Selection – composing new work

work in progress

Chuck Close said it best, “… if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.  Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive.  You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

In setting out new work, I sift through an abundance of ideas, rather than await inspiration.  I was asked recently about how I edit these ideas, so I thought I’d write a little about that this month.

I have a box full of bones, a bin full of props, thousands of snapshots, a studio full of everyday objects and a world full of interesting things to ponder and observe.  How to decide?  It’s not a decision so much as recognizing what is ready to come to the surface and become realized in a painting.

Actually, the act of continuing to work lets all these ideas simmer, percolate, filter out.  So I’ve always got something in the works, which leads to the next thing, even if the path is convoluted.

Time, every moment, is so precious.  To spend the kind of time that goes into making say, a still life painting, it has to be more than simply a pleasing image.  I want it to “talk” to me as I go.  So everything has to have a reason to be there, and the items have to relate to each other, to the space I’m creating.  Multiplicity of meanings, juxtapositions, transformations, are interesting to me.  Also the elegance of simplicity.

As an example of simplicity, this artichoke flower demanded my attention.

Artichoke Flower
“Artichoke Flower”, colored pencil on toned paper

At the time of the drawing, I edited out many other real and collected photographs of blooms.  I had drawn three artichokes (studying the graceful curl of their leaves), so following that, the state of going to flower made sense to dig into.

I ask myself questions like “is that object (or sunset, or place…) there just because I want to show I can paint it (not good enough), or because it has to be in that composition, or I need to really investigate it”.  Not all the answers have to be obvious to the viewer in the finished work, but they do need to be there.

If this is interesting to you, it’s a good time to look at what I’ve got set up now (maybe even plan a studio visit).  In the earliest of stages, these two new paintings gather some objects, locations, photos and ideas, that have been simmering, ready to surface.

work in progress
Early sketch of “Parallels”

The first, with the working title Parallels, is composed of a ladder, beach towel, and laundry machine.
I consider things as mundane as the interaction of object and shadow, to concepts of parallel existence and ambiguous environment (room, outer space, swimming pool).  A great influence that’s been percolating since 2001 is theater artist Robert Lepage‘s The Far Side of the Moon, which I saw onstage at Zellerbach Playhouse – blew my mind.

The second is really a double portrait with bones.

elk hips study
Study of elk hips for new painting

Continuing to draw my interest, as they have done for people since ancient time, are the mask-like properties of the hip bones of various creatures.

An elk joined the group after our last New Mexico visit.  Together with an antelope, they’ll be set in a factory environment (here at Project Artaud, a former factory).  So wild/domestic, natural/man-made, human/non-human, neutral colors juxtaposed with red brick.

All of these are food for thought while selecting for composition.


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