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Pictured above is the only painting that I actually finished during my week on the island of Lanzarote (Lanzarote #1, oil and wax on paper with volcanic sand, 14"x11") which I gave to Alan, the artist who invited my husband and I there. It is considerably more gritty and gestural than a lot of my work, and seems to me a direct expression of what I had experienced in the landscape there. I was very pleased with it.
The painting below (Black Beach) was done as a collaborative project between Alan and myself. On the third morning of "class" (loosely defined, since basically we were just painting together with me offering tips and suggestions, and Alan offering his own commentary) Alan appeared with an old painting that he suggested we work together on, and paint it completely over with cold wax and oil. The original painting was abstract/figurative, and apparently had been through several other forms including landscape. He considered it ripe for total transformation.
After moving the painting operation from the tiny laundry room to the more spacious patio, and arranging paints and materials, the work began--somewhat tentatively, but soon enough we were deep into it, discussing its progress and making bold moves. I had not worked collaboratively on a painting since graduate school, in the sense of a complex process of back and forth action and discussion, and I have never worked side by side with anyone. So it was a new and fascinating experience. (In grad school, several of us passed a painting back and forth, but we worked on it individually.)
There were inevitably a few moments of tension (like when Alan was momentarily distracted by a workman appearing at the villa, and I couldn't stop myself painting over a whole section that he was rather attached to...) But we managed to maintain a sense of humor throughout. It was interesting because our basic impulses with the paint were quite different--mine, to apply unifying color fields, and his to activate the picture plane with organic lines and forms. Over time (with compromise, generosity, and curiosity on both our parts) these differing approaches created some interesting layers of paint, and possibilities began to emerge. We made good use of solvent lines and drips, and scratching with skewers into the paint to add surface texture. In the end, there were even a few small areas exposed from the original painting.
The entire process took two full mornings, with a few minor adjustments and touch ups on the third. We arrived at the painting's final state after negotiating a division of the panel. The top section, featuring Alan's gestural marks, I was absolutely NOT to touch (not that I even wanted to, it was lovely.) The bottom section would be my territory. We worked together on the line between the two parts, trying to achieve not a strict division, but a more complex interaction. The final unifying touches on the painting as a whole were done by Alan on the last morning (when he requested that I just go away for awhile...the entire process involved a certain frankness.) I found it fascinating to observe how another artist approached dividing the space, deciding which areas were dead and which alive, which bits were worth keeping and which could go. In the end we managed to produce quite a nice painting, which Alan promptly hung in his villa.
The secret, I think, was a sense of play--we were serious and deeply involved, but carried on with humor and an experimental attitude. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we disagreed, but there was mutual respect. (I knew from several previous days of painting with Alan, and discussions about various other painters, that he has an unerring eye and instinct for what works.)
In the continued spirit of collaboration I asked Alan for any comments on the painting process that he'd care to make for this post, and this is what he sent ..."Painting with Rebecca I was struck by her great virtuosity and skill with colour and gestural painting techniques. Her work, with its complex and seemingly almost random layering, is certainly not intended to be any window onto reality. Yet, watching her work it is apparent that her painting is not unstructured in any way. She creates little pools of "chaos" then seeks to impose order and structure on them and through them, on the painting as a compositional whole. I thought of the phrase "an archaeologist of paint" as she dug, scraped and re-exposed the many previous layers of her paint surface. The other key thing that struck me about Rebecca was how fast, focused and hard she worked!" (Thank you, Alan, and you were no slouch yourself!)
The photo directly below shows the original painting, the next one down is an intermediate step, and lastly a shot of us at work.
I'm home from my trip to Barcelona and the Canary Island of Lanzarote, and my art brain is teeming with textures--rocky, grainy, gritty, eroded, formed-by-eons of natural forces textures. And those that evolve in human time as well, walls chipped and painted over, paths worn smooth, structures built of natural components in the landscape.
I was also able to view the work of several artists whose textural abstractions appear related to these sources, at least in part--in Barcelona, at the foundation devoted to the life and work of Antoni Tápies (which also featured the inspiring work of Anna Maria Maiolino) and at CaixaForum, the work of Miquel Barceló. I stood in front of these artist's works for long minutes marveling at the complexity, boldness and sure handedness of textural applications. (Tápies's work is in the top photo, Barceló's below.)
(photo taken on the island of Lanzarote, Canary Islands.)
As always, I wonder what is so compelling to me about rough, gritty texture in the landscape and in works of art. Though intriguing to the eye, these textures are not always welcoming in a tactile sense, and perhaps I'm drawn to the push-pull of visual beauty and complexity combined with this somewhat repellent aspect. (If you were to touch or place body weight upon some of these surfaces, it would not be pleasant.) But I have to relegate this insight to the subliminal...it's not something that has come to mind until writing this post. And besides, I'm just as intrigued by surfaces that are textured in a visual sense only--not necessarily rough to the touch.
What I'm much more conscious of in my attraction to texture is the weathering and aging over great expanses of time that so many of these surfaces call to mind. Since childhood I've been drawn to collecting rocks and fossils, and had an early interest in archeology, all of it related to the intrigue of uncovering ancient, buried objects.
I also love the beauty of the seemingly random, yet perfect patterns, forms and contrasts that emerge as the result of nature's forces--the striations of exposed rock or earth, the scattering of pebbles on a beach. There is underlying structure and balance to it all. As an artist, I encourage my own version of this interaction between the random and the structured to emerge through the paint, and am drawn to this in the work of others.
