The Epiphany, Notes on My Painting, 2013
At the end of 2012, while visiting the Ken Price retrospective of ceramic sculpture at The Los Angeles County Museum I received what might be called an epiphany. At that moment I suddenly saw my work over the past 25 years with a new clarity. What I saw in Prices work that I could apply to my own, was a highly sophisticated development of curved forms moving through space; even though in my case, these ideas are related to a two dimensional plane, the power of their refinement is never the less relevant and powerful. His forms are made intensely visible through his elaborately constructed surface, which he makes by sanding each layer thereby revealing the previous layers. The result is a surface of richly complex color made up of many individual fragments. I saw in this work the key to the next step in my ongoing pursuit of formal resolution in nonrepresentational painting. [I prefer the term, non-representational to abstraction. Abstraction suggests that something is abstracted from a source outside the painting. I’m interested in what happens on the surface itself] In 2013 I began revising some of my recent work. I am not so much rejecting what is already there but simply carrying my original intentions further and I can now see a more perfect resolution.
To this point I have employed what has been called, the “all over” method of composing. I had become aware of certain arbitrariness in the decisions I made. As my work unfolded I felt the need for a greater coalescence. The spirit that causes one to carry the process of decision-making further, to choose one part over another, to pull together fragmentary parts into larger wholes needed to become the focus of my process. I found the use of transparent washes of color to be helpful in pulling together fragmentary parts into larger wholes. Applying these layers of semi–transparent paint allowed me to build up a richly varied surface of unusually intense color. What began as an “ all over” composition has evolved, through numerous revisions into a more coherent whole
The language used to describe painting tends to be built around the notion of painting as representation and therefore, is of no use describing non-representational work. Even though my painting is about eradicating time and music is about time I have often looked to music for a vocabulary to describe painting that is about pure form. The formal language music uses to analyze how sound moves through time can also be used to describe form as it moves over the surface of the picture plane in a non-representational painting. The formal beauty that is in music is what I seek for painting.
For the past 30 years I have cultivated a moss garden. I have always thought a connection existed with my paintings but only recently have been able to articulate that connection. When cultivating the moss you are focusing consciousness on an area of ground that lays between commonly defined objects, such as trees and rocks, thereby giving meaning to what is usually considered background or the space between objects. In my painting I am also focusing attention areas that divide the plane. In this way,” the ground under my feet” and the plane in non-representational painting are a way of giving meaning to “empty space.”
I am comfortable working in the natural world that surrounds my studio, however that work does not represent nature. As Pollack suggested, non-representational painting can be seen as standing next to or along side nature.
When I look for a model that describes my life as an artist I think of the early Japanese landscape painters who were philosophers living separate rural lives. [Ito Jakuchu for example] Interestingly, those artists didn’t paint what they saw but worked from the established painting conventions of the day while living surrounded by dramatic natural environments.
One of the joys in making a small painting is the memory it provokes. I am reminded of an event that occurred over fifty years ago but remains real today. When I was very young and living in our apartment on the north side of Chicago, one evening I stood next to my father who was seated at a telephone table painting an illuminated letter using a small brush. The letter he painted was about an inch tall, based on an old English typeface. He was painting the letter the most brilliant blue with tiny yellow spots. He was bent over the small desk, his work barely illuminated by a small desk lamp. It was then I first imagined a future where I could aspire to make such a perfect thing. His time and circumstances made it impossible for him to imagine a future where he could pursue this work.
The paintings begun in 2013 are the start of a series that I have called, “Earth Songs” Each painting in the series is a unique “song’ that celebrates the earth, “the ground under our feet” Each painting is begun without a preconceived idea of the direction that individual work will take. In other words, after the initial drawing, the emerging colors, textures and shapes are all improvised. Ultimately, the meaning of the painting arises from the unexpected occurrences of formal arrangement that happen in the process of working toward a conclusion where all the parts will become interdependent.