In my last post, I discussed the use of photography and mechanical assistance in the making of paintings. There is a huge upside, but the pitfalls are what feed the controversy and they are easy to fall into. Like many artists, I have gotten jammed into the rigidity of following too closely what is in my reference photo at the expense of the composition, but that is just a logic problem. The less obvious problems lie in fear.
That place between where the rendering of a subject accurately and the mysterious boundary where it becomes art is an easy place to get stuck. The fear of not being true to a subject is balanced with the fear of going too far out on a limb where it is not fantasy and not believable either.
My lesson came, not through painting, but through writing creative non-fiction. In sorting out the details of a story, I had to decide what to leave out and what to put in – to find where “that’s what happened” stopped serving the story. Truth is relative to the person telling it and it is no different in painting. It is not enough to say “because that’s the way it was”. The key to art is helping others see the mundane in a new way. So keeping it too accurate and logically mundane rarely brings the insight I want to share.
In many ways, my last series was largely documentary. I added and pulled details, but then the controversy was, am I accurate enough to document a place and still say something that has a greater meaning?
It can be a fine line. That is where having a purpose for a series becomes critical. What kind of story do I need to tell? Is it mine alone or does it belong to others too? What does that last question really mean?
Down here, for now, it is just mine. And now I have to find a new way to edit the details of a new place in order to find my story or find myself stuck in that swamp of in-between. My photographs inspire me still, but my purpose might no longer be documentary. I think I will remain a representational painter, but that blanket is a broad one.
2012’s “St. Frances de Asis” was an experiment inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. I cropped the original photo to remove the temptation to reproduce elements of the background. I stylized the sky and concentrated on the purity of the forms, their light and shadow and most of all, the colour. I pushed reality to play with a more analogous palette. This is most definitely representational, if not entirely realistic, and further out in the spectrum than I have gone since 2004. (See bottom image)
In life, when the story changes, the line only becomes clear with some distance and movement. I am not sure what I will achieve in the coming months. Perhaps some experiments with some new tools for glazing and trying out some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s approach to style might break my habits. I wait for the ideas in Kandinsky’s book and others to sink in because I can’t think my way through this. I believed that being torn in two directions was a bad thing, but I am beginning to wonder that if I succumb and embrace the conflict that something new will emerge. And the photograph remains my muse, pitfalls hopefully remaining in the distance.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.
~Rainer Maria Rilke