Sunday, January 07, 2007

Picking up the pieces

For the last six months, I've had a primed, stained, compositionally-drawn canvas depicting a falling dragon, leaning against the wall. I have not been able to bring myself to finish the painting; the more I took it out and looked at it, the more I didn't want to paint that painting anymore. It seemed illustrative, redundant, too much like a painting I've already painted and don't have an interest in doing again.

So it sat there.

Also sitting there were some mandalas based on a moth which was obligingly posing on the door in Maine.

Also, in my head there started growing this image, in shades of yellow, gold, rose and ochre, which seemed to be based on Stravinsky's Apollon Musagete.

I've wanted to do something with 'Apollon Musagete' ever since seeing a film of Edward Villella dancing Balanchine's Apollo, back in high school, when I was still doing ballet training six days a week, despite the growing suspicion that it was literally, physically impossible for people with feet like mine to become professional ballet dancers. I've since looked everywhere a librarian can think to look, for a copy of that film; I believe it is mouldering away in a closet somewhere, on a black and white 16mm reel. I've resigned myself to never seeing it again.

Edward Villella actually is a god. I can't describe the film any better than that.

I took a master class from Edward Villella, once. Despite the fact that it IS literally, physically impossible for people with feet like mine to become professional ballet dancers, Edward Villella did not completely ignore my presence in his classroom. He came up to me, looked into my eyes, held out his arm, and said, "Circles."

While in art school, I seriously considered building a huge machine that whirled circular stained-glass windows around, in order to capture the brilliance, the movement of that music. My sculpture professor at the time completely failed to understand why I'd want to bother with that. Now I understand that either you're kinesthetic, or you're not, and people who aren't don't even perceive the energy of movement as a potential for expression.

But it's a lot simpler to simply create lines which imply movement, and colors which contain the brilliance.

So here I am, in the new year, branching out into near-total abstraction. I've been futzing around, of course--cleaning the studio, de-cluttering the top of the microwave, ordering stretcher bars, replacing all the light bulbs, going to yoga classes, attending science lectures and literary readings and live music performances, working on clients, making financial plans, but eventually I'm going to have to put some paint down.

You know how it is, after you've taken a break for awhile; the first stroke is always the hardest.


danonymous said...

NIce to see you applying a first stroke. Really liked the Mexico series #3 page of images. Very complete.
Have fun with the struggle.

Chris Rywalt said...

I've been thinking about painting, in a general way, lately. I probably shouldn't write about it, I probably shouldn't think verbally about it. I know it's something I should be working out with paint. But lacking anything to paint on -- I have some more sanding and priming to do (supports are precious and rare around my house) -- I keep thinking about it. Overthinking it, most likely.

But what I've been thinking is that I might just get a big blank canvas and sit in front of it and meditate on something -- meditate on some deep feelings of mine -- and then see what I paint. Maybe burn some incense.

Of course that means my painting will most likely be abstract, maybe with some Impressionism thrown in. But certainly not realism.

Because, for me, realism means something close to academic painting: Planning, sketching, composing, certainly not just jumping in to see what comes out.

And I feel torn between these two ends. Painting from feeling and painting from thinking.

Of course the two are not mutually exclusive. Are they? Are they for me?

Round and round my brain goes. I don't want to be an abstract painter, but maybe that's where I belong. I can't tell.

I know, I know, I need to actually paint. As Ed Winkleman says, "ass in studio."

jackadandy said...

Amen, sister!

jackadandy said...

Chris: Yeah, "ass in studio' it is.

That said: The verbal v. nonverbal (thinking v. feeling) issue was one I thought I had solved, with nonverbal (feeling) the knock-out winner, and verbal (thinking) banned from the arena, the course of my new work, which is rooted in this question, I've had to reexamine what I mean by "thinking".

For 15 years I've done community/environmental activism that involved a great deal of verbal activity, all the way from organizing the grassroots to analyzing the most excruciating policy documents.

I have now flipped and am dealing specifically with the same "material" but from my nonverbal (feeling) side, in the studio, with a brush. It's a wonderful, thorny challenge, this evolution, very liberating, and keeps me conscious of the difference between the two modes. I've had to internally reprioritize my historical impulses around the material, now priveleging "feeling" over "thinking".

However, I'm finding that in addition to the "ass in studio", brush-in-hand work, I also have mental visions that, damn it, really ARE the thing, too! In times past I would have dismissed them, not given them credance as "the real stuff", because they seem to come from my brain instead of my hand. But you know what? I think I've actually just gotten a shorter route from my creative center to my awareness such that sometimes my hand can be left out of the circuit, at least for a moment.

I've had to really look at this. It's almost like there is a direct mental route that is not "thinking" as we are discussing it here, but instead the same, or similar, thing that happens when I have the brush in hand. The visions that arise are then the grist in the studio.

So, in other words, maybe there's "thinking", and then there's "thinking", and I can make a distinction between the two.

Anyway, something to "think" about, lol...

annulla said...

Thanks for the photo and mentions of Villella. It puts me in the mood to watch some dancing. Lori Belilove will be giving a free performance at the Donnell Library next week - perhaps I'll see you there.

Chris Rywalt said...

The Donnell Library Media Center owns a copy of the 16mm film of Edward Villella performing Balanchine's Apollo mentioned by Stephanie. Unfortunately, it's in storage, and they have yet to work out a system for allowing people to retrieve items from the warehouse.

In other words, it's mouldering away in a closet somewhere.

prettylady said...

Chris, how DO you know these things--never mind, I'm not sure I want to know. I didn't even know there WAS a Donnell Library until now, and I'm a freakin' librarian, or as good as.

Chris Rywalt said...

PL asks:
Chris, how DO you know these things?

I've been on the Internet since 1988. I've been on the World Wide Web since it was invented in 1993. I cannot claim to be a pioneer on either frontier, exactly, but I have had many, many years of experience navigating computers and convincing them to give up the information I need.

I've written before that I am, at heart, a manipulator of symbols. Writing, drawing, painting, computer programming, and Google searches are all about manipulating symbols. I just happen to be pretty good at it.

Maybe I should change my online name to Magister Ludi.