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Sralagagh #3. 16"x20" oil and mixed media on panel
The questions and mysteries that an artist encounters on a journey into abstraction are plentiful and deep, and at the core of this questioning is the search for personal meaning--for finding an individual path and for working holistically with emotion, memory, thought, and visual impressions. Ideally, with practice, a vocabulary of meaning and intentional form begins to grow, alongside techniques and aspects of style that resonate with the inner self.
When an abstract painter's approach relies upon intuition, spontaneity and involvement in process, thought and intention are often seen as inhibiting factors to be overcome. In this view, spontaneity and intention oppose rather than being complementary to one another. The common advice is to avoid thinking, evaluating, judging or pre-conceiving while painting in this way.
But without intentions--without ideas and thoughts underlying the work--abstract painting can become very inconsistent, pulled here and there by happy accidents and the many suggestions that the paint itself offers up. If the artist doesn't refer to experience, emotion, or memory (or, in more formal work to some conceptual idea that intrigues) a lack of personal connection to the work can undermine its power and potential for growth. This problem extends to the ability of the work to impact those who view it, because without a source of ideas or expression, the work lacks a solid base from which to communicate.
On the other hand, without spontaneity, openness and experimentation, an artist risks becoming rigid, hemmed in by preconceived boundaries. The ideas behind the work need to be expansive enough to allow for roaming about, exploring, testing, and breaking new ground.
Often when I'm teaching workshops, I am challenged to articulate the balance that exists between having basic parameters and intentions for the work, while at the same time remaining open to changes and new directions as things progress. It can be tricky tor any artist to recognize when thinking has slipped into over-thinking--when strong ideas or judgments have led to limitations that are stifling growth. Likewise, freely applying paint can be so fascinating that it's hard to step back and see objectively what the painting lacks in terms of presence, meaning, or resolution.
For me, the key to being in the zone where intention and intuition are balanced--with neither blocking the other-- is to tune in to my gut feelings as I work. When I'm having negative feelings about a painting--when I'm bored, frustrated, impatient, or it seems I am getting nowhere--it's a sign that I have lost this important alignment. It means that I am either over-thinking, or else I'm too caught up in "pushing paint around" ( a phrase I attribute to my friend James Edward Scherbarth.) Or sometimes it is a strange combination of both, when I have too strong a pre-conceived idea and think I will get there by a lot of random paint -pushing.
An important step in developing my own work has been to realize that intention and intuition come from the same inner source, are equally important, and that although they manifest in different ways they are not basically at odds with one another. For me, the balance between them comes in recognizing and developing certain aspects of the painting as it evolves--those that resonate with my ideas, that feel right and true to me, that represent what I wish to express and communicate.