Vermont Studio Center: Evolution of a Painting

A peek inside the artist’s studio…

I tend to develop a painting intuitively and reactively…I don’t work out a plan ahead of time, or plot a composition on paper first. I begin by diving in and sketching out shapes with paint. When I step back and look at the painting, I’ll react to what I’ve already put down on the painting surface, and either make complementary shapes and colors, or cover up what I’ve already done and make new ones. Sometimes that even means turning a painting upside down, or changing its orientation from horizontal to vertical. Most of the painting is in the editing process–this eliminating of things that no longer work, and adjusting to add what does.

In thinking about the story of Tyler Clementi, and in general about gay people who are often asked or required to hide who they are, I chose an uneasy green to convey anxiety. (Someone suggested that the green was “institutional”, which added another layer of meaning–all the better!) This anxious, institutional green covers previous layers of activity (you can see vestiges of them peeking out, or see their texture covered by the green). Some activity takes place out in the open; some is covered. The greenish-black and the reflexive scribbling with pencil are meant to be jarring, emotional notes.

One of my beliefs is that a painting needs to be beautiful on some level, in order to capture a viewer’s interest and get him/her thinking about concepts and ideas inherent in the work. Making an ugly piece about war, for example, works for Goya or Otto Dix, but it’s not my way of getting into a work. I like to suggest a mood or moment through color, interplay of shapes, and quality of lines. While I don’t go too far in one direction by allowing my work become merely pretty, I also try not to go too far in the other direction by covering everything in black. I prefer to be more evocative, rather than to answer the question too quickly.

I think of it like a book: you want people to keep reading; you don’t want to give away the whole story on the first page.

For this painting, I took a photo of my progress every time I stepped away from the studio for an extended time (meal break, overnight). What you’re seeing is an arbitrary moment, not necessarily a critical juncture in the painting process. As I carted my work home from Vermont Studio Center, I could hear some misbehaving from the jumble of paintings in the backseat, so I’ll have to assess whether any touch-ups are needed, but as of now, this is the story of this painting:

2 Replies to “Vermont Studio Center: Evolution of a Painting”

  1. I loved reading this, as your approach resonates with mine (it’s always all about us, isn’t it?). I, too, think a work should first be visually attractive, with other layers in the work coming to the surface in a sort of slow burn. As you say, draw the viewer into the book, don’t answer the question too quickly.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks John–I like your term “slow burn”, and the idea of igniting, then growing stronger. That’s very rich, and what I hope happens when someone looks at my work. (Or any work–what a compliment!)

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