Process

Journalistic Abstraction

There’s a journalistic component to my abstract work, coming from the neighborhood of the subconscious.  If I try to cook up a visual idea of some event or place, the painting turns out to be a remote translation – stilted and awkward, lifeless.  If I am able to paint with a more open focus, working from a felt sense of color and mark in a conversant way, there’s a better chance of mining something more authentic, and the painting can carry something closer to the direct experience of my surroundings and recent history.  It’s an odd thing to try to describe from a process experience, but evident in the work itself.

Having recently returned from living on a quiet island off the Florida coast, some of the work that has emerged continues to reflect the memory of the seashore, the high winds and storms of January, the ocean and sky teeming with life.  There’s a sense of the experience of living and walking and swimming there, taking in the sea oats grasses, dunes, occasional turquoise waters and washed up lobster baskets.  Also the sea life shows up: tunneling hermit crabs, fish wriggling down a pelican’s long throat and being swallowed whole, starfish, clams, octopuses, blow fish, scallops, mullet, fish bones washing up on the shore.  A few painting details shown here:

    

Below, I’ve included a painting image from an earlier post along with a photo of the woods near the studio, to look at the the different imagery arising from experiencing the midwest in February:  north winds, silvery tree skeletons, golden sedge grasses and the hardy wildlife that survives the harsh winters.

 

 

Winter White

Returning from Florida’s gulf coast to the snowy midwest in late January, was a stunning shift in color and feel – from sky and sea blues, warm sands, moist air and sunshine, to silvery grays and dazzling whites, crisply cold days.

I didn’t feel I was really here, and wasn’t immediately moved to paint, but wanted to use the nourishment of the trip for painting, so I stayed in the studio for a week, from early morning until nearly bedtime.   The wind and snowstorms came and went, still not much happening inside except some canvas prep, photography, fooling around with things.

 

I papered most of the studio with yards of reclaimed cheap paper, and started freely drawing with crayons and pencils, trying to adopt the freedom of a child, not thinking about good or bad, just laying marks on paper.

I began reading the fine print in art books.  It was a little grim, and I was wondering if anything would break loose.

Finally something stirred, and a giant canvas came into being, I think it’s 17′ wide.

It was immediately recognizable as the landscape around me, the silvery gray trees, the beautiful golden sedge grasses sticking up out of the snow and the winds and clouds.

This clear air, white landscapes and gray skies began to be invigorating, having a crystalline feeling, sharp and clear.

Three more canvases arrived, all of them with the clean lines, mostly black and whites.  Here are some painting details:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel I’ve rejoined the environment.

 

My Beloved Mentor

Along the way, I was lucky to find an extraordinary painting mentor, Philomene Bennett.  She encouraged me to do what felt most authentic, allowing me to push past my own confines and delve into what felt most true and aligned.

Early on when attending her studio class, I was working on a large painting that was getting worse and worse the more I worked on it.  Something welled up in me and I slightly mixed magenta and pyrrole red oils, stuck a big brush in it and drug it across the middle of the buttery wet canvas in a sort of thrilling rebuttal.

Philomene said JANE, that magenta LINE!  Do you see that line???  It is extraordinary, can you SEE what just happened?

I said What what? You mean I can do THAT (that intuitive movement that wasn’t analytical, that was so juicy and real and impassioned)??

Right then, somehow, she had knocked a hole in the dam of restraint that was keeping me from developing a more truthful and intuitive way of working.  With that line, with that comment and discovery, my work began to become an extension of me, flowing from and beyond me, through a larger dimension.  That one day changed my life, entirely.  I began to paint with fervor; painting became akin to air and food and love.

Many years later, our teacher/student relationship has become a treasured friendship.  Recently I dragged an old, shot-full-of-holes Oliver combine into the field by the studio to create a painted sculpture, and invited Philomene to come over and work on it with me.  I had a bag full of spray paint and Philomene brought a bag full of Burger King breakfast biscuits, and she sat on the golf cart sipping coffee, offering thoughts and pointers.  As she would speak, I could feel what she was going to say, sort of like lifelong canoeing partners who knew how each others paddles were going to strike the water and which way they were steering the canoe.  In perfect unison, with me running the spray paint and her long jeweled finger pointing this way and that, occasionally an uh huh or OH, we worked on the combine nearly wordlessly, some kind of energetic communication flowing between us.  It was a heavenly experience.

 

Recently, I kidnapped Philomene and brought her to the studio to share some wine and look at art.  When she looks at art, she settles in quietly, taking some time to really wholly look, reading it carefully from side to side, up and down until she really sees it.  From this place, speaking philosophically, musing about distances and pull and feeling and place and memory and what’s in front and what’s the atmosphere, and from her few studied comments, her words acting like the strike of a match to a fuse, allow me to hear deeply and translate for my own, and with a few washes and marks, the paintings came into wholeness.  I captured some of it on a time lapse camera:

Of all the teachers in all of the world, I happened to run into Philomene.  I am deeply, profoundly grateful.

 

 

Getting a Few Things Off My Chest

I’ve been rattled by events of the world, and wasn’t able to let the angst go in order to work in the studio, so I invited the misery in and pinned up a canvas to get a few things off my chest.  It was very helpful, and while I softened some of the initial output with more marks and washes, the cacophony of words and imagery were pleasing.  In this video, the painting is nearly complete.


https://www.nytimes.com/

 

Painting Process – Autumn

It’s autumn, and the colors of the woods and prairie are coming into the studio.  The doors and windows are open, the air is sunny and fresh.

