Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Time Between

Yesterday I was so frustrated with the big canvas that I painted the whole thing an off-white color and left the studio. 

Now I am ruminating over it. Finally, I have reason to look through the piles of old art magazines I’ve saved over the years. (See, I knew they’d come in handy one day!) I leaf through those magazines, looking for something that connects: a surface, an image, a color. Last night I found something. It was a photo of a prehistoric wall painting.
It makes perfect sense that I'd be drawn to such an image, since my greatest inspiration is the earth and physical surfaces. Those paintings by early humans are consistently aesthetically and scientifically elegant. Our specie was so much closer to the essentials of living. Imagine, for example, how quiet it must have been. Even though the brain may not have been as highly developed as it is today, the sensorial experience of life was a much bigger part of our awareness. When I am locked safely into my studio and I don't have to worry about being disturbed, I relish the time to pick up little things dropped onto the studio floor. Sometimes, I find beautiful pieces of paper stained and marked by the random movement of their life. 
I am a sensualist. I think I paint from the sensations in my fingertips as much as anything. The senses are very important to me. Even line, especially calligraphic line, which can be very cerebral, conveys physical movement in my work. 
Anyway, all this 'thought-talk' is to say that today’s blog addresses the issue of painting when the brush is not in my hand. What is painting in the time between the movements of the brush?
Do not confuse this with that nonsense about creative blocks. I don’t believe in creative blocks. I am simply at a point of reflection and thought. I am not only painting when my brush is in motion. I am also painting when I am contemplating the piece, the process, the intention, and the spiritual receptivity I need to go further.  (Remember: make something happen, and let something happen.) This part of the process demands patience and deep faith in creativity, and its veracity in a largely commercial and violent society.
            If this hasn’t given you enough to think about, I am going to do something I’ve never done before: I am going to publish two posts in one day. This reflective time in the painting studio can be made exceedingly painful, if the painter becomes bogged down by self-doubt. That doubt is actually the nature of what has come to be called “creative blocks”. So when I say I don’t believe in creative blocks, it’s because the 'blockage" is not in the creativity process. Rather, the interior atmosphere darkened by self-doubt becomes a deadly environment for creativity. Self-doubt is about self-identity. The next post addresses the issue of self-identity, using an excerpt from my novel, Persephone’s Tango.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Beyond Ego

“When it is working, you completely go into another place, you’re tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about.” ~Keith Haring

I have read and reread the above quote from the late Keith Haring. It supports me when the creative process gets moving at a pace beyond thought. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? To be so deeply immersed in something that the ego is relinquished. You know you are in “the zone”, that place that can make athletes, champions, and artists, groundbreakers. I’ve been there this week, but let me tell you, it’s not an all-exhilarating ride. What Haring doesn’t say (well, it’s only 2 sentences) is that you must give up control, but not for a sense of freedom. Let's look at the scene: I'm in my process, it is my work, it’s going to have my name on it, but I have to surrender control . . . . to the materials. I must let the materials lead me just as a partner leads me in dance.
         In Freeing the Creative Spirit I say that in the creative process you must make something happen, then let something happen. I have probably said that a thousand times to students, and another thousand to myself. It isn't an easy thing to do. 

Can you see how the canvas seems to be becoming a reptilian creature? I have expanded the use of snakeskin, and by yesterday, I was afraid of the darn thing! I know that Keith Haring, Francis Bacon, and so many great artists have said that relinquishing control is an essential requirement of the process, but it is absolutely counter-intuitive when it really happens. While I may be making a courageous creative leap, I suddenly fear failure and humiliation (even though what is happening is behind a locked door, and I am alone).
So, what pushes me forward? What fuels me?Maybe if you look closely at this image you can see it: The skin, polymer, wire and paint a developing a vivacity that fills me with joy. The surface is alive. It is beautiful and sensuous, and I love it completely until that moment when I step back and feel doubt. (Maybe this has happened to you with a person?) Doubt is natural, too. It is another tool. I have to read my doubts as the work progresses. I sell myself nothing. When the painting is finished, the whole thing should breathe the vivacity. If it doesn't, I've failed. I may know that it looks hideous at the moment, but that's okay, because the piece is not finished yet. The rest of the environment does not yet support the new addition. 
            I make the only decision possible at this time: do more! Keep going! If I’m creating a monstrosity, I will keep at it until it is not a monstrosity. Besides a monstrosity would be better than a "pretty painting". It should fascinate or repel the viewer. Seduce or threaten. There is only one thing I will allow it to be in the end: Art, good Art.
            I caress the canvas. I fall in love with one isolated place. Then I discover another nice place on the surface. I see one place where the colors have come together beautifully. I breathe deeply, and walk away for another day. "Let it dry."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Studio Notes

