Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Painting: January Sky

Just finished this painting, and I'm pretty happy with it. It is the most intensive piece I've completed in like four years. There are little bits I was tempted to keep refining, but a voice inside my head started saying, "Step away from the easel, and no one will get hurt..."
This of course is a reference to an old artist's joke:
Q: How many people does it take to paint a painting?
A: Two. One to paint, and the other to shoot them in the head, when it's finished.

If this image looks familiar, that's because it's something I've been working on for several years. It originated with a photo I took in my senior year at Evergreen.
This image of my good friend Sky was part of a series of digital photos I took of friends in bars. Here is the original...

While I did a little editing of the digital file in Photoshop, this consisted of nothing more than using the computer as a digital darkroom. I fiddled with contrast, color balance and the like, but the source was always one image. The image itself was made possible by altering the digital camera's settings to operate in low light with no flash, which is why it has the appearance of a double exposure. This is still something that interests me, the ways in which a digital camera acts differently than film.

Anyway, I've always liked the photo, though I had the feeling that I saw a potential in it, which others didn't quite grasp.

A couple years later, I finally got around to playing with the image again. This sketch was actually done on a plane, during my first trip out to CT. I'm very fond of it, as I am of the original photo, though for different reasons. It was one of the first serious sketches I completed after a long dry spell. It deconstructed the photo, which was very 21st century in its conception, in a very classical manner. That amuses me, in a perverse way. Plus, Jes's father, David, was very emphatic in his appreciation of the sketch over the photo. As best I can tell, David has very a sophisticated, albeit conservative, aesthetic. So, not long after returning home from that trip, I skritched down some outlines with vine charcoal on an extra canvas...
And then I let that canvas sit for a year.

So for my birthday last year, Jes and her parents chipped in to get me a new easel. A really nice new easel, the kind of tool, gift which demands use. So I started going through my stack of blank canvases, and there was that under-drawing. At the time, I was in the mood for some daring experimental work, and indeed I started several other pieces which are more abstract and non-objective. You can see the influence of this approach in the image above. But once I gotten to about this point on this painting, it had started to dominate my thinking.
At about this point, I'd abandoned all pretension of abstraction and non-objective painting. Unsatisfied with how the work was progressing based on those strategies and the original sketch, I returned to the original photo. There was something in it which had originally entangled my thinking about the piece, an ephemeral quality which was only hinted at in the sketch, and was missing thus far in the painting. At this phase, you can see where I attempted to do away with some of the more obtrusive mandala-like elements which had existed previously in the background.

There is no set interval to these work-in-progress shots. But I think the progression is interesting. Though not the best example, this work does show some sign of what technology can mean to traditional artistic endeavors. Though this work was executed in acrylic, smearing pigments on prepared cloth is an antiquated endeavor. Still, for all the convenience of modern media, this painting will be around centuries after inkjet prints have faded, and optical disks have become unstable. All our advances have yet to displace the smearing of minerals coated in a binder on a substrate.

At about this point, I began to be dissatisfied with the composition as it had been scrawled on the canvas in charcoal.
Oops. Too late for that. Well, I guess I started with some abstract intentions, so at this point I figure I'll just tweak the abstracting of the background and color strategies to compensate.

Almost done here, the magenta shades on the left side are pretty well finished. But it took several hours of work after this point to get the depth and texture which I felt the piece needed on the right hand side.

Though the depth that is achieved through varying layers of glazes, velaturas, and scumbling, can't really be captured by photography, you can see how the layers of colors interact. So some of the depth which is readily apparent in the actual painting is lost here, you do get a sense, though flattened, of how color was used in the piece, as well as some of the brushwork.

January Sky is 16" x 20", Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas, ready to hang, and can be yours for $1000 USD. Contact information can be found on this page, or notify me of your interest in the comments.

(Edited 04/15/08. Posted better quality images of the final painting and the closeup. Also, removed text complaining about the poor quality of those initial photos.)


Anonymous said...


Iain De Sane

DaveM said...

Thanks for sharing this personal process, it is so much more complicated that I ever would imagine.