Paintings tell stories both metaphorically and literally. Subject matter is often, though not always, the easier read. The painting In the Rain reveals a scene, the lilies are just starting to open and the grasses that grow along the pond edge are vying for space, pushing their slim blades up toward the light. Everything is about growth.
At the same time, the painting abounds in other messages. As much as the subjects of the poem are striving up, there are an equal number of forces pushing down. Grasses and lilies are nearly equal to their reflections in the water, creating long verticals that take the eye up and down. There is a strong contrast between the bright, haloed light of the lilies and the deep tone of the buds, creating a yin/yang relationship.
When I started the painting, I had in mind a blue sky day and the glory of spring. Then came a week of rain. Weather influences what I see as I drive to my studio – gray skies, dripping trees, mist, puddles. Under that influence, the painting began to shift. While I kept the blues, I softened them, added violets, made the lilies themselves the source of the light in the painting. I also felt the need to account for the beautiful melancholy that a spring rain brings. Colors show their depth more fully when the sun is hidden. The subject’s verticals in the painting seemed to need a corresponding verticality in the painting’s technique. Also, the painting was too finished – nature is full of movement and the painting wasn’t addressing that aspect.
I decided to throw aside all caution. I leaned the painting against a table with newspapers on the floor, and started flinging thinned paint from a brush near the top of the painting, hoping the drips would travel down enough to suggest rain and reinforce the verticals in the composition. I also wanted the energy of the flung paint to liven the energy in the painting. Spring is certainly about energy! I mixed various dilute batches of color and played with the amount of mineral spirits vs. alkyd medium in the paint, trying to find a solution that would have body, yet drip. Some of the thinner paint allowed for transparency as it flowed over the surface, while the thicker, more heavily pigmented solutions ran less but added a staccato rhythm which looked good next to the runnier drips.
As I worked, I realized I was adding both energy and a certain sadness. The yin/yang balance was echoed in the technique, as it should be. Themes of sadness mixed with joy, and the juxtaposition of striving vs letting go, were right in the paint. Metaphorically, the drips of “rain” also referenced tears, which deepened the whole context of the work. For isn’t sadness always twinned with joy?
Details below. Enjoy.
Lovely and intriguing
Thank you, Brian. I visited your site and saw the herd – love them. I grew up in dairy country, and had a cow named Bossy. Your portraits remind me of her.