When I moved to Savannah in 1992 I had no idea so many things around me would be different. The first thing that struck me was the vegetation, the Spanish Moss, palm trees, Crepe Myrtles. This tropical climate was so different from the elm trees, poplar trees and the silvery stone I was accustomed to. In Philly the seasons changed and life was marked by those changes. The rhythm of the seasons affected my work, causing me to include rich tones of drastic seasonal shifts, Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, and Alizarin Crimson dominated my palette in those days. Now permanently residing in Savannah, the light, the gray moss covered trees, even the beach has made an indelible impression on how I produce.
In my practice I've made major shifts in the use of color and seriously contemplated how light has affected my concept and content. I shifted from a brightly colored, heavily patterned figurative in 1980s, to patterned monochromatic bleach on black paper images in the 1990s. The bleach pieces were as much about light, and environment as they were about restrictions in space. The work evolved to address process and gender.
Artist through time have been affected by color and light. In 1871, James Whistler created the famous image of his mother, better known as Arrangement in Grey and Black Number 1. I was always impressed that Whistler was contemplating value far before the subtle shifts in value made by Mondrian in Composizione (1920). White is never really white is it. This is when the push and pull of depth in space and the administration of chroma to an achromatic base is at its best. Can I produce a colorful body of work that appears to be purely achromatic? I'm in the studio addressing the depth of field using shallow space by employing incremental shifts of chromatic value.
I am confining myself to a complex flat shape that unpredictably extends beyond its limited perimeter. The work inevitably becomes about gender, and race. The shape with all its encroaching dimensions is confined within the canvas it's flatness won't allow it to move forward and it can't go beyond its own four walls. It can only draw into itself or billow around aimlessly within its own space.
Next post I am going to talk about going to the light.
Today my focus is on the connection between the content of the art and the medium. Truly artists each pursue a specific medium or find themselves drawn to a particular media. I describe myself as a "trained painter", painting has always been my medium. However, on the side I bead, crochet, photograph, weave, garden. All these things inform my work and develop my sensibilities of color, space, texture, and surface.
While in graduate school I had a comrade who said," a painter paints because they believe in the fantasy of the picture plane, on the other hand a sculpture sculpts because they like to experience the physicality of the form." I see many graduate shows in Savannah. I often go into these exhibitions and wonder, was that the best media to get your point? Alternatively, I think, what are you trying to say? Does the method/ medium you chose really convey that?
An art show should read like a book, each section a chapter, the individual image the content. The medium the work produced in assists in the reading. Viewing an art show should not require one to have to read words to comprehend the imagery. There is a fabulous essay by Mira Schor, titled, Modest Painting from her book, A Decade of Negative Thinking (2009. Duke University Press). She emphasizes the importance in the application of the medium, such as in the works of Gerhard Richter. Shor directs her reader to understand that painting does not have to be grandiose to communicate effectively. It is the method, which communicates the idea.
In my recent painting, I focus on capacity and constrained space. I use the painted surface, as a portal, it can be inviting, or, confrontational. My paintings show the sculptural form on a two dimensional surface, a comment on the limitations and the falsified illusion of dimensional space. Is paint the best direction to comprehension? Years ago, I concluded that a painting should be able to do everything I needed. The paint could be hyper-realistic, intimate, hard metal or, soft clay. This freed me from the intimidating feeling that I should be exhibiting in some other medium. It also cleared me from the feeling that painting had to be useful like a cup or bowl. The purpose of the painting is to share the earth's many stories.
I work in other mediums, I crochet, photography, bead, and weave it is the tactile quality I like. Looking across the repetition of the work is also pleasurable I even enjoy the finger motion and the meditation in that process. When editing my photographs I enjoy shifting contrasts and the heightened drama of light and shadow. In beading, it is color combinations, contrasts of surface, and natural stone. These works are ephemeral in nature for me, mere exercises.
In my next post, I will discuss the multiple two dimensional methods to convey this idea.
