from chaos into order
(Above: Timanfaya #2, 12"x12", oil on panel, 2010
A quote from the abstract modernist painter Beatrice Mandelman
(that I came across in the December/January issue of Art and Antiques magazine
) struck me as a succinct description of my own painting process:
"I'm trying to work from chaos into order, stripping away, using the basics; that part is intellectual..."
I don't know how Mandelman arrived at her brand of chaos to begin with, but I suspect she laid down color and marks in a spontaneous manner during the initial stages of the work, responding to the paint without much constraint. I do this in my own work, then edit, as she says, using "the basics"--thoughtful decisions arising from elemental design principles. For myself, and likely for her, this is not a simple one-two step process, but a back and forth journey between the edited and the unedited. Each stage of chaos gets organized, but something is missing or undeveloped...then on goes the next layer of chaos.
Although the word usually has a negative implication, chaos in this case is a positive, essential stage in the process--characterized by energy, exhilaration, opportunity, and the direct link between emotion and paint. The editing process that the chaos is subjected to seems analogous to the maturing of an adolescent into an adult. Direct emotion and reaction are gradually shaped into something more restrained and structured.
Living with a work in progress as it goes in and out of chaos requires patience and trust in the outcome. I once read that creative personalities often have a high tolerance for ambiguity and unresolved situations...I'm not convinced this is true outside the studio, but certainly it seems essential in this approach to painting.
I had not heard of Mandelman until seeing the article, and wish I could be in Taos to see her work on display with that of her husband, Louis Ribak at the Harwood Museum.
This is one of her paintings: