Part of the preparation for launching a new series into the world is the artist’s statement, which is an opportunity to put one’s thoughts on paper, using words to describe the inspiration and process used to create the new work. After conversations with friends and colleagues over several months, and many revisions, I finally have an essay that gives a glimpse into my goals and process – a look at the how and why.
Reflections – A Meditation on the Pondscapes Series
My Pondscapes series is a meditation on, and reflection of, the intimate environment of a woodland pond. The paintings reflect both my love of the specific locale with its mysterious presence, and my life-long interest in finding techniques that lead one deeper into understanding a chosen subject.
My process is one of deconstruction and abstraction. I begin with years of getting to know a place, visiting with my camera in all seasons and recording both the large view and the changing small details. These hundreds of pictures are assembled into several reference binders, which become aids for memory and a source for reconstructing details into a new whole. I also look for poems and historic information about or sympathetic to the place. Sometimes, I write poems myself in answer to the questions what do I see and what does this mean? All of this in service to becoming one with the spirit of the place. After a few years, I can begin the paintings. Usually, I begin with paintings that give a sense of the whole, then keep drawing closer, looking at the more abstract relationships between the parts. I am deconstructing the elements of the scene (underwater growth, reflections in the water, pond surface vegetation, sky reflections, far bank, etc.), and distilling their essence, then reassembling the layers to create a multi-dimensional view of all or part of the pond.
Standing before the painting, you can look across the surface of the pond, down into the water, and simultaneously see hints of the surrounding woods or sky reflected in the water. The paintings provide a space for reflection, a place to pause. The paintings have the effect of slowing time. Separate from the harried pace of life, the paintings encourage you to stop, to observe the ephemeral transit of a floating leaf, or the subtle shifting of colors between seasons. Because much of the “real” world can only be seen as an upside down reflection, you are additionally confronted with a puzzle, piecing together from clues the nature of the environment surrounding the pond. The paintings are a mechanism for diverting your attention toward a both familiar and unfamiliar world. They provide a view across, down, under, and up.
The paintings provide a mirror and a window through which distinct worlds come into view, but they also provide a transparent look at the process by which they were created. While layering the patterns of trees, duckweed, lilies, etc. I am also layering techniques of representation borrowed from monoprint, watercolor and traditional oil painting. I purposely try to keep the layers distinct, so that the means of producing the image can be “read” backwards, layer by layer. You can see the base layer with its monoprint textures and evidence of the brayer’s manipulation, blotting, and pressed textures. You can also see the spatters and glazes of a watercolor-like use of transparent pigments. Finally, you can discern the use of opaque highlights, scraping into wet glazes, and fine blending that are hallmarks of oil painting. Again, I am diverting attention, this time away from the overall image and toward the minutia of close-up abstract textures and patterns of mark-making. While on first sight the subject may seem “real,” closer inspection reveals surprises. Each small part of the painting becomes an abstract painting on its own, with complex gestures and layered textures.
One definition of reflection is to give back. Much as the pond gives me respite and inspiration, so too I want the paintings, based on the pond and its reflections, to provide relief, and perhaps impetus for reflection, to my viewers. The paintings are a shared experience.
Which brings me back to the question of what is the spirit of the place? There are many ways to answer that question, and to define an answer would be to limit the possibilities. I do know that the pond is about change, the passage of time, cycles of rebirth and death, and especially the interconnectedness of everything. It is about surprise. Beyond that, I prefer to keep interpreting what I see and feel when I am there. Painting is a form of prayer/meditation, opening one’s self up to the world and letting one’s senses read the environment. Each reading is different, and like a novelist working out themes by way of chapters, my paintings, when taken together, seek to provide a deep and penetrating reflection of what is there.
Teri Malo, January, 2014
based especially on a series of conversations with Jan Sprawka