new painting and thoughts on photography
This is Old Wall: Barcelona
(16"x12", oil on panel.)
I never start a painting from a photo, and rarely even look at one while I work. But often, as I start to hone in on finishing something, what I have going with the paint will trigger an image or memory of something that I've photographed in the past. In this case, it was an old wall in Barcelona that had been plastered over many times. Graffiti and other marks had been made over time, traces of which appeared and disappeared on the crumbling surface. I took several photos of it on my trip there in 2001, finding it very beautiful and mysterious.
The eroded looking top layer of this painting evoked that memory for me, and led me to darken the bottom half and scratch into the paint, adding the linear aspect of the wall that I remembered. Though the colors and actual markings are very different in the painting, in this case I was working from a pretty direct source (which is not always the case for me.) But of course, it's abstraction, so I was after the idea of the old wall more than anything specific--the idea of a surface with a history, and rich texture created over time.
But the point is, I didn't go looking for the photos of the wall as a reference...instead, my visual impression or mind's eye memory allowed the most latitude in which to play with the idea, to get at its essence. I have found this to be true over and over--even when I was a more realistic landscape painter. For me, photos as direct references tend to get in the way. Sometimes a quick glance as a point of departure, but that's it. The photos of things I like and notice have their own importance to me--quite separate from paintings that arise from memories or visual impressions of those things.
I'm considering all of this in light of a plan I have to put together a small book about my experience at the art center in Spain, which will include both photos and paintings. I love photography, and although there is certainly overlap between what I notice and photograph and what finds its way into my work, I tend to take pictures mostly for their own sake these days, and I'm really enjoying that.