Composition for Strings and Rain

nc web TM8297 Composition for Strings and Rain 24x24 oil on panel

TM8297 Compostion for Strings and Rain 24×24 oil on panel

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!

nc web TM8297 Composition for Strings and Rain (detail)

TM8297 Composition for Strings and Rain (detail)

Fluid Dynamics of a G-clef

TM8235 Fluid Dynamics of a G-Clef 36×36 oil on panel

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 –

So strong

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.


Water Music – Composition with White Noise

TM7891 Composition with White Noise 36×36 oil on panel

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.

TM7891 detail 1 – close up of lower musical staffs with notes/droplets

Detail of musical fragment from upper right center

Detail showing layered paint, with droplets and notes hovering in the vicinity of musical staffs

On Seeking the Major and Minor Constellations

TM8260 On Seeking the Major and Minor Constellations 25×25 oil on panel

Continuing the new direction in my work is a 25 x 25″ painting titled On Seeking the Major and Minor Constellations. You might wonder about the words major and minor in reference to constellations. Aren’t they all just constellations out their in the night sky? Well, not exactly. As I pondered the idea of star maps, I began to think of all the possible micro constellations out there in the world and universe. Stars are in the macro world – huge beyond knowing. But the micro world of droplets, particles, grit also exists. I began to think of a painting that would bring the two together, or perhaps express our human desire to see and recognize patterns at all scales. Below you will find some close-up details. Enjoy!

TM8260 Detail from center of painting showing both stellar and droplet constellations.

TM8260 Detail from lower right of painting, onrushing wave with droplet constellations.


Water Music – Theme and Constellations

TM8136 Water Music – Theme and Constellations 16×16 oil on panel

The juxtaposition of disparate objects can foster new relationships. This 16×16″ painting was almost finished for over a year. I liked the feel of water flowing and the abstraction created by the bands of glaze, first green then a deep royal blue. It seemed to suggest that there are many ways to look at the world. But I knew the painting needed more.  This month I had an aha! moment. It occurred to me that the droplets of water in the crashing wave were much like stars in the cosmos – stars demanding recognition. It was seeing a star chart in the newspaper and examples of composers’ musical notation that triggered the idea. Why not find some of those constellations hidden in the wave? Below you will see a detail from the painting, with the stars connected by lines like those used to map the stars. The small addition of those geometric and very human lines suddenly brought a new and richer meaning to the painting. Constellations are the result of both myth and intense observation – something we humans both need and enjoy.  With the realization that more imagination was the key to finishing the painting, I am excited to see where this painting will lead me. Enjoy!

TM8136 Theme and Constellations – detail

Toward a Universal Music

A recent posting on the blog Music for Time’s Ending introduced the topic of musical notation, and included pages from John Cage’s book Notations.  It was an “eye opening” read. Cage collected examples of scores and musical sketches from numerous composers, and the range of expression and experimentation was visually astounding. For the first time, I saw composers thinking, and while I cannot read traditional western musical notation, I could feel some of their process and experimentation. The insights freed me to experiment and see music in a new way.  Notation is expression and translation. The composers, especially in gestural sketches, were recording their first impulses and visions for their music (for examples, click on Music for Time’s Ending in the blogroll to the right – post titled Notation).

TM8255 Toward a Universal Music 36×36 oil on panel

With that in mind, I started another large, experimental painting bringing together some of the gestures of music, notation, and the cosmos. Instead of looking to water droplets as a metaphor for notes, I used stars and the gravitational energy they encompass. The result is the painting Toward a Universal Music, depicted above. Details from the painting (below) show the symbolic notation, including comets, a galaxy, horizontal and vertical staffs, and bands of color (harmonically keyed to the spectrum).

TM8255 Detail 1, Toward a Universal Music

Detail of galaxy from lower right side of painting.

TM8255 detail 2, Toward a Universal Music

Detail from left of painting showing comets crossing the vertical staff and spectrum bands.

TM8255 detail 3, Toward a Universal Music

Detail of lower right, with dust and stars, comets, and pulse notation.

TM8255 detail 4, Toward a Universal Music

Detail from lower left of painting with staffs intersecting and comets arranging themselves to a rhythm.

I would like to thank Sang Woo Kang for his enlightening post Notation. In the collision of ideas, art thrives. 

Water Music – Three Interpretations

Where do the notes go? A rich question open to many interpretations and reworkings. My exploration of the answers (and the question) in paintings continues with this posting of one familiar painting, one reworked painting, and one new painting.

In the newly reworked painting Notes Reaching Escape Velocity, the basic theme of notes evaporating has been adjusted to include more notes (droplets) and the tones and colors lightened to reflect the enthusiasm and joy of the notes reaching out to their full potential.

TM8138 Water Music – Notes Reaching Escape Velocity 12×12 oil on panel

Taking the idea one step further, the next painting, familiar from earlier postings and from its appearance on the blog Music for Time’s Ending, is the painting Water Music – The Dispersal of Notes, which shows the notes evaporating and dispersing, entering long-distance time and leaving the predictable time of familiar staffs.

TM8139 Water Music – Dispersal of Notes 12×12 oil on panel

The newest painting, titled Notes Escaping the Final Curtain, ponders the last act, the journey of sound toward a deeper space, both out into the mysterious universe and into the deep psychological and emotional space of the listener.  It is a journey without end. 

TM8254 Notes Escaping the Final Curtain 12×12 oil on panel

July’s Blues

TM8232 July’s Blues 30×36 oil on panel

There’s the blues and then there are July’s Blues. I don’t understand why the blues has come to mean sadness and woe. To me, they mean fresh air, calm, and the scintillating vibrations of cerulean, an aqua blue, next to ultramarine, a colder, more violet tending blue. Like a beautiful chord played on a guitar, these two blues seem to resonate and hum. July’s Blues  – give me more!