In a previous post I wrote about making large paintings. When it comes to the seashells small is ideal. And the actual shell sitting in front of its portrayal illustrates some of the sensibility connected to painting things life size. I feel such a longing to have the thing be as actual as possible — which is not always the same as its being “realistic.”
I want to make a picture of the shell. I want the elements of the medium to be visible. Oil pastel is a beautiful substance in its own right. The drawing of the shell, wanting it to look actual, and the use of the oil pastel crayon, wanting to have the textures of the mark present in the picture — these things go together.
Then it’s fun to have the seashell “pose” in front of its portrait just as any sitter might do ….
One of the ways that I get ideas for new works is from chance occurrence. While I was looking through image files, I found these two pictures side by side — rather as they appear here. The image on the left is a notebook drawing of the koi. The picture on the right is a scene from an old studio where a large drawing was nearly complete.
Seeing the two works together like this, the one on the left could almost seem to be the same size as the one on the right — and that gives you an idea how it would look enlarged. Making large works is not merely about enlarging small works. The large picture ought to seem as though it is simply “the right size” but seeing this small drawing in this context does suggest that it might look good on a much larger scale.
The process could as easily work the other way. You could see some huge painting in a museum and realize that it offers you a subject that you could do on a smaller scale. The key, whatever the circumstance, is to be open to new ideas.
The queen conch shell is essentially radial. It has these spokes that go outwards from its folding calcite structure. You could think of them as shapes somewhat like volcanic cones, and they sprout along the undulating surface of the shell, forming its outer layer. Inside, the shell rolls in upon itself creating inner chambers where the animal has lived during different phases of grow.
That’s the shell.
The background is a very dark blue cloth. It might be reminiscent of the sea, which is after all where the Queen Conch lives.
Above that imaginary horizon … I’m not quite sure what these other things are — triangle wedges. They are dynamic shapes. They echo the spikey-ness of the seashell. But beyond that, they (I refer to the negative shapes) have yet to be identified.
Perhaps it’s a self portrait, and I am the cup — beset by indefinable and menacing-seeming massivities on either side. Under me is a solid slab, but it’s probably cold — solid but cold.
Or maybe it’s your portrait. Maybe it’s not me — I am a sunny optimist, after all. So maybe I just drew it, and it’s your portrait.
At least it has abundant green, green like leafy forest over-hanging canopy. And it has orange, warming deep and comforting. And that emblematic slab — the tile coaster where the coffee mug sits — is blue ethereal. And those un-identifiable massivities are night colored like a field of stars. The emblems, the symbolism are much to unravel.
Maybe it’s just a still life of a coffee mug. But one cannot rule out the symbolic portrait.
Sometimes the best part of a still life might be the depiction of the turn in a fold of cloth. In ordinary life I don’t suppose people think much about the leading edge of a cloth as it folds under itself. I know that outside of my practice of art I rarely think about such things. It is art that brought me into contact with such ideas.
Perhaps physicists sometimes think along this line. Once, very late at night, I heard a physicist explaining multiple dimensions on the radio. He said that the hidden dimensions might be like tubes that coil in upon themselves.
Well, whether or not there are hidden folded dimensions that create the universe there are certainly frequent occasions when the cloth folds, and the observation of the fold is a marvel to behold.
Sometime I’ll have to talk about the rest of the painting, the part above the fold.
The subterranean aspects of house cleaning take you into the dark waters where sometimes dark fishes swim unseen in the murk. Okay, I guess that’s a mixed metaphor unless I have a koi pond in the house — oh wait — I do. I do have a koi pond in the house. I have many koi ponds in the house. I should count them sometime. But as I was saying …
House cleaning is like dreaming, and certain images — when you find them behind this or that item dredged up from the general disorder — take on renewed significance. I know that as I sift through things, I will find used ideas, and some new-to-me ideas — even though they are really my ideas — and yet my old ideas are like hand-me-downs from my past self to Present Tense Me.
Well, anyway suffice it to say that house cleaning is such a creative endeavor that you wonder why you don’t do it more often — except for the realization that it was the separation in time that gives the old ideas their new power.
House cleaning is an amazing experience. Try it. Marie Kondo says we will be transformed.
Cleaning house is a psychological event. I have already had more than one reunion with a long lost item. I am discovering while reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” that many things that fill my house can easily be tossed. I haven’t used them in years. I don’t need them. I’ll never use them. Time to release such things back into the wild.
But I am also finding many things that were merely hidden under the crush of stuff. Retrieving these items is archaeology. Rediscovering these hidden items gives me access to other parts of my memory. They are like windows opening onto my past life.
And so cleaning house is a bit like dreaming.
I never know exactly what I will find. I open a door and an image is waiting there.
I am welcoming many long interred ideas back into my life. And it is changing me.
I have loved Richard Diebenkorn’s work since whenever it was (a long time ago) that I first saw it. Without knowing anything about him, just seeing one of his pictures on the cover of a magazine, I fell in love. His ideas have affected me since.
Here in the drawing from one of his little notebooks (above left) and the detail of my painting Distant Oak (below), I think the affinity shows. I never met Mr. Diebenkorn (who was the same age as my mother). But I still think of him as being one of my teachers.
When photographs of pictures happen by chance to appear side by side, sometimes you discover relationships between images that you didn’t know were there. And so it seems that the Little Collage has some sort of parallel relationship to the Lattice painting that I made many years ago.
Maybe I’m crazy. But I feel as though they share some inner logic, as though they are versions of the same thing.
I didn’t think Frederick Remington was a real artist because he painted cowboy themes. I was that peculiarly annoying thing: an East Coast snob. But I was young. One must forgive the young for their annoying stances — especially when it’s your own young past self!
Anyway, I was at the Museum of American Art last weekend with an agenda: I wanted to make a drawing after Childe Hassam’s painting “Tanagra, The Builders” (which I posted recently). While I was there I also did a certain amount of wandering around and encountered this tour de force by Remington. It stopped me in my tracks.
In all humility I made a rapid sketch of the main horse, rapid because by that time I was supposed to meet some other people, and I only had a few minutes to spare.
I’m glad that I make these fast drawings these days. I used to feel intimidated and it cost me some wonderful opportunities. There’s nothing to lose and much to gain in simply drawing the world around you.