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.


  1. Thank you for the Passion & Joy for Art you bring the world! Your Biggest Fan.......

  2. Love your comments on scale, Joan. Unfortunately for you, this means that I wlll be saving up my wonderings and musings re the visual arts and pouncing on you with them each time we meet! (Which I hope is often.)

  3. Joan,
    Your wisdom grown of experience is thought-provoking treasure. Thank you!

  4. Mami,

    Beutiful words. Almost as beautiful as your paintings.

    I love you