Monday, February 27, 2017

The Perfect Moment (oil on canvas, 2017)



“A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle.” – Robert Henri

It took me years to realize this, but the art-making process is a continuum and, although the the serendipitous ways that images come to fruition still surprise me, I've come to accept them as the norm. I never think about simply "making an image" from start to finish. I just work all the time – drawing, painting, doodling, studying, thinking – and the images are the by-product of that process.

About five years ago, I went out for a walk with my set of Sennelier half stick pastels, a board with a piece of paper taped to it, and the best of intentions. I was in a very creative mood and I ended up making a drawing that was very loose and gestural, free, abstract and filled with vibrant, subjective color choices. It didn’t quite work as a drawing on its own so I never framed or showed it but, for some reason (most likely the freedom of execution and the exuberance of the colors), I liked it. I taped it up on the wall of my studio where it has remained ever since. I've often looked at it, wondering if it contained within it the seeds of another work.

Last weekend I had finished a painting and was eager to begin something new. I didn’t have a subject in mind, but I had faith that something would emerge eventually, and I just needed to remain alert enough to catch it. I went out to the studio before dinner Saturday to turn the heat on and as I headed back toward the door, I looked up, saw the aforementioned drawing hanging on the wall, and, in a flash of insight, immediately thought that if I removed the right half of it, it would become a very strong composition. I grabbed a piece of black paper and taped it up, covering the right half of the drawing and instantly saw the subject for my next painting. I had a couple of canvases(20x24 and 30x36) that were the correct proportions for the composition, but given the complexity of the color scheme, compounded by the ethereal quality of the drawing, both of which were going to make this a challenging image to execute, I thought it best to use the smaller canvas. However, on an impulse, really, I decided at the last minute to use the larger canvas instead.

My process involves mixing all of the colors (a slow, methodical and often tedious process) for the painting before I begin to actually paint, which can sometimes take days. This image had a complex color scheme so I spent three painting sessions just mixing the colors. I started actually putting paint on the canvas Tuesday, working late into the night and again over the next two days. By the time I went to bed Thursday night (the wee hours of Friday morning, actually!) I realized that I was in over my head and had undertaken an image whose complexity was beyond my skill. With trepidation (dread, really) and tenacity in equal measure, I headed out to the studio after dinner on Friday, determined to forge ahead, although without much optimism. (I told my daughter that I was probably going to have to abort this painting and pull the canvas off of the stretchers.) However, after about three hours of intense working, I could detect a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel as the image began to coalesce and I went to bed (in the wee hours of Saturday morning!) with hope.

After several more hours of work on Saturday, I stepped back from the easel and saw this. I think it's one of the best things I've done.

My son asked me how long it took me to paint this. I said, "At least five years."

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