¶ 5:47 AM2 comments
Saturday, November 13, 2010
painting on lanzarote Here is my temporary studio, the laundry room (open to the sky) of our villa in Playa Blanca, on the Canary Island of Lanzarote. I am working each morning with an artist, Scottish by birth, and now from Northern Ireland, who invited Don and myself here for a week to learn more about cold wax medium. Work is going very well, inspired by the strange and beautiful landscape of this island, formed by volcanoes and now covered with volcanic sand and strange formations. We are making time each afternoon to travel around with Alan and his wife to see various parts of the island, eat delicious food, walk on beaches, and ride camels. (I admit, we are tourists when away from the studio!)
It has been an amazing trip, begun with a few days in Barcelona...we flew here to this other-worldly environment on Thursday. A few photos of the landscape, the one above taken at nearby El Golfo, a black sand beach, and the one below along a highway.
I have noticed in the past that some landscapes I visit speak to my work and resonate with my visual interests more than others, and this one is high on the list of all I have experienced. The rugged textures, earthy colors, and feeling of light, open space are all exactly what I love to work with.
Lots of new ideas...today Alan and I both experimented with mixing black volcanic sand in with the wax, to very interesting ends. Besides the cold wax paintings, I've also started some with water-based mixed media. And of course I am taking a lot of photos. I will post some photos of the work as it develops...
¶ 2:56 PM5 comments
Saturday, November 06, 2010
thoughts about landscape Though it has been years since I described my paintings as "landscapes," landscape and nature continue to be major influences in my textures, colors and mark-making. This influence has been on my mind lately--starting when I was explaining my work to some people at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in Colorado last month. I mentioned that when I draw or scratch certain kinds of lines, I am thinking about landscape. Specifically I'm remembering the grasses and plants in the alpine meadows of the Pyrenees where I have done two artist residencies. Representational sketches and watercolors I did while there opened up new ideas for including lines in my work. Besides the ones that I think of as grasses, twigs, and other flora, I also use meandering lines that relate to the long walks I would take during my residency--these are a kind of memory map--a more abstract interpretation of my experience in the landscape. The person I was talking to was quite surprised, and said she had thought my work was pure abstraction, with no reference to visual reality. But actually my work is infused with ideas derived from nature--textures and colors that relate to rocks, earth, and plant life.
Later, I thought I could have expanded my little speech beyond those more literal references. The techniques I use, of building up layers and then cutting and scratching back through, relate to processes in nature, and the structures and order of my pieces also speak of natural balance and order. So on this more abstract level I continue to derive many of my ideas from the landscape.
Back when my work was more obviously landscape, I thought of it in the more traditional sense of "scenery" and now I feel I am growing closer to its essence and spiritual meaning. The painting shown at the top of this post was done in 2002, after my return from my first residency in the Pyrenees--created during a transitional phase from more literal landscape into something less specific and more abstract. It is one of five older paintings that a local hospital in in the process of purchasing from me, and is shown here in its new home--one of the Meditation Rooms of the hospital. This placement seems to me an affirmation of my intentions for the painting and so is very pleasing to me. The meditative and calming aspect of landscape is something that continues to be a strong current in my work.
I'm also thinking about landscape as I prepare to leave for Spain and the island of Lanzarote, where I will be next week. This video shows the dramatic and rugged geography of Lanzarote, and even this little five minute visual trip gives me ideas.
This seems to be exactly the kind of landscape that inspires me--rocky, rough and barren, with evidence of the powerful forces of nature. I realize that this may seem a contradiction to my paintings, quiet, orderly and meditative as they are. But somehow this landscape, and the images I make feed my soul in the same way--they are expansive, and at the same time intimate--bringing me close to core of my own self and the expression of that center.
¶ 4:29 PM1 comments
Monday, November 01, 2010
down time The last couple of weeks have been relaxing, after the busy travel and teaching schedule of September and October. I'm still getting some things done--including much needed cleaning and organizing (therapeutic after weeks of living out of a suitcase) and working on my teaching schedule for 2011. The days have been warm and conducive to being outside, and I've been cleaning up the gardens for winter.
But overall I've not been ambitious about much...spending only part of the day in the studio, and not pushing very hard. No deadlines or commitments, and plenty of new work out at my galleries already, so the slow pace seems right. I know there are ebbs and flows to creative energy, and can accept that this is low tide.
Even so, my first few days back in the studio were frustrating; feeling tired, I made nothing but mud and mess. But things have improved since I began to focus on smaller work rather than big multiple panel pieces. Back in September I had a stack of eighteen 12"x12" panels (which I'd started in various workshops as demo pieces) mounted onto cradles. Happily, they are giving me what I need to ease back into painting. Since they were already well under way, some of them are reaching conclusion in just a few sessions. (The painting above, as yet untitled, is one of these recent 12"x12"'s.)
These lazy days are just about over though. A week from today Don and I leave for Barcelona and from there on to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. Packing and getting things ready to leave in the care of our house sitter will demand attention from here on out, and I can feel my excitement kicking in. Lanzarote, a volcanic island, has an extremely interesting geography. From photos it looks like the kind of barren, dramatic landscape that I love. I'll be working one on one there with an Northern Irish artist who wants to learn about cold wax medium, though he warns me we will not work too hard--we must take time out "to chill!" OK--I think I can handle that! Don and I are renting a car so that we can explore, and there will also be plenty of sitting by the pool at our little villa, and no doubt some delicious local cuisine. I expect to have internet access once we arrive on Lanzarote on Nov. 11th, and will post some photos and thoughts about the trip.
¶ 8:31 PM6 comments