Friday, December 25, 2009

About Rules

I have learned about painting by looking at paintings and I learned about painting at school.

But mostly I have learned about painting by painting. In order to make paintings that meet the need that provokes the output, I have to put aside most of the rules and learning that have come from outside of myself — except for the purely technical information. It is too easy to make a painting that looks like a painting and therefore is a painting. When I was at school, there was a lot of talk, when “critiquing” a painting in progress, about depth. Paintings had to manifest an illusion of three dimensions. We didn’t need that deceit when we were in the classroom of Two Dimensional Design, nor when we were learning calligraphy.

Space was an essential consideration in the architecture classroom and the sculpture lab, and definitely to be desired in a painting. I was halfway through my life (assuming I will last until eighty or ninety), when I realized that I hated that deception. I love the flatness of a canvas or a sheet of paper. I do not want to destroy it with a mirage. I want to consider the entire rectangle, (or square, don’t like circles or triangles or any other roundish or angular shapes for paintings), and keep every bit of it looking as flat as it is to start with. I was so accustomed to envisioning object and background, or foreground, middle ground and background, that I had to struggle to see differently and work differently. That struggle is behind me now; I see and paint what I consider realism: paint and/or other media on a flat surface, no illusion of depth intended. I have no quarrel with seeing space in other painters’ work, just don’t want it in mine.

At my last show, a number of people commented on the depth they saw in my paintings. Well, what do you do? Paintings are for the eye of the beholder. I am comfortable with whatever it is that viewers bring to my work and very often surprised and enlightened.

The image above is the Nostalgia Quartet, acrylic & mixed media collage on archival board, 19.5” x 14.5” each panel, painted in 2008. For information about any of the paintings seen on this site please email Joan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

About Words

The artist is required to speak and write about her work. I am asked: “What kind of painting do you do?” An artist’s portfolio must include an Artist’s Statement. We are told to speak of the why and wherefore of what we make visible with our tools and materials. As the artist changes and grows, so must the statement.

Needless to say, for most of us the written word is a greater challenge than the art we produce. Especially when the words are meant to give understanding to what we have already made visible. We want the work of art to speak for itself, to stand alone, strong, needing no props.

But we are told that the words are necessary so we write them and insert them into the packets we present to the galleries and art consultants that we want to connect with. We print out the words and hang them on the walls of the galleries when we exhibit the work. We use them for press releases and other kinds of promotional outreach. And we revise and revise and revise. We change; the work changes.

I recently found in my files a statement I wrote I don’t know how many years ago. It might as well have been written by somebody else. I am no longer that person nor am I that painter. From that old statement: “My painting is about some of the things I find beautiful. Mostly it’s a shape, a mood, a human gesture.” From a later statement: “My painting is about color. I present it without reference to anything outside the painting.” And from the statement I am using now: “The focus of my work is luminous color. I paint on paper which I assemble into paintings by composing the panels into groups and adhering them to canvas or board.”

Same painter metamorphosing into the painter she wants to be.

The image above, The Good Apple, painted in 1978, is of the same mind as the oldest statement excerpted here. I still like the painting and am proud of it. But I don’t want to do that kind of painting now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

About Scale

TIME OFF, pictured here was photographed before completion. If you look closely you might notice that a lot of the elements are taped in place. It was finally mounted on canvas and measures 62 x 198 inches.

At a very pleasant dinner party recently, my friend and hostess Jane, asked me to address the subject of scale. I have worked from tiny (3.5 x 2 inches) to very large (62 x 198 inches) but I have not given a lot of thought to scale. While I have heard it said that small is as much a challenge as large, there is definitely some contrast. What is the same (and I speak only from personal experience) is the attention. The involvement with the project at hand, that effort to “get it right” seems the same. The difference lies in seeing the work — how far from it you need to get to see it and then how to keep that image in mind when you are close up and nose to the canvas (or whatever the surface) again. Therein lies some of the greater challenge of a large work. And then of course there is the pure physicality of working on something really big — just getting from one part of it to another and —  yikes! Moving it! The canvas pictured here was stapled to the wall; my son helped me get it up there; my daughter watched over me as I adhered the painted squares in place (using a diagram to be sure I was putting each where it belonged), and a group of talented young interns from the First Street Gallery took it down, rolled it and rehung it for the show I had with Humboldt State University. I was totally daunted by the process and amazed at how well these young people handled it.

So why work that large? Well, mostly for the presence and majesty that something that large can have, though clearly not all big paintings make the grade. Robert Motherwell translated a very small gestural sketch into an enormous painting that hangs at the National Gallery in Washington DC. The original little one had the energy of his hand and the life in him. The big one, which I raced up the stairs to see when I got to the museum, was totally dead. A zombie. In the next room was a huge painting by Mark Rothko that caught me by surprise and brought tears to my eyes. It was wonderfully beautiful. Rothko said he wanted his viewers to enter into his paintings and so made them large enough for that. This one sucked me right in. The large size in Rothko’s hands and in some of Motherwell’s more successful works, becomes heroic. There’s a power to command your attention when the artist deals well with that scale. So why work small? The answer for me is for the intimacy of the process and its result. You must stay close as you work; you can always hold it in your field of vision, and the viewer must get close to see it. I like all of that.

There it is, Jane. I have addressed the subject of scale, a personal view. Comments always gratefully accepted.

P.S. If you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, please do. Just go to the Feedblitz icon in the sidebar, put in your email address and follow the instructions. You will then receive the posts as email with the images and links back to the blog. I really like writing it and want to have an audience for my prattle. It is the best remedy I have found so far for the loneliness that can come from so much working in solitude. And any comments you are inspired to leave (where it says “Comments” below the posts) are truly welcome.

Friday, December 4, 2009

About Beauty

The topic chosen for discussion by a group of artists I will meet with soon is “beauty”.

As my thoughts turned to the subject of beauty, “ugly” came to mind. As there are many variations amongst cultures and within cultures, and within the history of one culture, about what constitutes beauty, the same is true for ugly. I have stopped watching a number of television series because of scenarios too ugly for my taste. I have gotten used to violence on the screen but some shows became too graphic for me while they continued to be popular. Some people's thresholds for ugly are higher than mine. I read a book recently by an Afghan who described a beautiful woman whom the protagonist loved as having a most graceful hooked nose; one that might have seen the cosmetic surgeon’s hammer had she wanted to be found attractive in this culture that I was raised in. Marilyn Monroe would not be slim enough by today's standards if they are to be judged by clothing models.

My mother made me a dress when I was a very little girl of a fabric called “dotted Swiss”. It was printed with small, delicate and pale violets. More than anything else that I remember wearing, I loved that dress. And today when I see something — a wrapping paper, wallpaper, a painting, anything that looks like those violets, not only do I find it beautiful, I find it movingly beautiful.

I am going to refrain from drawing any conclusions here, and I will not write much more as I like to keep my posts appealingly short. I might go back to this one day because the thoughts about beauty (and ugliness) keep coming. For now I will leave you with some favored quotes:

Francis Bacon (the philosopher/writer, not the painter): “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion”.
And along that line, Havelock Ellis: The absence of flaw in beauty is itself a flaw.

Anais Nin: We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.

Petrarch: Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together.

Buckminster Fuller: When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

And finally, Jean Kerr: I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?

Allegiance, the collage/painting pictured above done in 2000, is about putting two oranges together to make them appear even more beautiful than they could be on their own.

To see miniature paintings available for sale, please click on Tinies and Butterflies.