new painting and thoughts about spontaneity
The painting above, Mallolis
(30"x34" oil and wax on board) is one that I'll be packing up in a few weeks to take to Darnell Fine Art
in Santa Fe. My exhibit that opens on October 2, although the work will actually be hung several days prior to that. Like other work in the exhibit, called Old Walls and Lost Paths: Remembering Catalonia
, its imagery comes from the landscape and experiences of the three weeks I spent in Spain just a year ago.
This morning I started a new panel, mainly for some relief from all the fine tuning I've been doing to finish up paintings for two fall exhibits. The initial layers of my panels are done with broad, gestural marks and rough palette knife scrapings. I do this to activate the surface and lay a foundation--and it's a fun stage for me, done without much conscious thought. Then follows a long process of adding layers to the end result of subtle color and textural modulations. Less fun perhaps, but much more satisfying.
Often there is something pleasing and abstract-expressionistic about the first layer or two...my work at this stage seems to appeal to some of my studio visitors as much or more than my finished work. It's colorful and energetic. But a painting early on isn't yet "mine." To me it lacks individuality and depth, and the sharper edge that conscious decision making brings. Intuition and spontaneity always play a role (see my last post!) but tempered by careful analysis.
Sometimes I hear abstract painters faulting themselves for being unable to really let loose in their work and paint with abandon. There is a value placed on complete spontaneity and gestural mark-making. From what I've seen, though, what results from this tends to be a rather generic type of abstraction. Maybe there aren't actually that many different kinds of spontaneous marks and compositions that humans tend to make with painting tools.
I think that spontaneous, intuitive mark-making is a great way to start, to explore and discover. But then comes the hard part--the challenge to develop an abstract language that is distinctive, and meaningful, and that somehow reflects one's experiences or thoughts. Many times there is a reference to something in the visual world--to the landscape, to calligraphy, to the figure. Is it possible to develop an abstract language without conscious focus and decision-making? Surely all the artists we know for their gestural styles (think of Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, and Joan Mitchell, for example) must have reached a turning point when they identified what was most expressive in their work and consciously set out to develop it. Once a path is found, all kinds of ideas open up, and the dance between spontaneity and thoughtful decisions can begin.