Thursday, June 28, 2012


I was thinking this morning about the kinds of compositions I want to do.  More and more, I've been thinking that so much is in composition.  Of course how you use paint, how completely you finish, how you see and use color, etc., are all crucial too, but your choice of composition is maybe the deepest basis for the emotional content of your work.  

Monet's water lily paintings were such a break, such an invention/revolution in terms of composition.  How he used paint within them, his level of finish, how he "saw" were huge too, but the view into a pond of an infinite sky with infinite and yet perfectly cohesive color were such as hadn't been seen (from what I've read, anyway).  I'm drawn to compositions that see intimacy, emotion, and color all in places that aren't typical landscape scenes -- that are fragments abounding with infinity, like the water lily paintings.

I want to do a series of the creek next to which I grew up, but the views of the creek that I've been working with are more traditional, in part -- wide, open, not very complicated by foreground and background.  Not that that kind of complication is central to me, but I'm concerned with how to interpret a scene in an suggestive way rather than a descriptive one, and some traditional (not to mention serene) faraway views don't seem to present as much opportunity for gesture and movement.  I don't work like Wolf Kahn, who does a sort of abstraction-of-faraway-things beautifully -- identifying large masses, making some tiny marks within them, then adding a few fine gestural marks.  I want more broad gesture, more emotional evocation, more movement throughout.  Though I do love those few recent pieces of what he calls "spreading foliage" (one is featured at about 6:45 in this video).  Maybe because they're less concerned with unusual color and seem just in thrall with color and movement.  They take up the space of the canvas like (some) abstract painting -- like a Joan Mitchell.  I think that's in part what I want:  to take up the space of the canvas like (some) abstract painting does:  Lots of attention to balance and all-over movement, energy, life -- and yet to attend sensitively to colors, tones, etc.  

This morning, though, I was a little bothered when I found myself thinking that when it comes to the creek, my love for it makes me happy to subordinate myself to the beauty of the image -- I'm happy to paint it as it is, to try to do it justice, and homage.  That thought stopped me because I've sometimes wondered whether certain kinds of painting are more concerned with the painter's vision and interpretation, or ability, than with the her/his response to the subject.  And when I find myself thinking, in the case of this subject, "It's OK just to respond," I think, have I not been responding?  Have I been thinking instead?  It's not that I'm concerned about modesty, or that I disapprove of self-centeredness or self-promotion, but I wonder about the experience of the viewer when looking at paintings that are more about thought than about authentic response.  Does she/he feel at a distance, or even alienated?

Now I've come full circle in this line of thinking, though, because I also feel that some level of distortion, or abstraction, or mere suggestion, can make a painting more immediate and emotionally affecting -- certainly more so than a very tight, realistic rendering.  Maybe I want to see a distortion that arises from an emotional or visceral or aesthetic response, rather than from a more calculated assertion of style.  Or maybe I'm just looking for a type of response that mirrors my own?

Who's to say, of course, whether a painting is the product of emotion or reason; whether an artist's use of distortion brings a viewer closer to an experience or holds him outside of it; or whether it's preferable to feel enthralled or alienated.  Just the viewer, and different viewers will disagree. 

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