Big Blue Water

koi latest large one

I had a big piece of canvas draped over an empty stretcher for a long time.  Well, finally got the staple gun loaded and got to work.  The canvas was stretched, the idea was laying there ready to begin, and I’ve begun work on the last large koi painting of the season.  I know that I’ll want to do others, maybe next year or a few years hence, but for now I’m in finishing mode.  All the koi are coming up to the surface — so to speak — getting their last layers of paint.  The pond will be stocked.  The fish can just swim.  And afterwards I’ll begin a new series on some other topic.

The last koi picture has perhaps some added allure for me.  Call it the finale.  Accordingly, for me, this canvas feels most like a dip in the water.  The innate beauty of the color blue captivates me now while I work.  This picture is one in which the water and its fluidity will provide the central theme.  Added to the indulgent pleasure of the motif, I’m using acrylic paint this time so that the work goes much faster.  Usually I love oil for the exact opposite reason — its slowness, its nuance — but I’m dolloping large puddles of color, pushing loaded brushes at this canvas, letting the shapes happen fast, thinking and reacting in one gesture.  It’s really a lot like swimming — which seems just about right. 

The painting is still new, lots of work ahead.  It sits at the end of a long gallery of fellow fish.  It’s my delight to see in the morning.  It reminds me why I first began painting.  This big pond will, I hope, make the spectator feel as free a fish!  Oh, may we truly know the delight of life on our blue planet.

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More Koi

Before the painting can live in someone else’s house and life, it first must live at the artist’s house.   The largest of my koi paintings lives — the fish swim, I should say — in my apartment above a bookshelf.  (One little wave of water, pictured at left, a painting by my daughter has wafted out of the pool!)

Where does painting live?

One of the challenges facing artists today is figuring out where a painting belongs.   If we are unsure who the audience is, we are equally unsure where the painting is to find this audience.  Paintings are sold as ordinary commodities, and yet we know deep inside that the business of art is about more than just decoration.  Real art tells us things about life that we need to know.  Literature is like that.  A novel displays a world of imagination into which we enter vicariously and painting does something similar once an image is widely known.  Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World captured the longings of a generation.  Anyone can see the painting now in books and feel something of its pull even without ever having seen the actual painting — though of course the actual painting adds intensity to this experience that cannot be duplicated by a reproduction.

And there’s the rub.  It’s the great peculiarity of paintings that they are one of a kind.  The commercial print and computer image era has blinded us somewhat to the uniqueness of an object.  Real painters, old fashioned painters, working as the old masters have for centuries, make things whose raison d’etre relies on being the only one of its kind.

I just paint.  I cannot say for certain why I make the specific images I do.  And I paint these things with blind faith.  I know they exist for a reason just as a novelist writes the story long before having made friends with a publisher.

Of late I find my career turning in a new direction as I stumble to find the places where my paintings are “destined” to live.  I try to imagine my paintings in specific interiors because it helps me understand the unknown audience that my pictures address.  I’m looking for rooms in a house — in a house of imagination first — a real house after — where my paintings will first begin to make their mark on the world I live in. 

I know the places are there.  I just have to find them.  And this, my friends, is a far different thing than just selling pictures.  Above is a simulation:  my painting as it would look in a room I found lately that I really like.

[The original, unedited photograph by Morgan Howarth comes from Washington Spaces magazine and  features a room designed by renowned DC designer Frank Babb Randolph.]