Sunday, June 5, 2011

Structures · the search for an inner cosmos

In the early 60s I participated in a painting workshop run by printmaker and painter Robert Freimark ( While he was critiquing the participants' work--we were doing still life paintings--he remarked that some still life paintings could be seen as their creators' vision of the cosmos, their personal microcosmos. 

My abstract paintings come occasionally, as a false respite, a deceptive rest without rest, from representatational work that demands intense concentration on drawing. I find that the process of making an abstract painting is an intuitive search whose destination is unknown. Much more than in my representational work, I proceed by trial and error, asking the painting to tell me what to do next, which path to take. One mass or stroke of color will suggest what color and shape to put down next to it, or opposite it on the other side of the canvas. When I reach the destination--that is, when the painting tells me clearly, "Stop working, I'm done!"--I begin to understand what I was striving to accomplish.  But what I "understand" need not coincide with what you see.

My first intuitive search took me to this:

What does the image above suggest to you? I find heat and energy, movement, the thrusting and twisting of inexorable biological processes: mitosis, digestion, exchanges of gases, fertilization (note the intense red sperm cell on the upper left): the pulsing but ordered structure of the inner cosmos of the human body. None of this occurred to me on a conscious level while I was painting. I was focused on making long, sensuous brush strokes with a brush about 15 centimeters wide, which I made sure was richly loaded with paint. Intensely pigmented paint. Are the colors too intense?

Months later I chose a larger canvas (100 x 81 cm) and resolved to continue to feature a few long, sensuous brush strokes on a harmonious background. I'd read that Peter Paul Rubens, in one of his paintings, had made a twisty brush stroke over one meter long. I wanted to try that. Here's the result of my effort, with at least four long strokes in green:

Title: "Green and Gold Abstract". Again, I devoted no conscious thought to depicting, or even vaguely suggesting, anything recognizable. And when I was finished I saw a natural cosmos, an emblematic landscape where, again, movement and energy, liquids, gases and solids were operating within an orderly structure. The solidity of the green, mountainous earth at the bottom of the composition, a more distant mountain range marking the bottom third of the painting, and perhaps the contour of a third, even more distant range marking off the top third. The rest: light, condensation, That was in 1997, a year that produced this small painting done in gouache on paper, whose title is "Rainbow Bird":

Long monochromatic strokes. A solid, tight structure.

My next abstract painting didn't happen until 2002. This is "Pink X":

Nature is still present, and decisive brush stroking. The structure built by the strokes is reminiscent of...a bridge? a building going up? Could be: as a kid I'd enjoyed watching buildings being constructed.
A year later (2003), my chief concern was to work with my favorite colors: Venetian red and golden yellow:

As in the previous paintings, there are long, sinuous strokes. In this painting and in "Pink X", pronounced diagonal forms come aggressively to the fore. Here, my intuitive search somehow led me to produce a textured shape reminiscent of skeletal muscles; I'd gone back inside the body.

A commission I received in 2007 produced "Structures", an 81 x 100 cm painting whose forms and composition were based on Chinese scrolls:

The person who gave me the commission wanted a painting based on the earlier "Green and Gold Abstract", which she'd seen and liked, but with a horizonal format and using her preferred colors.
2008 brought further structures ("Structures II" · 100 x 65 cm):

And "Blue Delta" · 100 x 65 cm: 

 Three years passed before I spontaneously decided to do another abstract, with no conscious intention whatsoever but to use the colors I had on my palette at that moment:   

"Structures III"

During the process of painting "Structures III", the only aspect that came to concern me was ensuring a balanced composition and a harmonious equilibrium between the blue areas and the areas in the complementary color (orange). 
What's going on in this series of paintings? Am I simply being redundant, or am I unwittingly hammering out an inner perception of order?