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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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
  loose ends

This post seems likely to head in several directions, since I've been on the road for a week and a half now, without much computer time and with lots happening. First, here is a link to view an online album of my work currently on display at Darnell Fine Art in Santa fe, NM. The show also includes the work of Bill Gingles, and as anticipated the pairing of the two of us worked very well in evoking both similarities and contrasts. The opening was last Friday night and was a fun evening of conversation and connections. I also spent time in NM with family and also with friends old and new, looking at art, talking about art, and generally soaking up the rich culture of art in Santa Fe and surroundings.

A couple of days after the opening, I left NM for Colorado...a trip memorable for great scenery along the way (see photo below) and a lesson learned the hard way--do NOT follow a GPS in remote areas! I ended up getting pretty lost and actually fording a small river in my Subaru before finally getting to Telluride, where I am currently teaching an Oil and Wax Workshop.

The workshop is my first one that is four days long, and although it's tiring to teach, I am appreciating the extra day of class, and excited to see how far along the work is coming. The facility in which I am teaching is a building that houses the American Academy of Bookbinding. A light filled, spacious studio, with views of a mountain and cascading waterfall--it is truly a gorgeous venue and an honor to be there.

One more day of class, then the long drive home. Once I'm there, I'll be finishing up my work for my exhibit in Dublin in September, and a Level 2 Oil and Wax Workshop that I am teaching the end of the month in Wisconsin...leaving for Ireland in early September. I think then I will catch my breath.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
  exhibit preview

Above is one of the larger paintings I delivered to Darnell Fine Art in Santa fe for my exhibit that opens on Friday night, 7/22 (Site #2, 6"x48".) For images of all the paintings, please click here, then on Crowell Show/New Works. Black Beach Walk #2, 16"x16" (below) is at the smaller end of the work in the show.

Subtle, neutral quiet colors, and explorations of texture and lines are evident in most of my paintings that are in this show, which seems to me a particularly meditative collection. As always, what is visible on the surface is the result of many layers of oil mixed with cold wax medium and manipulated with various tools and the occasional application of solvent. I have experimented in some of these with the addition of sand and some new drawing materials, and in others allowed minimalist color fields to simply radiate their quiet presence.

My paintings are interspersed in the gallery with the work of Bill Gingles, with whom I share the exhibit. Bill's work is considerably more active than mine, but we share an attraction to layering, texture, subtle color shifts, and looping, gestural lines. The show was partially hung yesterday when I stopped in at the gallery, and I was immediately drawn into the conversation going on between my work and his--the back and forth of silence and animation, solitude and poetic interaction.

(I will post pictures of the installation after Friday's opening.)
Monday, July 11, 2011
  improvising lines
A quote from Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch(pages 25-26):

The essence of style is this: We have something in us, about us; it can be called many things but for now let's call it our original nature. We are born with our original nature, but on top of that, as we grow up, we accommodate to the patterns and habits of our culture, our family, physical environment,and the daily business of the life we have taken on...when we are grown up..everything we do and are--our handwriting, the vibrato of our voice, the way we handle the bow or breathe into the instrument, our way of using language, the look in our eyes, the patterns of whorling finger prints on our hand--all these things are symptomatic of our original nature. They show the imprint of our deeper nature or character.

It is sometimes thought that in improvisation we can do just anything. But lack of a conscious plan does not mean that our work is random or arbitrary. Improvisation always has its rules, even if they are not a priori rules. When we are totally faithful to our own individuality, we are actually following a very intricate design...as living, patterned beings, we are incapable of producing anything random...As our playing, writing, speaking, drawing or dancing unfolds, the inner, unconscious logic of our being begins to show through and mold the material. This rich, deep patterning is the original nature that impresses itself like a seal upon everything we do or are...

This quote is an excerpt from a long passage about Nachmoanovitch's idea that even our most seemingly random expressions are highly individualized, the result of our unique lives and experiences. I find this very interesting in terms of painting. My own work is made up of many layers of colors and marks, which would appear quite random at least in the beginning stages of the work. Some of these are carefully considered as the right next move, but the majority are spontaneous and not consciously thought out. The most obvious spontaneous marks appear on the surface of my work though, as gestural lines, scribbles or doodles, and most are not as random as they might seem.

With the death of Cy Twombly, that master of scribbles, last week, I have been thinking about my own mark-making--where my ideas come from and why I tend towards the kind of lines--scratched, dissolved or drawn--that activate the surface of my work.

Sometimes, the marks I make are very unconscious, perhaps akin to what the Surrealists called automatic drawing. This is a close-up detail of a small painting called Stack.

