These two mirrored compositions with still water and reflections are a delight to paint. The “other” world, upside down and mysterious, needs to be convincing but not fussy. I used a palette knife plus a little brushwork to find the forms. The colors are less saturated – by September the greens start to look a bit tired, as if they really can’t wait to get the dressed up again in gold and yellow. Enjoy.
Score to Accompany the Changing Season was slow to mature. I first began a version of this painting almost a year ago, and sanded it off the panel about a month later. Last summer I tried again, with the same results. Last month, with more experience, I started again.
The painting is an interpretation of the pond’s surface between summer and fall, but I held two additional images in mind as I painted. The first image/idea was tapestry – that the interweaving of layered vegetation on and in the pond was Nature’s rendition of the word tapestry. I was also influenced by seeing the score for a player piano – that long roll of intermittent cut dashes which, coded into a continuous horizontal “grid,” is the basis for mechanically playing music. I imagined a relationship between the small dashes of “notes” and the patterns of duckweed layered over and between leaves and lily pads. I felt that the pond was presenting a silent score for more than one instrument – a silent orchestration, perhaps. Being familiar with the cd Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror by Howard Budd and Brian Eno, I imagined the painting/score as a continuously evolving play of overlapping marks and patterns.
With all this in mind, and the cd on the stereo, I proceeded to build the layers of pattern, interweaving monoprint techniques, direct painting, and numerous layers of glaze. Finally the concept was clear enough in my head to actually finish the painting. Details are below. Enjoy!
The music of Ravi Shankar, with its insistent beat and evocative melodies, has always been a welcome companion in the studio. His work helped me to focus and find my own rhythm while painting.
When I heard the news of his death in 2012, I knew I had to create a painting that would embody some of the qualities I loved in his music, and also be my way of saying good-bye. Rise, Rave, Rise is that painting. Of course it has a strong horizontal rhythm (playing on a theme of strings, much like the sitar itself), and stronger colors than I usually use, again in deference to the strong sound of the music and more saturated colors of India. I also included the spiral of Tantric art, symbolizing energy going out (and in), much as Ravi’s music travelled into our hearts and out into the universe. The largest spiral in the painting is the spiral galaxy, while smaller spirals work as a border and find their way into the spaces between the “strings.” In a band along the bottom of the paintings are notes, the ABC’s of his composition. I thank you, Ravi, and feel I can still hear your music rising through the atmosphere and leaving a trail of magic as it heads out beyond our galaxy.
Below are close-ups from the painting.
As if from a dream of lapping water, seen from above, beside, and below, Summer’s Song is a recollection of subtle visual, sensual, and auditory phenomena. The initial inspiration for the painting came from watching waves on Cape Cod – seeing through their transparent forms and catching glimpses of their interiors. I was transfixed – seeing both the interior and exterior simultaneously. When I started the painting, I wanted to capture that simultaneity. The sense of seeing the water from all directions. And of hearing the movement of air and bubbles bursting toward the surface. I also wanted to “show” that music in all its forms is around us all the time. The lapping rhythms of water, the shooooshshshshsh of water moving, the bubbles as three-dimensional notes, the linear patterns of water corresponding to the musical staff. The more I look, the more I find signs of a universl music.
Technical painting notes: There is nothing straightforward about Summer’s Song. It began with a roll of dark blue greens over the panel, into which I dripping and brushed mineral spirits, disturbing the thin paint layer then blotting into it. This was allowed to dry. I followed up by developing a rhythm of side-to-side strokes of lighter blue greens and darker greens, working my way to the bottom of the panel. this too was allowed to dry. The next step was to glaze the entire panel, developing more tones of color and introducing some darker, colder blues and violets near the bottom. (Because I couldn’t open my usual jar of Liquin medium, I used a thinner viscosity of the same product, Liquin Fine Detail). I I then spattered some color into the surface, followed by drips of mineral spirits, which I intended to blot as usual. To my surprise, using the thinner viscosity of glaze medium prevented easy blotting – too much blotted away! So I added more drips of solvent and waited to see what it would do. The puddles slowly pushed the oil color outward, forming little dams. Very cool!
