ups and downs
This is Alto
, (54"x30" oil on panel. I am shipping it tomorrow to Telluride Gallery of Fine Art
in Telluride, CO, because they asked for a large painting. That sounds straightforward, doesn't it? But of course there is always more to a painting than responding to a request, as if it were a simple order to fill. In fact this painting was quite a struggle, made more intense by my goal to have it done before leaving on a long road trip on Tuesday.
I started with the large panel, which had a few payers of paint already, and over several days, I brought it to an interesting point of textural and color complexity. Then I worked with the upper two panels for contrast. A few more days along and I considered it quite a nice painting, and had the bolts put in, and left it sitting to one side of the studio for a few more days. This was a turning point--as described in my last blog post, I allow a few days to make sure the painting holds up--studying it head on as well as glancing at it more peripherally. It became clear to me that as it was, the colors were too bland and light--the painting lacked depth and richness. It was still, on some level, a very nice painting--it had an airy, almost lyrical feeling. But it did not stir me or hold my interest. It lacked presence, that elusive quality that tells me it is finished.
So, I went back into it one morning, and by the time I left the studio that night, I had on my hands a very chaotic, ugly painting. At three different times during the day it had seemed close to resolution, along three very different paths. But none satisfied me enough to hang onto, and I kept going back in and making more changes.
Let me say that my state of mind was not calm or pleased that evening. I thought I had wrecked something that was really lovely in its own way. This was Wednesday of last week, and I had planned to ship the painting Friday. I tossed and turned that night, and finally realized that if I didn't get the painting shipped before the trip, it was not the end of the world. It is far more important to be satisfied with the painting, and know that the process has played itself out, in its own time.
The next morning, in a much more calm and focused state of mind, I simply washed the whole painting down with solvent. And, something magical emerged--a very complex, rough texture that was close to the original painting (at the point I first considered it done)--but now with a much more developed surface. The solvent leaves traces behind, so washing back to the original painting meant that, while mostly still there, it was newly enhanced and re-defined.
I then began to apply veils of thin color, to scrape some areas and build up others, and make other subtle changes. Gradually the painting that is pictured here emerged. Once I had found my way with the main panel, the top two panels called out for more development too. My final move was the delicate forms drawn on the upper panel. (It's hard to see the detail in this small image--clicking on the photo will go to a somewhat larger picture.) The end of the story is that by Friday morning, the painting was done--and because the cold wax medium leads to quick drying time, I will still be able to get the painting on its way before we head out on Tuesday.
This story seems to have a lesson at its core. In stepping out of my impatience to finish--accepting that the painting needed to unfold in its own way--resolution occurred in a graceful and completely satisfying way. Not that I think I have learned the lesson and will be forever enlightened! No, I humbly acknowledge that I have been through it all before and undoubtedly will do so again. And I bet a lot of you know exactly what I'm talking about.
PS: Regarding the trip mentioned above--I will be on the road teaching two workshops in the Carolinas, this coming weekend and the one following. I believe there is one spot left in each, so see my website
for details and to sign on--there is still time. I am looking forward to the whole trip, which will include a little down time. We're leaving home and studio in the care of our house sitter. (He is also the plumber--a very nice combination, since our bathroom is being remodeled while we are gone!)