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Scott Adams

I took the sander to both paintings over the weekend. With this new material (Presto Patch*) I used on the larger painting, sanding is an even bigger mess than usual. It sands to a very fine dust. I absolutely wore my mask, and my house vacuum cleaner is now installed in the studio. 
The gray painting (on which I used FlexAll*) has not progressed much. The 36” x 36” piece got most of my attention. I decided to balance the top of the canvas with the texture and depth of the bottom part. So I added wire. 

Then applied more Presto Patch. This is my first time using that material. I used up a whole bucket of it on the bottom of the painting and when I went back to the hardware store they only had the powder form. I figured it would be one quick extra step to mix it. How long could it take? How much trouble could it be?

Well, it was probably upward of eighty degrees in the studio that day, and while the initial mixing went quickly, so did the drying. It was setting up as I applied it! I managed to get the first batch onto the canvas but when I tried mixing another batch, it was impossible to apply. It hardened right in the mixing bucket. Fortunately, I had applied basically all I needed, and it was late in the afternoon, well, getting to be evening, so I closed up shop for that day.
One of the biggest challenges in this painting has been color. That’s an unusual problem. I’m having trouble getting, what I might call, my color orientation with this piece. I am doing some calligraphic line with blue water-soluble pencil on strips of adding machine paper, adding it as I go along. (Sorry the photo isn't very good.)

I'm also adding those markings along the top of the painting. That blue may eventually lead me to the right color balance. Or, it may disappear all together!

Another issue with this piece: It’s the heaviest piece I’ve ever done. I have to have something propped up under the easel tray to hold it in place! That won't be easy when hanging. But there's no turning back now!
(These two items are Trademarked)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Work Progresses

Continuing to blog about the work being done in preparation for East Bay Open Studios, photos will fill in the million things I could never explain in words.  I am working on two paintings right now. One is receiving the early (gray) foundation work. It is 24" x 24". This (on the right >) is what it looks like right now.
My next step will be to smooth the surface with the electric sander. I may decide then to add more FlexAll or some other material before I apply paint. I have no idea where I will go with it. So I see it looking back at me with a challenging stare, as if to say, “Okay, I dare you. Make art out of me.”

The other painting is further along in the process. (Below, on the left) It is 36" x 36". I knew I didn’t want this to be a white and gray painting, but my appreciation of the surface on the bottom half of the piece was holding me back. So worked on the spiral wire and snakeskin section developing horizontally. (Bottom, right) 

I was having  fun with this section. I had added a section of spiral wire from a notebook. I've saved up a bunch of those wires, so I was able to add sections, pull them, and play with them before fixing them to the canvas.

 Even though I was having fun, I knew I was stalled by the fact that I’d fallen in love with the surface south of the wire. So this afternoon I took a large brush and painted a totally different color all over the canvas.

 This won’t be the eventual color. It is what we call “under painting”. I chose a color I'd already mixed for another piece that is now finished. It's a color that takes me closer to ‘earth’ and further from ‘sky’. 

You can see that intuition plays a huge part in the painting process. All that I have written about today will remain in the memory of the final piece. Just as in life, the accumulation of all these steps (the bad choices and the good ones) will be part of the overall character of the final piece.