Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, My process, Uncategorized

Knowing when to stop

Most of my paintings over the past several years have been abstract, in fact, very much so. They fall into the category of “non-objective abstract” paintings. So what does that mean? Basically, it means the artist does not have objects from the tangible world in mind, but rather is using color, line, texture, and form either as ends in themselves or as the means for expressing an idea. (I don’t know if that definition is acceptable to an art historian, but it works for me.) The viewer may find in the art a hint of the real world, and choose to interpret it with that in mind, but the artist does not necessarily have that intent.

My paintings Strong and Submerged are good examples. Both paintings leave the viewer on her own to find meaning, although the titles are fine clues as to intent. Cliffside is another work that perhaps implies “real” content by the title, but it’s expression, not depiction. I’ve long felt a strong connection to the abstract expressionists, like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, among others.

18464 Cliffside-wp


Recently I’ve painted works that could be labeled as “objective abstraction.” In them, it seems obvious that I’ve chosen tangible subject matter, flowers or mesas, for example, but the objects are simplified. While the colors and shapes may or may not be representational of the actual subject, the viewer has no trouble identifying it. Pink Flowers on Green Table couldn’t be much clearer as to content, but realistic detail is at a minimum. Desert Sentinels is obviously a landscape, but again, the effort is to keep details to a minimum while creating the ambience of the stark, lonely desert. One could make an argument that these paintings are tied to the school of Impressionism, but since I don’t regard myself as an impressionist painter, I’m sticking with objective abstraction if attaching a genre is necessary.

I’m distinguishing between the two types of work in order to set up a problem I’ve recognized. Here it is: when painting non-objective works like Strong and Submerged, I know when the painting is done. It’s done when I’ve gone through my process and the end result pleases me. There may be some twists and turns before arriving, but I seldom micro-manage the final stage. No temptation to niggle with the details. I know when I’m done.

This is so much harder to do with tangible content that I want to break down to its essence. Simplification, it seems, is hard. Sometimes I use my own photographic references intending to create a very spare interpretation of, for example, a landscape. That’s how it begins. But as the work progresses, resisting the temptation to add detail is a battle of the wills. One voice whispers, “Over there. Add some green. Maybe a bush or a crevice. Yeah, that’ll make it better.” Then the other voice shouts, “Stop! Stop right where you are! You’re ruining it!”

The second voice is right. At least it’s right for me. I am not a realistic or photorealistic artist. Those are admirable schools of art, but going down the path of adding detail atop detail does not produce works that are true to my heart, that give me joy. My challenge is to forget the reference and let imagination and memory, however hazy, lead the way. The goal is to make a good painting, not to reproduce what’s in front of me.

A wise mentor has said, “Stop when the painting is 90% complete.” Listening to the second voice, recognizing when I reach that place, require self-awareness, sharpened intuitiveness, and growth. I welcome all three.

Body of Work

Common Threads

Artists are by nature experimenters, some more than others. I think I fall into the middle to high end of that continuum. I can be pretty happy creating work in a particular medium for a while as I push its limits. (Actually, it’s probably my own limits I’m pushing.) Then it’s time to shake loose a bit.

I’ve noticed this pattern for a while. For example, I’ve worked with acrylics and mixed media since early 2016 after a couple years using watercolor, collage and stamping. The need to create larger work led me there. But I recently fell prey to the lure of three-dimensional work, and have taken a break from canvases to see where that leads me. (I’ll be back to canvases soon!) I haven’t abandoned one type of work for another, but simply enriched the journey with new tools, a bigger vocabulary, and the challenge of learning new skills.

Now in reflection, I look for threads that connect the seemingly disparate types of work. Below are some examples of shared processes, images, or obsessions that link the body of work.

Here’s a detail from a watercolor/mixed media piece (left) called Woman at the Window (2015) next to a detail (right) from Covered/Uncovered (2017), an acrylic painting. Two years separate the works, but the same passion for texture and pattern appears in both. Spirals and splatters? I can’t help it!

15223 WomanAtTheWindow-Detail-3-lr  17386 Coverd-Uncovered-Detail-1-lr

Weathered, corroded surfaces attract me. The first image below (left) is a detail from Mesa Whirlwinds (2016), an acrylic/mixed media painting. I paired it with Half Memories (2017), a found objects assemblage I just finished in July. Although starkly different at first glance, they share my attempts at making surfaces compelling and complex.

16363 MesaWhirlwinds-Detail-2-lr   HalfMemories-Detail-lr

Comfort and Joy (2015), a watercolor/mixed media piece (left), couldn’t be more different from Dove in Mourning (2017), acrylics/mixed media (center), and Half Memories (2017). Oh, not so fast. What about the splatters in the first two? And do you see the dot pattern in all three?

15218 Comfort&Joy-Detail-3-lr  17385 DoveInMourning-patterndetail-lr  HalfMemories-detail-lr

I could go back even farther, to my banners and wall hangings of the ‘70s, and my cut paper illustrations of the ‘80s. It’s a bit of a relief to see the common threads. The challenge is to avoid using them as defaults, to stay original, and to keep exploring!