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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A few years ago a man came up to me at an opening of a solo show of my work and said without preamble, "well, someone has certainly been influenced by someone else!" I looked at him blankly, no clue what he was talking about. He went on to say that my work was so obviously derivative of--well of course, I knew, why didn't I just admit it?

Really I was speechless. Not only did I not know what he was talking about, but usually people are so polite at openings! He persisted in an aggressive manner with this stuff (while I looked anxiously around hoping someone would rescue me from this boor--I am not good at dealing with rudeness.) Finally he gave up--realizing that either I honestly did not know what he was talking about, or that I wasn't going to come clean--and said with a sneer, "Rothko, of course." (With just a touch less self-control, he'd probably have added, "you idiot.")

Rothko? OK, yes, he is in the mix, along with about two hundred other artists and photographers and even a sculptor or two. Some are known to the art world, some not at all. Like a lot of artists I soak up visual ideas like a sponge, but when it's all wrung out in a painting, I have to believe the result is unique. I am constantly pushing to find that core of expression that is most true and meaningful inside.

Looking at the work of others, I sometimes find clues and signposts that point the way on my own journey. I also see roads I don't want to go down, and this is especially enlightening with the work of someone who at the same time offers much that is positive. For me, Rothko's work is in that category. As much as I admire his minimalist color fields, I find when viewing the work in person it looks a bit too thin and flat. A criticism then can become a positive direction--for me, towards color fields with intricate texture. The texture, the linear scratches, the subtle color shifts, the geometric contrasts--all these aspects of my work have come from other realms of thought, other paths explored.

So, after a little back and forth in my own head, I didn't take this mannerless man too seriously, and he's just become an anecdote about weird things that happen at openings. I also know that some people have a need to pigeonhole everybody's art into categories that they themselves recognize, such as "follower of Rothko." It is disturbing when other people want to put you in a box like that, but a good idea not to take it personally.

Underlying his criticism, though, is the idea that derivative work lacks authenticity, and I think this is true. (I would call something derivative if the artist has clearly "copied" the work of another artist, rather than using it as one ingredient in a unique soup of ideas, reactions and connections.)

In searching for unique expression, plenty of artists (dare I say most?) have veered closely at times to another person's work--and then back again onto a more personal track, taking along a few key ideas. It can also work the other way, with hints of one's own ideas suddenly popping up in the work of someone else--and it's not clear whether to feel pleased or uneasy and territorial. ("Pleased" works pretty well, I think.) For everyone, Rothko included (!) working through and integrating myriad influences is vital to the creative process, and the end result is work with complexity and personal meaning.

The painting above, Casa (36"x36" oil and wax on panel) is part of my current exhibit at Circa Gallery in Minneapolis, which will be on view through March 13.
Hmmm...I find it interesting that I love/admire Rothko...but have not thought of him once when viewing your work these past months...
Thats so strange you wrote about this. I was at a restaurant yesterday and when I looked at one of the paintings on the wall, I immediately thought of Rothko and began questioning myself on why that particular artist came to my mind.There are many artists that work with fields of color and the crazy part is that we see these things everyday in structures, figures, and landscapes. I suppose Although I am guilty for my immediate ignorance to the work I saw yesterday, I can tell you that Rothko is not the first artist that comes to mind. Something that I would like to know is how you arrive at the theme of your paintings? Would this be by process or (lack of a better word) concept?
Thanks to both of you for these comments. Heather, it's a combination of process and concept--here is something I wrote awhile ago that talks about various influences--

It's kind of out of date for what I am doing now and this doesn't go into the process aspect. It seems the more that I develop the techniques I'm using now with cold wax medium, the more important the process element is becoming.
I don't see Rothko's but maybe a glimmer of Cy Twombly. But maybe because I reading a book about him right now. But mostly I think they are you.
Love the work and wish I could attend one of your classes, unfortunately I am jobless (for now).
That is classic, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing. Rothko's probably the only abstract artist that guy knew. I've never seen him in your work (which I love so much, by the way. I wish you could do a workshop in San Francisco someday. Sigh...).
Cy Twombly is the other one that gets mentioned to me lately :) I would like to know more about him-- what is the book?

I was in the Bay Area last summer and I suppose they might have me back sometime... it was a great workshop!

Thanks for the comments!
Cy Twombly Cycles and Seasons A lot of his earlier work looks like graffiti or scribbles on a wall, that's why your marks remind me of him.
Mary Ann
I have been scanning these two artists that are thought to have some semblance in your work and can find absolutely neither has any influence in your art.

Your work, I could pick out in any venue in an instant Rebecca. And like one of the other posters said, "Rothko is probably the only artist he is familiar with." But even there, I think he was just trying to be an 'art snob.' He didn't deserve to be in your company.

Sherrill Pearson in Montreal
Sherrill, thank you, I appreciate your comment. I really did not take the guy seriously but unfortunately his attitude is one we all run into in one form or another, the know-it- all who wants to put your work into some well-worn box.
You know - whatever, huh? People are going to think what they want to. I think you work is really lovely! - Jennifer
I would be pleased to be connected to Rothko - which is not an easy feat! His work is masterful and not easy to do - but I gather some people may think so. I like a quote I read the other day (sorry I lost the attribution - Wyeth?). Quote, "Painting is easy, until you know how to do it."

As I go along, I am becoming aware of the tremendous amount of derivation that happened in the European ateliers before the Impressionist period. I have heard recently that authenticity was that which makes an ethnic or cultural link. I don't quite agree with either that or the definition of not being derivative.

We stand on the shoulders of great artists, don't we? Your work doesn't directly take me to Rothko, either. It is very fine, and I see your own signature immediately.
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       Rebecca Crowell