2020. Acrylic on canvas. 8 x 10 in.
For anyone who just got an essentially text-less version of this post, my apologies: I don’t believe I hit “Publish”, but I guess I must have. So that went out by mistake, premature. Grumble.
What I intended to write was that the dates I’ll be participating in the 2021 Open Studio Art Tours in October have changed. Instead of the 2nd and 3rd weekends, I’ll be doing the 1st and 2nd weekends. That’s October 9/10 and 16/17.
That’s still a ways off, of course. But in the meantime, I’ve just put a couple more pieces in the Members Gallery at the 29 Palms Art Gallery for the month of May, including the work above. Featured artists this month include John Henson, Jennifer Grandi, and Denise Tanguay. Reception will be this Saturday, May 1, from 5 to 7:00.
Creosote With Bullion Mountains and Squirrel Holes
2000. Pastel and charcoal on sandpaper. 8-3/4 x 6-3/4 in.
We finally took this small painting in for framing last week. It’s been sitting in a drawer, carefully wrapped in glassine, for 20 years. I’m very patient with these things; having created it is the primary source of satisfaction, and I don’t need to look at it all the time after that. And I knew I would never agree to sell it; it’s a key piece of my work, plus I dearly love it. My partner, who loves it also, is not as patient as I am, and she had found a frame that was suitable. She wants it on the wall.
I drew the original charcoal sketch out behind the house I was living in at the time, about half a mile from where I am now. It’s the view facing north, with a creosote bush, the distant Bullion Mountains on the Marine base, and some ground-squirrel dens amid the swells of sand and dried grasses.
I liked the swingy gestural feel of the large sketch, and some time later I reduced it with the scanner and transferred it to a piece of Ersta sandpaper. The pastel technique I was using at the time involved building up layers of color and value with scribbly line, which can give a lot of depth and complexity but also breathing space while still retaining the sparkle and intensity of the pigments. Recreating the charcoal line was a challenge, a kind of task I had plenty of opportunity to practice over many more years of drawing and painting in pastel.
This would have been around the time I acquired my studio, when I was working mainly with Rembrandt pastels. Soon after I would have bought my full set of Senneliers, which are much softer, and eventually began working the surface with my brush technique and left this scribbly style behind. But the fact is I miss it and often think I need to pick it up again. It has its own unique potential and satisfactions. Someday.
January 2021. Acrylic on canvas. 18 x 18 in.
I post this image aware that no one may perceive its charm besides myself. The painting began in the vein of Pause Point and Urchin, with an earth pigment gestured on a white-on-dark ground and the intention of following this up with Mars black. I did come back in with white, several times, to remove some areas of umber I didn’t need; you can see the ghosts of the strokes in the upper portion. But when I got to this stage, I just wouldn’t go further. This painting sat in the studio for months as I waited for permission to continue. But I never got it. I simply was satisfied with this “Genie” (the name came to me almost immediately). I debated with myself about the messiness in those upper areas, which are not clean or well-painted, frankly. But repeatedly I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to change them. I liked the messiness, for perverse reasons. I like all the grubby ghosts in there.
This canvas is larger, 18 by 18 inches. Once again I was re-purposing an old painting, done maybe a year ago but that had never felt quite right. It was good that it kicked me into the larger format. I have several going at this size now. I like the physical impact as the format scales up. And I like the physical feel of painting it. Fits me better.
3-1/4 Views of Fukushima
February 2021. Acrylic on wood panel. 12 x 9 in.
Hard to get a good scan of this painting, but basically it’s just two colors, ultramarine blue and pyrrole red, rolled on a wood panel with a soft brayer.
Ten years on, the several related events involved with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including the earthquake and tsunami as well as the spread of radioactive debris in the ocean, still cause uneasiness and even nightmares for people on the West Coast. The Pacific Ocean is a big unsteady bowl on the edges of which Japan and the Western states all sit. Our toes are all wet with the same water. We are neighbors, and share the same dreads. My heart still feels for the people of Japan and all they suffered in this multifaceted disaster.
December 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 12 in.
Things have moved to a new level in the studio the last few months. A subtle graduation has occurred. I seem to have gained my footing with the acrylics. I have enough skills now that I am better able to achieve what I’m trying to do, to match the execution to the vision and the impulse. And when I encounter a challenge, I’m more likely to know a solution, or at least in which direction to turn. And because of this, I am more patient. I’m willing to set a work aside for months, if need be, and feel confident that the solution or direction will become apparent to me with time. The flailing has lessened; the Hail Mary passes are fewer. And I’m less likely to fall into an abyss of hopelessness and self-condemnation when several works in a row seem unsuccessful.
I’m also fully focused now on several series of works and have lost patience with my long-time practice of giving myself “assignments” to help me learn. There’s a growing pile of such pieces that I’ve simply lost interest in. And I’ve become better at distinguishing between works on which I’m just unsure how to proceed, and those that just actually don’t mean anything to me. This is a change from the past. The curiosity of trying to learn something or the challenge of solving them technically is not enough to carry me through to completion. I keep wandering off to the works that compel me.
This is a good thing.
The works I’m doing now may or may not be “good” – I’m not in the best position to judge – but they are what I want to be doing. I’m achieving my visions, and through the prompts of the medium and process itself I’m discovering new visions, visions that surprise me.
“Carbon 2”, above, is from a small but growing series that surprises me, and keeps pulling me forward in an unhurried way. There are four completed works now, and I know more are coming. I posted the first here (it was an “Untitled” then, but I’ve since realized it was “Carbon 1”). I’ve been working increasingly with black and white, or minor variations on B&W such as the grayed white in the Carbon paintings, or just small amounts of other hues as in Urchin and Pause Point. And, for those who are curious about such things, the black pigment in the Carbon paintings is carbon black; it is Mars black in the other two just mentioned.