Friday, November 21, 2014

Ground Plan

Acrylic on archival paper, 23" x 30"
$1200, free shipping in U.S.
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(Forgive the length of this, but I thought some might enjoy reading about the genesis and development of this painting.)

“Ground Plan” was painted over an old, unsuccessful painting on a sheet of Indian Village paper. It’s fun to paint over a failure. It’s like finally getting to beat up on the mean bully that was always kicking sand in your face. Never again will he taunt you.

There’s an added bonus: a pristine white surface can intimidate, sitting there waiting to be turned into a masterpiece. But a failed painting says “What’s left to lose?” The beautiful surface has already been defaced—might as well see if I can make something else out of it. It’s also somehow easier and more interesting to apply paint over previous paint, dragging one color over another.

That’s how most of my paintings begin these days, dragging one color over another, looking for an opening, trying to let my intuitive hand do the work while remaining an interested but slightly distant observer, my analytical brain throttled down to autopilot.

Color choices are spontaneous and arbitrary—the brush dips into green. I do have a vague idea in mind: A recently completed painting called “Distant Stone” seems promising; maybe it could be a starting point for a series of works. I leave a small area of the old painting untouched, surrounding it with the green. Suddenly, it’s a stone in a green landscape, and the painting begins to have a focus.

I do have in mind a landscape, but not necessarily a naturalistic one. I’m after landscape more as metaphor than as fact. A broad-brushed and fluid pass of blue across the top of the page is all that is required for the imagination to commit to “sky”. Now the foreground stares at me, blank and incomplete. I think “birds”.

Don’t ask me why I thought of birds, except that they have appeared from time to time in my work for years, and lately they’ve been popping up a lot. I try not to question these things—it’s not a good idea to over-investigate your motives. Paintings don’t take kindly to it. If you start analyzing the “why” of every move you make while painting, you can watch the life just suck right out of it. I do feel the need for some reference, though. I have an old encyclopedia of birds I picked up at a Goodwill store. I decide in advance that whatever page I randomly open to, those birds will be the reference for the painting.

I throw the book open and what do you know—green birds for my green landscape! These are the kind of little synchronicities—call them gifts-- that I count on and regularly receive in painting and in life.

Later, I go back and read their names; “Merops orientalis”, “Melittophagus bulocki”, “Coracias abyssinica”. Most happen to be native to Ethiopia. Interesting, but not the point. the bird photos are just starting points, to be loosely interpreted in the painting. I’m not trying to be ornithologically correct (is that a word?) No doubt I’d be laughed right out of any self-respecting birder’s club. I just need some little birdish looking inhabitants for my imaginary landscape. They are also metaphors, though of what I’m not exactly sure. I’ve learned that it’s okay—even desirable-- to embrace the mystery of things.

Later still, when my analytical eye once again blinks open, I may look at this painting and realize there were all kinds of solid, rational reasons for doing what I intuitively did. It often happens. But right now, I don’t want to know.

1 comment:

Randall David Tipton said...

I liked that Don! It`s really interesting to hear what a painter thinks! Please do more of this kind of writing.