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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.

Sunday, May 09, 2010
  thoughts on imagery

An e-pen pal, Nancy Green, has started a new blog that's off to a very good start, with--among other topics--ruminations about moving away from representational landscape images into abstraction. In most recent post, she links to some earlier blog posts of mine about the topic, which made me realize how back and forth I have been over the years in my inclusion of identifiable imagery.

For the past few years, my work has been mostly color fields with subtle variations. Now I find things once again moving toward bolder activation of the surface, which sometimes includes recognizable imagery. For example, lately I've been playing a lot with lines--made with brushes, paint sticks, scratching sticks and solvents. Making lines seems to trigger an impulse to draw "things." These tend to be botanical in flavor--grasses, twigs, flowers--with some geometric references to buildings, stairs, and ladders. Sometimes, though I just "scribble," and make gestural lines that resemble handwriting, plus some simple shapes and curves.

When imagery does appear, I would say it grows out of the painting process in the same way that other elements do, like color and texture, or non-representational lines. In each case, I try to find what the painting needs as it evolves, rather than beginning with a plan to include (or avoid) an image.

Right now in my studio are quite a few paintings with (for me) bold lines, some of which are suggestive of imagery such as trees and other plants. I've been enjoying painting them, but I'm not sure if they are what I want...questions present themselves about the amount of attention that the eye and mind give to identifiable objects.

The painting above is actually from a few months ago, and more subtle than the very latest paintings. (The ones I'm not showing. Yet.) This one is Winter Garden, 30"x34".
Your post on subject matter/ content may raise questions about artist & audience, also.
What do you want to convey?
What path do you want your viewers to travel?
What path are you really traveling?

But of course, in the end, you're the boss.
Follow your heart, instinct, and judgment.
The right choice is the one you want to take.
Very true...though it is an intuitive journey, self reflection and self-critiquing, and the responses of others all have their place.

Subtle, evocative, open-ended, layered...all of these are qualities I value in my work and seek to express, and it's not that any of them either necessarily include--or rule out--referential imagery. My questions are perhaps more formal, having to do with balance and composition--getting bolder elements to work well with the most subtle areas. So far I am pleased and intrigued but am giving it all a little time to see how the new work holds up--setting something aside for awhile usually helps me see it more clearly.
In an earlier post somewhere, you talked about abstraction as requiring the viewer to form his/her own interpretation and meaning of a piece (sorry for the poor paraphrasing), which seems to fit here with concern about having identifiable objects in a painting. Does one decide beforehand whether a particular piece is "about" a certain thing, or does one decide that it will not be about any definable thing? It seems that the moment a significant mark or an image is included, the artist is trying to impose a certain meaning.

I'm caught here, myself. As I explore abstraction further, I find myself questioning how much I want to define for the viewer what I see, and how much I want to leave ambiguous -- or, as you more eloquently put it, subtle, evocative, open-ended, layered. Do I want to say, "this is a cliff", or do I just create what to me evokes a cliff, or do I ignore any reference to anything?
For myself, the painting process provides a very fluid path, ever-changing. Something emerges from the paint that I work with, in a visual, not literal way--as in "this line/color/texture is working." Perhaps the line or shape also resembles a thing. Perhaps I even intentionally drew the thing. But what I prefer is to keep it in the context of an abstract element...I think the reference will not be over-bearing as long as it fits within the overall abstract feeling of the work.

I guess--if the intention of the work is to make an identifiable image, the image will tend to dominate. If it emerges unbidden or intuitively, it is part of the flow.

I see my my paintings as being primarily visual experience, evocative but not assigned a meaning. Although as a group or body of work there are definitely themes and ideas that refer to nature and natural processes. I don't feel any necessity within any particular, individual painting to define its meaning, but am aware of overall influences and inspirations.

Re: your questions about the cliff--the book I wrote about my time in Catalonia talks about the way abstract imagery grew intuitively or subliminally out of the experience. It was interesting to me that I could walk around, soak things up, and then have them come through in the work without conscious direction, but by following a feeling or sense of the surroundings. Gravitating towards certain colors, textures or forms without consciously setting out to do so.

It is helpful to think and write about this so thank you for keeping the conversation going. I think my own answers are becoming more clear in the process. Maybe not so to anyone else though--it's a hard thing to pin down!
one more thought--I've often said that the challenge for an abstract artist is to develop an abstract language that is personal and expressive, and communicates something of feeling, memory, idea or mood to the viewer. It strikes me that the "words" in that vocabulary can be purely abstract (if this really exists...the human tendency is to read imagery everywhere) or they can be referential, or a combination. There is no need to choose, it's all up for grabs, but it is the manner in which they are presented that creates the abstraction of the work.
Thanks for the reference to your book about your time at CAN. Reading it helped clarify my thoughts. This is such a different approach. Rather than decide, "I'm going to paint that mountain", you set out some paint and begin to fill your support. What emerges, as I understand it, is an intuitive expression of mood and experiences, backed up by an ongoing development of your abstract language. Thus the goal is not to portray any "thing" but instead to provide a visual experience.

You do mention above your attention to formal elements such as balance and composition, so there must be some criteria that you apply beyond just the intuitive. Is this part of the language? Can we talk more about this aspect?
Well, a language it has structure, logic, patterns etc. that could be analogous to the formal elements in art. I think of the process as a back and forth or balance between the intuitive/spontaneous and the thoughtful/analytical. But the analysis for me comes after the intuitive phase--not before as in a plan. When I have put down some paint, I ask what works, what do I want to keep, what to edit out (and there is always a lot of editing out.)
Is this one single panel, or two put together?
thank you Jala, that is 2 put together.
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       Rebecca Crowell