Archive for May 20th, 2011

Beatrice K. finished this painting yesterday.  The collage that inspired it was quite small, 3 inches on the long side, and itself a result of cropping from a much larger collage.  While collaging, she found this gem in the corner of a large collage measuring about 11 x 17. (See previous posts under “collage”)   It was so powerful that it had to be painted in large format and its odd dimensions had to be accommodated.   Working out the proportions and considering that the painting had to be carry-able, the final painting was going to be 18 x 32 inches.  But that size canvas is not readily available.  What to do?  Build the custom support out of high grade ply wood and reinforcing borders.  A new adventure, and well worth the trip to the lumber yard.

When we work from a collage we don’t slavishly copy.  The paint has a mind of its own and we enter into a conversation with it.  So, when it drips, the artist has to decide whether to honor that drip or to erase it.  The drip at #3 adds vitality and immediacy to the painting. It adds the elusive dimension of time:  here’s something in the process of happening in a random way. We know the drips must be dry by now but at the same time they convey the feeling that they could go on.  This note of uncertainty draws us in.

It also acts as a chaotic counterpoint to the otherwise layered, rational-appearing composition.  Black (3) is the topmost layer.  That’s clear in relation to 1 and to 4, where at 8 the artist created a faint backlighting to create the feeling that 3 is floating.  We can see that 2 overlaps 1, but at 6 things get disorienting.  3 is on top of 2, but at the same time 2 drips over 3 and therefore 2 overlaps 3.  Oops, not so clear and rational.  Where are we?  Can’t figure that one out, so the viewer’s mind drifts and most likely zooms up to 5, where the contours are clear.  What a relief, we know what’s going on there!  That rectangle is nicely delineated, has a white sliver around it and a prominent white wedge leading up to it and on top of all that, it’s got texture.  How nice.  It’s restful and clear.  Oh, but wait, 5 relates to 4, by virtue of being the same color.  If 4 is the bottom-most layer and 5 is the top-most layer, how can they be connected, of the same cloth, so to speak?  The artist has created a visual paradox that is both pleasing and disquieting.  There’s nothing to do but to go into a visual mode and let the experience take a hold of you.  This is how art works. And I’ll have to say that again at the end of this essay.

What about #7?  What’s going on there?  #7 is stippled with the tip of the brush.  It forms a textured swarm over the already atmospheric #2.  The swarm of #7 takes the form of a wedge and therefore relates to the white wedge at the right.  Once you see that, you also see the wedge under #5.  We have a play on this triangle-form  that keeps the eye moving from one to the other.

There is an even larger repetition of a motif and that’s the L form.  We have it in the yellow at left and the large mass of black.  Even the turquoise in #4 intimates the L form and the burned sienna of #2  suggests that underneath the whole black thing there’s a massive L in reddish brown.  The repetition of a motif in a painting, as in music, focuses the attention, keeps us in the piece.

None of this was articulated before the collage was chosen as material for a painting.  When that little collage bit was framed with white strips of paper, there was a gasp of recognition:  this was something worth exploring.  The understanding of why it was brilliant—all that came later, in the doing.  This how art works.

(I use numbers to refer to passages in the painting in order to make the discussion clear and simple.  I want to avoid “artspeak.”  I recommend that you read through this and then go back and look at the painting—without numbers—just look.)

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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