaps repainted in a different or parallel fashion, playful decisions keeping the too thinking brain out of the way. When a child paints, whether with fingers or brushes, they lose themselves in the painting. They tilt their heads, sometimes even resting on an extended arm and sing and dance their way into the painting. A child under the age of ten rarely cares about proportion or perspective. They are ever so free to deal with color and shape and this freedom is a beautiful thing to observe. Top and bottom, east and west, north and south all get happily lost in the painting process.
Work for many individuals is a daily grind, something they dread or look to avoid and the term work implies seriousness, intention and a final product or series of decisions. For me while an adult with a ‘playful’ state of mind painting allows me for a time at least to return to a childlike state Picasso said, “when I was 14 years old I could paint like an old master. It took me the rest of my life to learn to paint like a child.” Work only comes into play (all puns intended) when dealing with issues of transportation and organization. These are short-lived events on the larger face of things. A painter plays and paints a picture. The world sees it and smiles.
The use of line in drawing can function in many ways. It can be diagrammatic, choppy, tonal, or work in ways that can be defined as sensual or even erotic. The use of line that is erotic or sensual can describe a form, whether human or not, as the drawing could well of a bowl of apples or pears, but more often we think of the use of a sensual line in regards to human form, as human form particularly the female form has curves and hollows that lend themselves to a sensual line.
When we look at a very lean and elemental drawing of a woman by Matisse we see how very spare he is in his use of line. Picasso did many sensual drawings of the human form as well. Line describes volume and still asserts itself on the page in an abstract fashion, in that the viewer can appreciate the quality of the line in the same way that a singer can appreciate and adore the quality of a musical line apart from the meaning that it conveys.
When Komarin does a vessel drawing or painting, there is often an erotic or sensual aspect. Komarin vessels are entirely made up, though they stem from observing vessels from antiquity, whether Greek, Roman or Egyptian, for many years. A Komarin vessel, like a Matisse drawing, describes the forms involved, but carries with a certain grace like a song beautifully sung under a starry sky.
The subject of the use of the color pink by Philip Guston and Gary Komarin (me), who studied with Guston as a graduate teaching fellow in Boston in the mid 1970’s, comes up fairly often at exhibitions worldwide and studio visits by museum curators, collectors, critics and friends.
Guston’s use of pink is very different from mine. It may stem in part from a certain ‘cartooniness’ in Guston’s work and mine, but that is where the similarities end. Guston uses pink in a darker and grimmer fashion, as the skin is peeled back to reveal the raw pink matter underneath where blood and pink membranes commingle under the outer skin. Historically, one thinks of such pivotal paintings such as ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’ by Titian in 1575, where a horned creature (Marsyas) is hung upside down and its outer skin sliced off as punishment for his sins.
Guston had what I would call a tragically comic and rather dark vision of human kind and the human condition. He had lost a brother in a car accident whose legs had to be amputated followed by the spread of gangrene. I too lost a brother to leukemia when he turned 25, very shortly before I met Guston, but my use of pink is more life embracing, while still cartoony at times, as I was an avid reader of comic books and avid chewer of pink bubble gum as a kid growing up in New York in the 1950’s. The pungent inks of comic books fresh off the press was very available to a kid with a dime in his pocket, this coupled with the pink bubble gum from a local candy store within walking distance, was all very appealing. I poured over those comic books, greatly pulled in not only to the graphics, but the pure physicality of the paper and especially the color and smell of the inks used at that time. I was spellbound!
For me, pink is about possibility, growth, play and forward motion. A pink piece of bubble gum to a kid playing stickball in the streets of New York in 1958 was a colorful and positive world all to itself. Color can mean many great things to many people. It is not one thing.
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.