When dry, I layered more glaze and solvent drips. The next day I enhanced the small pools of color, defining them more, and adding a bit of violet to some. I also spattered a fine spray of color into the waves, to illuminate them and create more vertical movement. When dry, I highlighted some of the horizontal ripples and brought a touch more light to the lower center of the panel. A detail from the left side of the painting is below.
Composition for Strings and Rain, a new addition to the Water Music Series, was begun by rolling a layer of blue-black paint onto a panel. Using a scrunched plastic bag, paint thinner, and paper towels, the central, sweeping gestures of wave and water were executed. This initial gesture was refined by accentuating the highlights and layering green and blue glazes. The incidental lines left by the edges of the roller were developed by tracing them with green, yellow-green, and blue paint applied with a fine brush. Additional lines were drawn in with a soft graphite pencil, sealed with a touch of alkyd medium. Short arrows of blue and blue-violet followed the direction of the “waves.” The central triangle was defined with a gray-blue tone, and a suggestion of water was painted in then blotted out, leaving just the barest hint of action. Additional glazes were used to adjust tones in the painting, and the last step was to paint small dots, suggestive of both moisture gathering on a web and notes finding, and climbing, their assigned strings.
When I started the painting, my only “idea” was to start with a gesture of water and see where it would lead, taking advantage of any chance effects that happened during the initial process. In other words, trust the gestures! The feel of rain falling, hinted at by the roller tracks, was the result of recognizing and exaggerating what was already there.
Below is an enlarged detail from the lower center of the painting. Enjoy!
This painting began life with the sweeping gesture of a G-clef in dark blues and greens. Of course at first I didn’t recognize it as such, but after developing the forms I began to see nothing but a G-clef. Too obvious. After much thought, I gave up, took the painting off the easel, and leaned it against the wall – on its side. Now it was a G-clef on its side, but also a breaking wave. I resumed work on the painting but in its new orientation. I liked it, but it was still too simple – it didn’t say enough. So it sat in the studio for several weeks until I realized the curving forms needed to be read against something more definitive, more linear. Happening on a diagram from fluid dynamics, I realized that it was the merging of the clef with the wave, a sort of musical fluid dynamics, that was the real subject of the painting. I quickly painted in the graph of lines using a very dark, muted cadmium red. Now the wave, which is continuous, is held by the length of its lines, or measurement. Words from both disciplines. The words were so elegant I had to use them in a poem, hence the writing of the poem below.
The gesture is a G-clef,
Upright, full of speed
And strength –
It compels all sound
Until I lay it
On its side –
Let it rest, let it swim
Into a wave, this
Fold of fluid dynamics
Turning to rhythm’s count
Sum of muse and music –
Breaking in measured lines
And lengths instead.
Some paintings start with one idea then morph toward more complexity. Composition with White Noise began as a close-up view into a crashing wave, and hung on the studio wall for almost two years with the working title Wave for Mark Tobey (Mark Tobey was a twentieth century American artist who created wonderfully abstract, lyrical paintings often exploring the effects of white on white marks). Then I discovered John Cage’s “Notations” and I knew the white noise of crashing water should be nudged a bit further. The chaos of the splash could be in contrast with the imposed order of musical notation. Enjoy!
Technical painting notes: The initial painting began with rolling dark paint onto the panel and then spritzing it with paint thinner and blotting the drops. Paper towels and folded plastic was also used to blot interesting textures into the surface. When this initial layer was dry, I started glazing and using a palette knife to develop more detail and substance. I wanted the paint to feel like the action of a wave, so I varied the thickness of paint used and kept manipulating it with crumpled plastic and even a brush. over several days, the surface slowly lightened in color and developed more sense of depth. I continued to glaze and splash and splash thin paint onto the surface. When it was dry, I hung it on the studio wall to think about the results.
Two years later, new idea! I hauled out my t-square and a soft sharp pencil and started drawing the staffs, letting them appear and disappear. I sealed the pencil with white and gray glaze, slightly obscuring the lines in some places. I then accented some of the droplets and splashed various colors of additional paint around the staffs. When that was dry, I added glazes of blue-gray and pale beige, then more defined “notes” on the staffs and escaping the staffs. A few more layers of glaze and it was done. The painting now spoke of water, white noise, and the music we love to hear when we’re near the ocean.