Painting on the Edge vs Edges of the Painting

Painting on the Edge vs Edges of the Painting

For a Painter — whether abstract or figurative or somewhere in between — the edges of the painting are a very important thing. The average viewer may not consider the edges of the painting, may never think at all in fact about the edges of the painting as they are primarily concerned with what is going on inside the painting. Before the 20th century most paintings in the West provided a picture window through which one looked into the painting to see the unfolding drama, whether figures acting out some sort of scene on the battlefield or an interior drama in a Venetian ballroom. The point is that one looked into the picture and did not consider the physicality of the canvas or the nature of the edges of the painting. A viewer of an 18th century Dutch landscape painting with cows grazing on rolling green hills and a hawk flying above a dark and cloudy sky would scarcely be aware of the edges of that painting. In contrast, if someone were to graze that viewer with the edges of a sharp knife they would very quickly be aware of the edges of that knife. The point being that when working on a rectangular canvas, which was the accepted structure and format in western painting for hundreds of years, the painter had to be concerned with the edges of the painting as paint was certainly applied to those four edges but also because the edges of the painting helped to define and focus on the drama occurring in the rest of the canvas. In other words, the subject of...
How the American West Served to Expand the Depth and Breadth of Painting

How the American West Served to Expand the Depth and Breadth of Painting

There is an unexplored relationship between the expansion of the American West and contemporary abstraction in painting. The American West and the opening of the West to exploration and expansion were filled with mythology and bravado, plus a great deal of inaccurate reporting. The Western territories were already inhabited in the 16th and 17th centuries by Native Americans who were tribal and of course did not refer to themselves as Indians or Americans. And while the Territorial Expansion was not fair minded or kind in any fashion, it did allow Europeans and individuals from around the world to find a part of the world that was full of promise, enormous in its geographic range and chock full of nearly impossible possibilities. Europe had for centuries been developed in its architecture and cultural agendas and its peoples located in a kind of caste system that could limit creativity. This is not to say that Europe did not develop some of the greatest painters in the world between the 15th and 20th centuries.  But there was a kind of limited thinking in terms of scale and the possibilities of what pearly open space could do to affect the artistic imagination. There is relationship, in other words, between the amount of space that people inhabit and how very wide they can spread their wings and fly. Artists working in Europe had limited space physically, culturally and mentally The artists working in tight channels in Europe, in city lanes and wrapped around mountain villages, with few exceptions, did not have the space or the imagination to think far outside the historical and architectural limitations of...

When Is A Painting Finished?

The question of when a painting is finished is difficult to answer. Throughout the history of art, questions of completion depended upon in what period one was painting. In the 17th century, for example, a painting was finished when the narrative was firmly in place, the surface of the painting was taut and glazed, and when little was left to the eye and the mind to question. Most of the work was done by the artist. Picasso and others in the beginning of the twentieth century began to question ideas about finish and levels of completion. Picasso opened the door to leaving a painting with a kind of fresh composition and surface that went against early notions of finish and completion. Picasso played with the surface and attendant mark making. He might leave areas of the canvas exposed. In other cases he changed direction often with the mark of the brush and changed again and again so that the viewer is pulled into a tangled web of decision and indecision. For me, a painting is not so much finished as left alone after several or many approaches in the “battlefield” of the studio. For me, a painting develops. After a certain point, it takes on a life of its own and this energy speaks back to me as the painting progresses. This pushing back on the artist is a very good thing. I work the canvas on the floor of the studio, moving around and around the painting, losing sight of up and down, left and right or east and west.  Getting lost in the canvas allows the free brushwork...
Levels of Abstraction

Levels of Abstraction

All art is abstract. It is a matter of degree, not a question of either or. Whether one is looking at Cave Painting, Early Italian Painting, the paintings of small children, the paintings of a developed Realist or a hard edged Minimalist; abstraction is the common chord that runs through all paintings, as well as music, film, poetry, the novel, the short story and life itself. Constructs such as realism, new realism, painterly realism, cubism, futurism, and minimalism are all attempts by humans to categorize and contain that which resists categorization and containment. When a caveman went into the back of a cave to draw on a craggy and broken surface the image of a bison that he might meet later that day, his concern was to render that image with as much feeling and simplicity and accuracy as he could muster. Working from memory, the image that he painted on the cave wall would invariably have been a reduction, a simplification, an abstraction of the more complicated visual dynamics that are involved with replicating the image of a bison in a pre-photographic age. The caveman, like the child, is working abstractly without realizing that he is doing so. When Vermeer painted a maiden pouring milk into a bowl amidst sunlight pouring through a dutch window, he is of necessity simplifying and abstracting forms in order to both tell his story and to reduce and simplify forms in space in a very complicated visual world.  If you hold a Vermeer painting upside down and concentrate on the space between things or the space between objects — under tables, for...

Questions of Influences on Abstract Painters

  All artists are influenced consciously and subconsciously by what they see, feel, and touch from birth to around age ten.  The artist is often not aware of these influences, which surface after time as the mind begins to process such influences. For me, growing up in the streets of New York brought accumulating impressions from street surfaces, repaved roads and sidewalks, and everywhere, asphalt meeting concrete. I noticed how surfaces and shapes were repainted, worn down and repainted again. All of these tactile  and visual “joinings” — brick meeting brick meeting tile and scratched pavement — played a part in my early visual memory and later “fed” the paintings I would do in the full breadth of my career. I was also quite influenced by comic books and bubble gum, and not only the visual and tactile references but also the mysterious, nearly exotic fragrances of printer’s ink in Superman comics and Mad magazines, which I bought with great relish. I inhaled those inks page by page as I breezed through these magazines and periodicals, after riding my bicycle to the candy store which sat only a few hundred yards from our home. Bubble gum, all pink and pasty, came in a variety of formats. This pink bubble gum — wild in color, flat and dusty at times, chunky and thick in other cases — was bought for a penny even. It became crazily flavorful after a few chews. This gum accompanied many of our street games such as stickball, box baseball, or hit the penny. All kids enjoyed blowing bubbles, often exhaling huge ones until the gum...