Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tree in the Middle (oil on canvas, 2010)

(Private Collection)
This was painted outside a week ago last Friday. There once was a railway that ran through my town but the tracks were removed during the 1980's and the trail is now used for recreational vehicles. I often like to run out there and one evening, the night before I did this painting, I was on my way back from a run and I noticed what appeared to be a small structure (doghouse, maybe?)in the woods to my right. I followed an auxiliary trail in that direction to investigate. It turned out to be just an old tank, perhaps used for pesticides, that was half buried in a mound of dirt in the woods. On my way back to the main trail I saw this view.

Normally, my impulse would have been to do this as a long horizontal composition, but I didn't have any canvases in that shape so I had to use this "almost-a-square". I was trained in art school to think carefully about the compositional structure from the outset of a picture and to be sure that the composition is solid before introducing color. I usually work out the composition in washes of burnt sienna until I am happy with it, before I start mixing my colors. However, I wasn't able to get this one to work. I have been studying a lot of the abstract expressionist painters over the past few years and started thinking about their method of just going into the painting and making the composition "work" during the painting process, rather than mapping it out beforehand. I adopted this methodology while painting this picture and found it both challenging and invigorating. The bottom third of the picture presented a major compositional problem, but ultimately, by introducing a piece of the path that I was standing behind in the lower left corner and creating diagonal movement with the yellow dandelions, I was able to make the composition work in way that I was pleased with.

The Border (oil on canvas, 2010)

(Private Collection)
This is based on the view from the field behind the Dulin's old barn, looking east into New Brunswick. I did several drawings and a small oil study of this view a few years ago, with the intention of developing it into a painting, but at the time I did not have a long horizontal canvas so I ended up re-working the subject as a vertical composition. I went back up there a couple of weeks ago with my paints, but the field was being cultivated, so I did this from memory back in the studio. Working from direct observation is always educational and I find that I learn a great deal in the process, especially since the color relationships and compositional structures in nature almost always seem to be perfect. However, when working from nature, there is always the temptation to include too much descriptive information and I enjoy the challenge of working in the studio and trying to make the picture "work" in a purely abstract way.