I find this type of line drawing difficult, actually--only rarely do I feel the marks coming together in a way that does not seem directed by thought. Even the Surrealists found that conscious mind is hard to avoid, and in other kinds of mark making, I can identify conscious source material.

Sometimes the marks are derived from my own handwriting, but obscured or scrambled so that there is no perceivable message:

(Recently when I explained to someone at an opening of my work that the "writing" lines do not actually say anything, she smiled and replied, "Oh, but they do!" I loved that.)

Other times I am aware of referencing the landscape (this detail shot is from a small painting called Field of Gold; I was thinking of meadow grass when I scratched these lines.

In some of my recent paintings, there are images inspired by my brother, Dr. Aron Crowell's archeological site drawings/diagrams. Aron is an archeologist and Director at the Arctic Studies center, a branch of the Smithsonian in Anchorage. When he was visiting me in April he remarked that some of my paintings reminded him of both the physical substances of earth and rock that he excavates, and the mark-making of some of the visual notes he takes on site. It is intriguing that we are both interested in what lies beneath the surface--he, of the actual earth, and me, of the layers of paint that I build up and then gouge and dissolve back into. Perhaps this interest leads back to Nachmanovitch's idea of original nature, since our childhood included rock and fossil-hunting (passions of our father) and other explorations of nature.

A detail of a recent painting called Site, with lines loosely based one of Aron's drawings:

I'm excited about the possibilities of developing this idea further.

PS: Two links for further investigation: Artist Nancy Green has written a series about mark-making on her blog (there are several consecutive posts on this topic.) And I also found that Stephen Nachmanovitch has a website with many links to writings and other sources for ideas about improvisation in the arts, that looks quite fascinating.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011

With three exhibits this summer/early fall (currently at Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, WI, and opening July 22 at Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe, NM and September 30 at Gormleys Fine Art in Dublin, Ireland) I'm pretty much living in my studio these days. For all three shows the total number of paintings is over 40...of course, one show is already underway and much of the work is either finished or underway for the other two, so although I have my moments of panic, things are actually under control.

With multiple galleries, it's very easy to get into a time crunch with a lot of work required in a short period of time. I know this situation is not uncommon--I've heard some interesting stories over the years from art friends about huge amounts of work being produced in mere weeks, and have certainly had my own experiences too. Whether it's because of deadlines or it just happens in the normal flow of work, times of high productivity with lots of work underway are energizing and exciting--so rather than complain about feeling pressured, however tempting, I'm going to focus here on what I love about this situation.

First, with a large number of paintings in the studio, it is easier to see various threads of ideas all developing at once. Looking around at what is in progress or recently completed, I can recognize several distinct ideas that in times of lower productivity might seem isolated or unrelated to other paintings. When there is enough work underway, series emerge in a strong and recognizable way.

For example, in terms of technique, I've been adding sand into my oil and cold wax mixture on quite a few of my current surfaces. It's something I have tried before, and liked--but now, working with a number of paintings, the effects of sand on the texture and color layers are more obvious to me. I'm learning faster what is possible and how to work with this material--each new shift in technique leads to not just one, but several applications simultaneously, so technical progress is noticeably improved.

Ideas too seem to take off more readily and feed into each other more easily when I am working intensely. By this I don't mean just repeating one solution on everything--I avoid doing that! But a particular idea may find expression in more than one painting when many are in play.

Although I am speaking of having many paintings in progress, within any particular session I do tend to focus on one or two at a time. But I also recognize that in a time crunch, I cannot wander endlessly through a particular painting...if something isn't working, I am likely to put it aside, and by the time I get back to it, something new has opened up. Decisions about where a painting is heading seem more clear with a deadline hovering, and oddly I am more likely to try new ideas when I'm under pressure. I'm not sure why that is--maybe it brings out a more reckless side of me--but in any case, I'd say that deadlines are good for my work.

Finally, there is the emotional aspect and unconscious processing that occurs when I have a lot of work to do, and I am spending so many hours in the studio. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a solution to a visual problem, or an idea for a new painting comes in a dream. I feel very excited about painting even when I am feeling physically tired or know I should take a break. "Obsessed" might not be too strong a word.

Which is not to say I don't sometimes feel overwhelmed and a bit crabby about not having some down time. This morning, feeling like that, I posted something on my Facebook page about having an intense couple of weeks ahead in the studio, and Barbara Chappelle (who was a student in the first cold wax workshop I ever taught) replied that she knew I'd enjoy that intensity. This post was inspired by her remark, and I thank her for causing me to contemplate how much I do love these times. How fortunate it is that the very situation of needing to produce a lot of paintings leads to work that feels so satisfyingly connected and deeply felt.

The painting above, October #2, 50"x30" is in my current show at Woodwalk Gallery.


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       Rebecca Crowell