Paintings begin on the ground, where thinned acrylic paint is pushed into the canvas, using gloved hands, brushes, gravity and sometimes brooms.  This forms the atmosphere in which the painting lives.  Then the canvas is pinned to the wall, where more opaque mark making is laid down.  Sometimes it goes from floor to wall and back again, numerous times until it is completely resolved.

 

 

Easing Back Into the Studio

This past month has been heavy with sales, inventory and installations.

As usual after not painting for awhile, it takes some time to clear my head, relax, open up my senses and be able to work.  First, it’s time to sweep the large floor, open the doors, take in the landscape, make a pot of tea.  Maybe read a little something beautiful,  listen to some soul piercing music.  Untangle.

 

 

Photographing Art

Photography Day

I used to try to photograph my own work using a good camera and lighting, but the images were never as alive, the colors never balanced as a professional photograph, and the large scale of my work added to the complexities. How can I expect someone to select work off of the internet without a near perfect reproduction of the painting?

It takes this team: A steadfast and cheerful studio assistant and I measure, title and pin the canvases perfectly smoothly to the wall. Kansas City’s premier art photographer, E.G. Schempf, brings massive high quality equipment, sets up, shoots, color corrects. Another professional photographer joins us out of kindness, friendship and a greatly appreciated fine eye for color balance, and assists in every step.

I sometimes am working just ahead of the photograph, with a paint brush or spray can, tweaking the painting before it’s frozen (snapped) in time.

Immediately after photographing, each painting is color corrected. This involves commitments by each of us (four) individuals dedicated to accuracy in color, tint, contrast and clarity, to truthfully represent the work’s luminescence, intensity, saturation, depth, brilliance, muddiness, agitation, peacefulness.  Sometimes it takes over an hour to get a heavily pigmented painting to come into color balance.

All specs are then put into virtual and physical inventories.

The above 1 minute video covers a 7.5 hour shoot for 10 paintings.

Music: James Cotton with Joe Louis Walker & Charlie Haden playing Vineyard Blues.

Note: 2 of the last 3 paintings are vertical; we always shoot horizontally.

 

 

Waiting for Inspiration

Sometimes I’ll hit the studio full of ideas and energy and exhilarated to be able to paint, and nothing happens. I can pick up some tools and begin to work, but it’s obvious before the first brushstroke, that it isn’t going to work. Where does inspiration go? Sometimes you have to wait around for it.

 

July

July’s exceptionally hot days and nights, pushed me into a palette of cool, deep shade.   The quiet of the country and the heavy humidity, allows the beauty of the chorus of bug songs to come through.  I can feel that in this painting.

 

 

How Paintings Begin Sometimes

Paintings don’t begin with paint.  There’s canvas to unroll, size, dampen, colors to mix.  Even then sometimes it feels good to simply be in the studio for awhile, checking brooms and brushes, watering the plants, opening the windows, staring out at the landscape, until there’s not a sense of time, but rather of being aware.

I usually start a painting the day before I’m going to work on it – getting the basics out of the way, and maybe laying down atmosphere, pouring thinned pigments and mediums into the raw canvas, letting it dry completely.  The second day, it may get pinned up on the wall, and internally driven mark making process begins.

Sometimes, however, there’s a piece of fabric or a form, or a line that had been seen on a Grecian urn, that ignites something inside me.  This painting began with a begonia leaf, and later a pink bloom from a geranium.  Usually the actual form is simply a catalyst, but this time the mark making came directly from these items.

 

 

Working in the Studio, and a Fresh Coat of Paint

I worked on many canvases over the last few months, many of them pinned up on the walls at one time.

It really helps the process to move from canvas to canvas, sometimes getting stuck and moving on to freshen up my eyes.  When the canvases are wildly varied like these, it keeps me untied, and in a mode of discovery.  Having many to work on at one time with no hurry to complete, felt so luxurious, and allowed them to unfold naturally.

Having completed most of the work, it was time to document, photograph, inventory and notify galleries – the nuts and bolts of the business.

Having done that, I decided it was time for a fresh coat of paint:

A fresh start!  It seems so quiet here now.  Imagining the stillness could be reflected in the next body of work.

 

 

Saturday Painting Frenzy

Saturdays have long been my favorite studio day.  Even though I work every day, the luxuriousness of a Saturday from my corporate days lingers.  The phone rarely rings, my favorite radio station has good music programs, and it feels free and unfettered.

Yesterday was wild – fast and furious energy, I pulled some older canvases to rework (always free-ing) and kept the camera going to watch the progression of some narrative work.  When watching them all together this morning, these time lapses seem to capture the frenzy.  Mozart’s Symphony #25 sets the perfect pace.

The work is unfinished.

 

 

 

Photography Day May 2017

It takes a team to shoot extra large paintings.  Since the canvases are not stretched until consigned or sold, they have to be perfectly pinned to the wall for a smooth flat surface to photograph.  We color correct as we go.

Photographer:  E.G. Schempf

 

Reclaiming Space and Form

After a long period of photographing completed paintings, preparing for shipment, inventory and buying materials, it is at last time to reclaim space and form, and begin to paint again.

Music by Taj Mahal – M’Banjo

 

Immersion – Working Into the Night

I’m working on large scale narratives, and immersed in the studio, always alone, keeping focused.  Language is uttered in color and mark.  The large scale work is exciting, being much larger than I am, and the physicality of harmonizing the painting by moving from one end to the other makes it feel like we are one.

Often I’ll shoot videos to watch the progress, slowing them down to see if I am leaving a better painting under the one that it becomes.  Strangely, being shot as time lapse, it feels impersonal, and I’m comfortable posting the process.

This one tracks the sun lowering in the sky and eventually darkening into night.  If I have enough snacks and water, there is no sense of early or late; as long as the energy is flowing, the work does too.