Sunday, February 23, 2014

The First Link of One Memorable Day (oil on canvas, 2014)

(Private Collection)
Over the past year-and-a-half, the focus of my work has been on subjective color or, for those of you that didn't go to art school, color choices that have little or nothing to do with the actual colors of the subject, but, instead, are chosen for their relationships with each other within the context of the painting and, also, to evoke a certain emotional response in the viewer. As a result, I've spent a lot of time painting familiar subjects, but with completely different color combinations. This is the old potato house on the Wiley Road that I've drawn and painted more times than I care to think about over the past eight years (This composition is based on a drawing that I did just before the approach of sunset last June as the black flies tore the flesh off of my legs and face!).
I'm interested in finding color combinations that work together, that trigger some kind of emotional response, and (and this is sacrosanct) don't look like anything that I've ever seen before. I like to think of the color combinations as big jazz chords, with lots of extensions, overtones and compound intervals, where a particular combination of notes, using a certain hierarchy and within the context of the rest of the composition, can create a completely unique sound. So I try to find combinations like this, where one color may be dominant and other colors may harmonize with it whilst others create tensions. The triad of secondary colors - orange, green and violet - has always been a favorite of mine and I find that by adjusting the tonality of each color (i.e. an orange can be closer to yellow or red and can be pure and saturated or dull and muted), there is an infinite wealth of possibilities within a seemingly limited range of colors. I like how the salmon-ish orange color works with the various greens and muted violets in this painting and creates a warmth and feeling of nostalgia, in a primarily abstract way that has very little to do with what the actual barn looks like.

All That Beauty and Angst (oil on canvas, 2014)

There's something about an old, derelict house or barn being swallowed up by the landscape that I love. I think it's the idea that everything eventually dies and rots, falls to pieces, and yet life itself carries on. A tree rises up out of the ground from a fallen seed, and grows to towering heights and then one day, topples to the ground, to be consumed by insects. Mankind erects massive structures, built to last, and yet they eventually crumble to dust. And we build lives for ourselves, amassing family and friends and material possessions only to one day be nothing but dust. But the cycle of life itself, goes on and on, generation after generation. I had a profound experience once, years ago, whilst out running on some old, long-disused railroad tracks. My shoe had come untied, so I stopped running and as I bent down to re-tie the lace, I noticed how the once seemingly-indestructible steel track had completely rusted and become thin and brittle, so much so that I could break a piece of it off with my fingers. Right next to it, a plant was beginning to bud and I saw the truth in that - how time moves on and nothing lasts forever, yet the cycle keeps perpetuating. This image is based on a pastel drawing that I did on Easter Sunday last year, whilst a few stalwart patches of snow were still holding out against the onslaught of spring, of an abandoned house on the corner of the Wiley Road and Hammond Lane here in Littleton.

Dawn Light Kisses the Pale Morning Snow (oil on canvas, 2014)

Contrary to what I wrote in my previous post, some paintings, like this one, which was painted in a single day, do come to fruition without a lot of agony. This image is based on the view of the Dulin's barn from the field behind it, a subject that I have been using quite a bit over the past year, as I've explored different color schemes. The sky here in northern Maine takes on an intense pink color in the early hours, especially on extremely cold days (which we've had a lot of this winter). Someone told me that it has to do with the water molecules in the air being frozen so that they refract the light. Whatever the scientific explanation, it's quite breathtaking to behold and this is not the first time that I've done a winter painting with a pink sky. I had been looking at the snow a lot (not that I've had much choice!) and thinking about the fact that the color White is a combination of all of the colors in the visible spectrum and how I can see colors in the snow when I really study it.The idea here was to paint the snow in such a way that it looks white, but that it is actually made up of many colors. I'm not sure how it comes across in this image (and that may be largely dependent on the device that you are viewing it on), but in person the bottom two thirds of this painting remind me of the iridescence of abalone. And, of course, some teals and purples in the trees, for good measure.

Reading Between the Lines (oil on canvas, 2014)

People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting. This is a difficult question to answer because every painting is different and my process involves a lot exploration, serendipity and never knowing what the painting will look like until it is finished. In addition, many paintings begin with a series of exploratory drawings and studies as I fumble around in the dark trying to get closer to the illusive image. Sometimes these preliminary drawings will emerge in a burst of creativity over a very short span of time but, more often than not, the drawings will come over a span of several days, weeks or even months. Occasionally, albeit rarely, in image comes very quickly, almost effortlessly and an image will go from initial inspiration to finished painting in a single day. And sometimes, I'll labor over an image for months, working on it for a few days, then getting away from it for a while, coming back to it again, getting away from it again. During this time I usually find myself trying to reconcile any expectations that I might have had with whatever the image is trying to be, which is antithetical to whatever I thought I was going to do. I suppose it's like having a bright child and expecting them to go to college, medical school and on to a successful career and life of luxury and then having to deal with their decision to become an artist. This was one of those paintings. This is actually the second painting that I've done of this subject, based on a pastel drawing done on location in the late Autumn of 2012. I began this painting in early November of last year, naively thinking I could finish it in a couple of days, in time to take it with me on my trip to Erie, PA. Hah! This was not to be. I struggled with this painting through the holidays and most of the month of January. Ultimately, it ended up being a painting on which the paint was applied over and over and over, layer upon layer, creating a density and impasto surface that turned out to be exactly what the painting needed, regardless of whatever I had intended.