September 10, 2012
I’ve been looking at a lot of art online. That’s how I find inspiration and new challenges. When I was younger, like back in the 1980s, I used to haunt the art section of the main library in downtown Honolulu. There I discovered the art of amazing painters like John Singer Sargent, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla, and so many more. Unfortunately there were many artists I never knew about because of course a library can only buy so many books on one subject—plus there are always thousands of wonderful artists one never hears of simply because they never had a “big enough” career to get published.
I’m thrilled to be living in a time when all that has changed. The Internet contains the equivalent of several MILLION Honolulu libraries…and it’s all available to me anytime I want. Any artist who really wants to show her work to the world can do so with a few hours of work and very little expense. So anytime I feel the need for inspiration, I can do an online search. Sure, there are lots of not-so-great artists to sort through, but with a little patience there are always gems to uncover.
Lately I’ve been looking for artists who paint with verve and fire and flashing brushwork (or perhaps palette-knife work), and some of the gems I’ve uncovered are David Shevlino, Tibor Nagy and Carol Marine. Some I’ve rediscovered through finding more and newer work by them include Maggie Siner and Ashley Wood. And these are just a few.
By looking at these artists’ work, and sometimes at YouTube videos of the artists actually painting which they’ve been kind enough to share with us, I get ideas about ways I can open up my work and make it more lively and exciting. Something I had considered but hadn’t really understood the huge significance of, is the nature of the PHYSICAL ACT of painting.
I was watching a YouTube video of one of those artists who performs on a stage (Garibaldi, I think it was) with a huge canvas and thrills the audience with his big, flashy moves and the way he splashes the paint onto the surface and gradually we see a recognizable face appear. I don’t necessarily want to perform on a stage like that, but I was impressed by the showmanship. And I realized something: it wasn’t just about showmanship. Those BIG MOVEMENTS create a certain kind of brushstroke and a certain kind of energy in the resulting art. Those dancelike moves don’t just entertain the audience, they infuse the work with excitement!
So I resolved to use more of my body while painting. Instead of just moving my wrist and hand to paint, I would use my whole arm, my shoulder, my whole body! I went looking for subject matter.
I found a photograph of Mike T. I liked. The lighting and Mike’s muscularity seemed like good raw material for the approach I wanted to try.
Since I was going to try something new here, I thought it would be a good idea to do a rough sketch first to work out color mixes etc.
Once I’d done the rough sketch, I felt ready to tackle the ‘real thing.’ Below is the beginning.
I went into this painting with a different intention than usual. In line with the observations I mentioned above, I made it my purpose to use my whole body to paint, and I decided that meant I should be careful and thoughtful BEFORE rather than DURING the act of painting.
Let me clarify that. What I decided to do was stop and consider where I wanted to place my next stroke. Once I had decided, I would fly into motion, painting with no thought, just action. Intention and consideration was one thing: the actual ACT of putting paint on canvas was separate.
I found that this worked well! I was able to paint each stroke with a lot of energy and abandon, because I wasn’t trying to think and paint at the same time. Compare the rough sketch with the beginning of the actual painting above and you’ll see there’s a different feel to the brushstrokes.
Above is the next phase of the painting. Here it’s mostly done except for the face. The face is probably the most challenging place in the painting for the approach I was attempting here, because with the face it’s harder to maintain objectivity. Because it’s always the focal point and therefore carries more weight and is more significant, it’s harder to abandon yourself. So I found that I was trying to THINK AND PAINT at the same time, rather than separating thought and action as I ‘d been able to do with the rest of the painting. I was getting too careful. That’s why you see the face has been scrubbed away in the image above. I had to completely wipe out my first attempt and get away from the painting for a day or so before trying again.
Below is the finished work.
When I went back to the painting the next day, I was able to keep myself focused enough to avoid making the face too ‘precious’ and being too careful. I’m really pleased with what I learned on this painting. Next: Getting even looser and more dynamic with my painting.