Friday, January 12, 2007

Thinking and feeling

Sayeth Chris:
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?
Replyeth Dandy:
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.

What I find is that it's a constant process of bouncing back and forth between the two, and bootstrapping myself along, basing each new piece on everything I've learned before.

Because let's face it, if you attack a canvas with sheer emotion and no skill, you're going to get a mud pie. A deeply felt mud pie, but a mud pie nonetheless.

However, if you approach painting from a purely cerebral place, the results will be academic and lifeless; they also won't push the boundaries of painting, whether that painting be good, bad or indifferent. A purely academic painting, in this day and age, in my humble opinion, isn't 'art' at all. It's a technical exercise.

I spent a lot of years doing paintings which I now consider to have been technical exercises. One of my primary concerns was painting light; it was important to me that I not merely depict luminosity, but that the actual object have a presence that was as close to radiance as possible.

'Paris Bridge,' oil on panel, 1998

I got that down. People started buying the paintings. I could probably have landed myself a decent dealer at that point, if I had stayed in San Francisco and continued cranking them out in the same vein.

So what did I do but move to Mexico and commence making mud pies. I didn't know at all where I was going with them; something in me just needed to push the envelope.

What I found, eventually, after generating a huge pile of bulky, problematic, strange paintings, was that all that technical work informed my ability to express myself more abstractly. I understood the principles of form, composition, color, medium and brushwork (or palette-knife-and-handwork; some days I never even pick up an actual brush) well enough to create an abstract painting which contained those same qualities of radiance and organic movement which the realistic ones depicted.

Also, I find that now when I get a mental vision of something abstract, I have the technical chops to manifest it effectively. This is still not easy and sometimes takes months of scraping down and re-working. But the technical principles remain the same, and there is still no compromising.

For example, with this one I'm working on now--part of what I'm doing is creating a tension of color, energy and texture between the intricate mandala form in the center, and the ferocious energy of the rest of the painting, as though they were coming from two different levels of reality. One of the most important things is not to paint the 'smooth' part in a flat, predictable way; I have to keep the brushwork interesting, and the color built up by layers of glazes so that it has depth, as though you were looking into a pool.

Using beeswax medium and a palette knife for the background, and stand-oil medium and brushes for the mandala further emphasizes the contrast.

As you can see, this one still has quite a ways to go. Just because something is abstract, doesn't mean it's random; I am constantly making decisions about balance, hue, contrast and color, so that the whole thing eventually projects the vibration that I'm experiencing.

The good news is that the break seems to have made a New Artist of me. I'm having no problem motivating myself to spend the vast majority of every day in the studio. Let's just hope the money holds out.

1 comment:

k said...

What an incredibly powerful painting.