These pictures show a struggle to connect color to concept, a transition to earth related tones.
Being an artist is a privilege regardless of how poor you are, or, how little interest there is in the work. The ability to view the world from the vantage point of beauty and fascination is remarkable. Teaching affords me the perspective of seeing the possibilities of many different outcomes. For example, parents who encourage their young children to make art then in the later years do not encourage it as a profession, children taken out of art class because they must focus on the more important subjects (i.e. math, reading, etc.) I also have some who are planning to become artists, however, limit themselves because they already know more than the instruction given. The scenarios are endless and specific. Confession, I did not want my children to be artists, I'd hoped I'd be like Alice Neel and my children be scientists (doctors) or great debaters ( lawyers), but, I gave this thinking up after I took my girls to view a local contemporary drawing exhibition.
At lunch afterward the younger one, then about 10 says, “that show was pretty good, but I didn't like the piece with the big shape in the bottom," Hum, I thought, you actually looked at that show and thought about it, then the 12 year old replied, “What? I thought that was the most interesting piece in the show. The amount of space around the objects made you think about what the other things were." Wait, I thought flabbergasted, these two are actually having an intellectual discussion about art. Where did they learn how to talk about art like that. We all know they learned from me always sharing my opinions aloud. It is impressive when children follow their family business ours is art and education. I will admit it was fascinating when I watched Elizabeth Murray's daughters on video talk about their mom's work in such a serious way. My girls do this with me, to these girls I have a profession. I should take what I do more seriously.
Who would have thought at this age, I would still be making art, by now I should have moved onto something else? People still ask me, "You used to make art. Do you still do that?" This weekend I am building by guess my 100th set of stretchers. I like to work in sets so I am beginning to build stretchers in threes. While in undergraduate school I did not take the idea of being a painter seriously, I even majored in Illustration because painting was sheer nonsense. Do not get me wrong I loved the act of painting and the smell and feel of the paint (still do) I even had relatives who painted seriously. My dad took us to the Philadelphia Art Museum regularly we always stopped by my Cousin Barclay's painting and paid homage to his greatness. However, when my girls started to take my paintings seriously, I realized whoa I better buckle down and start being serious about this painting thing... first step, craftsmanship.
Today I am stretching canvases, unavoidable for a "serious" painter. I always think I will invest in the premade stretchers, but when I compare cost it just isn't feasible, especially since for me 30" X 40" is a medium size work. I also like to control the tightness and smoothness. Over time I have invested in my own equipment, I own a miter saw and a biscuit joiner. The mission, to make good quality stretchers, the problem my corners never fit snuggly. I get one or two to fit, but, the fourth always (and I mean always) throws the others off. I watched a Youtube video called, Make Your Own Canvas, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eav0sCv7txs bought the metal triangle, too. Then, I repaired my saw which was out of alignment, the current set of stretcher I finished prior to my serious endeavor. I will keep you posted on the outcome in the next set of stretchers.
A good stretcher surface is the sign of an artist who believes that the work he/she will produce will be valuable. Whether we like it or not the painting is a product, which has value, even if the value is respectability rather than monetary. Respectability has more value than money in my book. It is important to choose to equate respectability with responsibility, thus, choosing quality surfaces, good paper, etcetera a well stretched canvases not only feels good, it gives credence to the fact that the seriousness of the work is in its production. Believe it, we do not produce for ourselves, everything we make should be made with the idea that the viewer will be involved. My dad said to me once, "I wouldn't want to pay that much and have the work fall apart on me," Recall the fin coming off the shark in the formaldehyde problem.
In every profession there are parts which maintain a level of difficulty. For me the initial outlay of the surface is tedious, it is my nature to want to get to the result immediately. My new plan is perfection in surface production. If I am without limits to the amount of canvases I am able produce there will be no limit to the amount of work I produce, more production equals more work it is as simple as that.
Next time I want to touch on materials and the alignment of idea and medium.