Monday, November 28, 2011

52 Breakdown

I have been asked by a few people to go a bit into my thinking process on the recent paintings I have been doing, so this post is about some of the process and things I think about when painting this commuter series. Now the first thing is of course the spark, the inspiration that grabs me and makes me want to paint whatever it is that I am seeing. I think that is different for every person, every artist, and I don't think there is anyway to exactly break that down. Even if I break down my taste into a play list, it won't be anyone else's exact play list--though we might like many of the same artists.

However, I do know that dramatic light events interest me very much as a painter. I love light raking across a zone, and area, be it a city block, grove of trees or still life, what have you. That morning I drove into the city on the way to school the light was so great that I just had to whip out my camera while driving and started snapping a zillion shots on the way down Market Street. I also feel strongly the better the photo the easier it is to work with the photo as a source for a painting. If you start with a photo with a great composition that starts you on the good path no matter what you do later or how much you use or discard from the photo. I should also go on record here as saying I have no issue with working from photos, some artists do, but I don't. My thinking and my way is to use the photo as the start but not the end and I draw from it as I would from life, I also work from multiple pictures when I can. All my years in comics and commercial art have given me plenty of experience working with photos so I think I can avoid the pitfalls the can bring. I am working for what works as a painting.

Later I went through the pictures and selected the ones that I thought worked best for making a good composition and painting. The ones I shot at the corner of 52nd street and Market came out great and I thought the light event outside vs the underworld of the EL and the stores was great. Cool vs warm, light vs shadow and the riot of detail was seducing and would be a challenge. I also looked at the big shapes, the abstract shapes of the picture to see the strength of the composition and to see if I could push it, play with it and make it stronger, to not be a slave to the photo ref, but to use it as a reference but not an empirical source to slavishly copy. I had been studying artist like Rackshaw Downes and Richard Diebenkorn. Both men are great painters and have aspects to their work I admire, I admire Diebencorn's sense of design and composition and the fact he makes every corner and space vital and well considered. I enjoy his landscapes and the earlier the better, the later more abstract works don't interest me.

One of the weaknesses of a lot of painters is the bottom or edges of their paintings,sometimes they are just rushed off or not as considered-- they just trail off or suffer because the artist is so in love with just the center of interest that the outer realm of the paintings just doesn't get the love--- but a great painter makes every corner or edge as great or as considered as the primary interest of figure, etc., there is no lessening of the charge of a great painting from corner to corner.

This is one of the things my critics and I have discussed more this year as this is such an important part of painting. To consider everything. Everything is important. So I spent many hours in the past year studying my favorite painters and looking at the way they dealt with the corners and edges of their paintings. It did cause me to think about landscape painting in very different ways. Two of these artists were Richard Diebenkorn and Rackshaw Downes. The RD boys as I call them. Now I much more of a narrative realist than Diebenkorn, but maybe not as literal as Downes. I am searching and think I'd like some place in between where I can nail some things down and then allow some things to become more abstract and allow the viewer to participate, this of course is all a big flow, a big process that goes from one painting to the next as I explore these ideas in each work I do. I have learned one thing about myself as a painter--I have no desire to spend months on a single image like he does or years like Lopez Garcia or Downes. I think that would drive me bonkers and I'd just lose all interest.

Now while I don't think you can break something as complex and highly personal as painting down to a formula, there are little 'check lists" I think I can make, a series of questions I should ask myself as a painter when working on any painting. Somethings as simple as, "Are all four corners of the painting the same?" "Are there more than 4 values in this paintings?" "Can I simplify something--is that detail really vital, or that, value can it be pushed closer to another value, and does that work?" "Am I being too literal?"

So with those ideas in my head my process was to break down the painting into the abstract design you see in my illo. I pasted the Diebenkorns in to show how I was trying to use his way of considering shape in the design and entire space. Even if i don't love everything about these paintings I do love how he uses shapes, and my thinking is i can take something froma painter who's work I don't love if I feel it works for me.
This overlay is to show the eye flow of how I hope the painting works. On top of this I am always thinking about color, paint handling, trying to use more paint in some areas and thinner paint in others to vary the textures, to not get too seduced by details too fast and often will paint over things if I get too busy or picky too fast. Sometimes these thoughts are very conscious and sometimes I am cooking and the ideas are all part of the flow.

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