J O U R N A L / B L O G


Friday, March 22, 2013

In watercolors, I at once found something new and stumbled into an old friend. In finally finding a way of working with the pure negative space first experimented with in my web design photo manipulations for my first artist website (but never until now really ‘worked into’ for long enough to reveal features and the feel of working in that way as a practice rather than experiment) I discovered that the pure negative space has a charge that is entirely similar to the charge a completely blank canvas has before any mark has been made.
                There is nothing for a painter like staring into a blank canvas. It is a wonderful (and sometimes terrible) experience. I made a point of taking a whole day to do it at Evergreen one time, and it was a very productive thing to do. I think it is different for everyone, so I’ll not get too deep into what I felt. I simply felt more and more like a painter the more and more I looked at that empty surface: as a context, a framework, a medium, it was beautiful to me. It was something I had found. Similar to the way an empty Microsoft word document looks. And I spent time imagining all the things I might paint, all the things that build up behind the motion of a hand and brush movement, and are instantly translated into a new language, not from an old language so much as from no language at all. Wonderful to think of all the memories and ideas that influence a mark made. Yet none control it completely. In the matter of control, the outside jumps in and has its own influences. And so painting is not just an expression, but an interaction (hopefully that idea does not feel too cliché by the end of my writing). Who wants to have a one sided conversation? My imagination brimmed not just with the things I was bringing with me to the threshold of creation, but with the conversations I was going to have with the forces of reality containing both the canvas and I.
 Usually in my process of painting, there is kind of an initial goal of ‘filling’ the canvas, and then working into it. No space is to be left untouched, for the painting is either like a window or photograph into or of something, or at least it is a rectangular composition of form that relates its movement to the angles of the rectangle, and so every part of it contributes in an intentional way that I would intuitively associate with mark-making and treatment, however light or dark in contrast to other elements. That could even involve re-painting a flat white, but not a total lack of painting. I wanted the surface quality of my whole painting to be painted, it was simply the framework in which I thought about paintings. As I experimented in my painting practice I did make many attempts to leave untouched space in my paintings, but it never actually worked. It always looked unfinished—or rather, the elements I had painted in looked unfinished. The emptiness did not become a part of the total aesthetic effect in an immediately appreciable way. I tried this enough times that it frustrated me, and my next experiment was to try to relate the edges of what was painted with the empty space in a more complex way. The result of that more intensive attempt to paint with totally negative space left in the rectangle ultimately did not succeed either, though I enjoyed painting it.
                The fact that I enjoyed painting it should have been a bigger tip off to me. When you are getting something out of the process, you enjoy it. As an artist I don’t think it’s reasonable to always expect to ‘enjoy’ making things, but if it starts to go away entirely you have a big problem on your hands. If you can’t get it back somehow, it is an unsolvable problem, and eventually you will not be creating or you will be so miserable that creating will mean nothing to you. Maybe you’re a machine and that’s ok with you. …Actually, the masochism to make ourselves into machines is a powerful tool for anyone, including artists. But in the very ability to make oneself into a machine is a suggestion I think, that one should not ever try to be just one machine, or hone just one nature. Flexibility and plasticity is the point, and the trap of consistency, baited with whatever (emotional ease, laziness, comfort, safety, security, respect, understanding), is a fatal one for an artist. The easiest way to figure out if you’re in the trap is to check and see if you are excited to work on your art. There will be many things you will consider as well, and in my case and many other’s, many times in which you consider those other things more important or worthwhile. Things like beauty, and cohesiveness, and responses from peers or family or friends or critics. And especially: your own critical response. Sure, those things might be important for the art. But the artist is a different story. Anyone who has been an artist for more than a few years as a serious endeavor knows that muses are fickle. It’s impossible to predict when they will wither and leave, when a dead muse will suddenly burst back into life, and just where in the hell the next one is hiding. An essential part to any artist is trust. Trust in something completely outside of yourself—and the dedication to move on in spite of ignorance. Another essential part of any artist is a respect of process. If you are considering being an artist you are probably already obsessed with the idea of finishing a work of art. That’s not something most artists really have to worry about. It’s already in their inclinations to want to finish something and be excited by that. The real goal is to not loose excitement in the process. If you can do that then you will not only finish things, you will keep making and finishing more things, and the most rewarding part of that cycle will not be any part of it in particular. It will be great to finish, but it will also be great to start. If you get a ton of satisfaction and happiness from finishing a work of art, if you really feel better than you have in ages, you’re in trouble.

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