2021. Acrylic, charcoal, collage on canvas. 14 x 11 in.
The earliest of the new collages. Surprised me completely. Still trying to get back in the swing after October’s Open Studio Art Tours, I’d prepared two canvases with texturing, a coat of titanium white, and then a gesture set in black acrylic with a round brush. But I didn’t know where to go from there. Both canvases sat around for a while, then I got a sense that I wanted to stain this one with a dilute phthalo blue. I then went over parts of it with some more opaque blue, and while the paint was still wet got an impulse to draw into it with a narrow piece of willow charcoal.
I liked what was happening, but wasn’t sure of a next step and set it aside. In the meantime, I was throwing some translucent collage pieces on a painting that I’d started early last year and that had come to a dead stop. I picked up some of the collage pieces and started placing them on this blue painting. Excitement! It took a lot of fidgeting but eventually I got just the balance I wanted.
The colors felt like pennants hanging in the sky, which brought to mind Raoul Dufy and his many paintings of regattas in French harbors. But I saw this painting as purely celestial, in the heavens.
I finished the painting on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. As she lay dying I saw her in a twilit world, without color. But since then I feel her rocketing around the cosmos in a kind of super-sled, attending to business I can only imagine. This painting is for her.
2022. Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14 in.
For those who like rosy pink. Not everyone does, I realize. But somebody’s gonna love this baby. It’s like a bastard Pucci printed on elephant hide and run over by a tire. Exactly a certain person’s cup of tea. Might be a while until that certain person encounters the painting, but it will happen and it will be love.
Three Jewels started out the same as the current collage series, with a gesture in black on a textured canvas, followed by a dilute coat of acrylic color applied with a sponge. But once I got that far – using a quinacridone red, in this case – the interior patterns were calling me. This piece wanted a different treatment. So I skipped the collage and sailed in directly with paint.
Though some of the patterns of color and value that I would use were apparent to me from the time I’d first applied that pink, there was nonetheless considerable shifting around as I continued, and it took a while to balance everything out to my satisfaction. I can get really fussy in the later stages of a painting and spend the bulk of my time with the final fine-tuning.
It’s funny, I’d started a painting in exactly this manner before and when that initial layer of pink got on there I’d really hated it. But I’d soldiered on and ultimately was quite fond of the result. So when I got to the same stage with this one – same pink! – I did not waver but continued with the confidence that comes with experience. Nice to feel that!
By the way, for anybody who cares about these things, the “three jewels” refers to the three tiny spots of full-strength, deep red. I’d originally envisioned quite a bit more of that intense straight-from-the-tube red, but ultimately preferred this balance as it evolved. The pink was enough!
The Pony Tale
2022. Acrylic and paper collage on canvas. 12 x 16 in.
I frankly scorn cheesy play-on-words titles, but this title occurred halfway through the piece and wouldn’t go away. So I accepted it. Gotta say this painting really pleases me. I liked the strength and simplicity of the initial gesture, which was done with a flat brush rather than the round I’d usually use for this purpose. And I’m also quite happy with the muted gray-green ground over the texturing contrasting with the range of reds.
But mostly I like the ambiguity between abstract and narrative here. It almost seems like there is a “tale”, but then again not really. It fits inside the crevice between. I feel no compulsion to figure out which it is; it seems quite complete as is, with no need to be one or the other. I like that place.
2020. Acrylic and china maker on wood panel. 9 x 12 in.
I did several of these in the later months of last year; this is the only one I’m happy with.
I began each of them with several coats of gesso, then rolled on two values of a single color with a brayer, overlapping. The initial linear work was with black and white china makers. I observed this one on and off for weeks, weighing options and potential, and finally added the blue line straight from the tube. A lot of picky little minor manipulations followed until it felt right, smoothing curves, bringing them forwards or backwards, letting some bits fade and strengthening others. As is often the case, the title was clear to me before finishing.
None of the works went at all where I thought I was going when I started the series, and I finally accepted that the original idea just wasn’t going to pan out. But I did get at least this one thing out of it that I like. And I like it pretty swell.
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.
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.
2021. Acrylic on canvas. 14 x 14 in.
This work developed from a simple arch-like figure in raw umber and went through quite a bit to arrive in the final state you see here. I began it similarly to Pause Point – prepping the canvas with a darker value undercoat then overpainting with white to leave a just-off-white surface slightly varied in temperature and value but not heavily textured. The initial improvised arch figure was interesting but…not that interesting. I started building with both the raw umber and the black and, to my surprise, felt pulled to bring in the violet. I knocked certain parts back with white, but left faint shadows of some of what had already transpired.
I was quite happy with it in the end, but it wasn’t until the very end that I felt that way. Most of the time it felt pretty awkward. It helped when the title occurred to me, well into the process. I then better understood the direction I was going. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.
Conversation in Taormina
2019. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 18 x 18 in.
It was a lifetime ago that I was in Taormina, ancient city of the Greeks high above the Ionian Sea, in the shadow of Mt. Etna. Did I have a conversation there? I’m sure I did, as I was traveling with a companion of a lifetime with whom conversation has only ever been interrupted, never ceased. While working on this piece the title formed itself in my mind, and so it was. Conversation in Taormina.
I ruminated literally months over whether to add a sort of warm rose patch to the upper left, which I think would have been a becoming option, but in the final analysis it would not have fit this title. That rose. Too pretty. Too rococo. It would not have fit in that conversation.
So here it stopped. With the gold shapes and Ionian blue dreams recovered from antiquity and the smeary charcoal lines swinging like jazz.
I wish a happy birthday to my companion from Taormina. May the art of our conversation never be done.
2019. Acrylic on panel, 11 x 14 in.
These two paintings were completed almost exactly a year ago. They were new in style and exciting to me. I felt the hint of something I’d been looking for. A lot of work was launched from this new direction.
They both feature acrylic paint manipulated with brayer and brush, as well as china marker and ink pen. They are both fully improvisational.
2019. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.
I suppose I might say something about titles. Titles are integral for me. If they’re wrong for the work, they just don’t stick; I will hate the painting until the title is fixed. If the painting is in some way unsuccessful or I don’t care about it, the title will be just as unsuccessful. Most often, except for untitled works, the name arises to my mind sometime during the process and is then stuck like glue – even occasionally shaping the work itself, in the end. It’s the poet in me, I guess. Words matter. Sound matters. Rhythm and melody matter.
Untitled works are usually not paintings for which I cannot find a title. They are, rather, paintings that reject further comment. I do not wish to contextualize their reception with words.
It actually means a lot to me. Can’t live with wrong titles.