My last post was about my time in Greece in May and its effect on the work I was preparing for my exhibit, Overlays, at Addington Gallery in Chicago. That show is now up and can be viewed through August 29. There are nine medium to large scale paintings that all relate to my time on Skopelos and in Athens. Each one holds memories and impressions personal to me. But I hope I've also conveyed some sense of the monumental and ancient aspects of the place that are more universal.
|Artifact, Overlay, and In the Presence of Antiquities at Addington Gallery|
This work was created at an unusually fast pace. From the three weeks I spent in Greece gathering visual and conceptual ideas to the intensive five weeks in the studio in June, a very condensed version of the creative process was underway. The work seemed fueled by an especially pure, direct interpretation of my experiences in Greece.
|Akropoli and Fragment at Addington Gallery|
Usually, for me, the build-up to an exhibit spans many months and references a variety of experiences, sources, and memories. In terms of creative process, it is a gradual unfolding. Sometimes this creates a challenge in terms of consistency--the earliest work may not seem to be in the same vein as the final pieces. But usually I work back and forth on all or most of the paintings, looking to create a body of work that is consistent and integrated. In any case, there is a fairly long period in which various ideas are explored and refined.
With Overlays, my actual painting time was only about five weeks. After the first week or so, I felt confident about meeting the deadline because I was experiencing an unusually strong flow of ideas, and I felt focused and energized. About halfway through June, a studio visitor asked how long I'd been working on the paintings, and I had to stop and think. The answer at that point was "two weeks" which amazed us both. Some of the paintings were done and everything else was well underway. And at the end of June, I even had enough time left to do a ninth large painting, although the initial request from the gallery was for eight.
|Aegean Series, Addington Gallery|
The point of this story is not about how fast I can paint (I don't even consider that to be a virtue!) It is more that there was a sort of magic happening. I feel both grateful and perplexed by this, and wonder how this body of work fits with my typically slower creative process. Was I so on track because I was working toward a close deadline? If so, why wasn't there more stress or anxiety involved? Instead I felt mostly calm, focused, and pleased. Of course I had some frustrating days, but overall it seemed that a clear channel for expression had opened up. For me, the phrase "trust the process" takes on new meaning in light of this body of work. I see again how the creative process offers up endless surprises and new ideas.
As a final touch, when I delivered the work to Dan Addington, he immediately saw how perfectly it fit into the available space, and he had it all laid out in a matter of minutes. Although we hadn't gone into detail beforehand about specific size requirements, it turned out that the two smaller paintings fit exactly with the proportions of the two narrow hanging walls on either side of the doorway. The rest fell into natural groupings on the other three walls. Dan said he'd never had an easier time laying out an exhbiit.
|with Fragment at Addington Gallery|
If you are in the Chicago area, or passing through thius summer, I hope you will stop in and see the work. Thanks!
upon returning from greece
I’ve been back from Greece for almost three weeks now, so I’ve had some time to process my time there and reflect on my memories. And although I've shared photos and stories with family and friends it's always hard to convey the essence of any big experience. At least for me, most of what I take away from travel is internal and expressed through my work, responding to whatever surfaces in terms of memories and thoughts. I feel that what comes forward intuitively is the true distillation of the experience as a whole.
From my time on the island of Skopelos, where Jerry McLaughlin and I taught for two weeks, the strongest impact was visual—the colors of the sea under various lighting and weather conditions, the angles of the white buildings, and the patterns made by the hundreds of stair steps we climbed every day to get up to the studio and down into the village.
The sea colors ranged from dark and opaque at a distance to startling turquoise and aquamarine typically seen near the shore. On hazy days the horizon lined formed by sea and sky would almost disappear. It was a constant show every day—the studio we worked in had a spectacular sea view.
Blue was the dominant color in several paintings I did while teaching and has continued to play a role in the work I’ve done at home, though less prominently. White is the other dominant color in the landscape there—along with terracotta of the rooftops. The houses and other buildings are almost all white with colorful accents and set into a steep hillside along winding alleyways and narrow streets. The pattern of angles that result was always intriguing. So, these colors, shapes, and patterns have stayed with me as aspects of form. They are coming naturally into my new work and give some feeling of the atmosphere of Skopelos, but they were more pronounced in the work I did while I was on the island.
|painted on Skopelos, 16"x12", oil/cold wax on paper|
What has surprised me a bit since coming home is that the few days I spent in Athens are having the strongest impact in terms of feeding my work. I think that is because what I experienced there was as much conceptual as visual, and bring more meaning to my imagery. The sense of vast history was clear right away in the archaic remains that are still very present in the modern city. Passing by the ruins of 2500-year-old buildings while walking from my BnB to the metro was astonishing enough. But there was much more to be experienced in the incredible museums, on the Acropolis, and in the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. I was often touched by the humanity and presence of these ancient people and by the strength of their accomplishments—not only the monumental architecture but the amazing realism of the figurative sculpture and the reliefs carved on gravestones.
|on the Acropolis|
|grave image, c.500 BC|
|ancient bronze figure|
Because I was so struck by the antiquity of the city, I guess it is natural that references to artifacts and monuments, and even some vague figurative suggestions have been appearing in my work. I understand the connection but it has caused me to reexamine the usual statements I make about my work. For years I’ve cited rugged, wild landscape as the basic source for my imagery. But in addition, in the past year, architectural references have appeared, coinciding with a new interest in shapes, angles, and contrast. And now these unexpected new ideas relating to the my experience in Athens.
|Kerameikos, 30"x22" oil/cold wax on panel|
|In the Presence of Antiquity, 42"x32", oil/cold wax on panel|
|Artifact, 52"x36", oil/cold wax n panel|
Although these new ideas come from outside my typical sources, I love the freedom I'm feeling with them. I'm not questioning whether they "fit" with past work-- just working intuitively, enjoying the process and moving forward. It seems that the further I go on this art journey, the less need I have to nail it all down, to explain and justify. While working with limited focus has been very useful to me in the past, now the possibilities are expanding.
I also find it interesting to re-read the original intentions that I set for my work years ago. They are not specific to a landscape reference--instead, they have to do with expressing power, presence, energy, a sense of the unknown, and personal connection, without mention of the source material for these ideas. So although landscape served me well for years-- and is certainly still part of the mix--it seems very exciting to open up new pathways to those long-held intentions.
I have more paintings in process or finished done in response to my time in Greece, and I plan to exhibit them at my show at Addington Gallery
in Chicago that opens July 12. I hope that any friends in the Chicago area will stop in for the opening on the 12th (I will be there) or sometime later. The exhibit continues through August 29.