I am taking on the difficult because I can. That huge cloud-like, ocher dominated form, must be handled carefully. A form so compositionally dominate must make total, readable sense. Scale is important here. The round form, on which the dominate ocher form impinges, is critical to the structural integrity of the composition. Centering must be a game well played. I have presented myself with a robust challenge to intellect and emotion. I believe I can handle it. I go, head to head.
I am coining a new phrase, Referential Representation. My art-making is most satisfying to myself when my images refer emotionally, and intellectually, to my innermost ideas and feelings. I recognize I feel most successful when I represent my deepest psyche with my images. This full acceptance occurs when my images exhibit references to known forms in my real visual world. These forms are the basic connection we all share, they are our visual reality; as such, they are our visual references to all we know and feel. I believe all abstract art is referential to nature. Nature is in every existing visual form, forms seen in the cosmos, forms seen in our normal-sized everyday living, forms revealed by electron microscopes. forms created by the imaginations of artists, people living today, and those who in the past. I am a compendium of all I have seen.
The drawings I show you today are successful because they are Referential Representation. This is what I feel and this is what believe.
Aristotle wrote, "Style to be good must be clear.... Clearness is secured by using the words that are current and ordinary." In Song of Myself, Walt Whitman states, "He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher." And here I am. I have learned from my teacher (Philip Guston). I have now removed all his idiosyncratic ideas from my works. I did not destroy him, as Whitman suggests I do, but I have moved away from him, I have created my own style.
Clearness is an issue with me. I am working toward strong personal engagement with my viewers. Aristotle's idea is important to me, i.e., use of ordinary language is necessary to clarity. For me, the visual artist, ordinary language is visual art's most basic principles and elements. The most basic language of art is non-representative; it is color, form, composition, surface, value, et cetera. Basic visual art language also contains imagery because it has form and it contains the artifice of light. The viewer may call this "Representative Imagery," but I do not want to dilute meaning in art by representing something perceived in the real world. I have destroyed one idea of Philip Guston's. Guston's late work, it allegiance to simple, Representative Imagery, is the distraction I have destroyed. It must be destroyed because it hinders perception of the actual expressive quality that resides in the basic language of visual art.
Yesterday's drawing exhibits an exploration of surface, surface as a flow of light and space. As I made this drawing I thought of Mark Rothko's work. Rothko's clarity was his reduction; his painting are reduced to expressive play on surface and light.
Yesterday's drawing took on an atmospheric feel, away from domination by a central form. There is no glare of white here. Someone pulled the shades over the windows. This is a snippet of residence within a darkened room.
Do images require a primary form. Is there misdirection without a primary form. Yesterday I read an article in the New Yorker, "My Struggle with Cézanne," written by the art critic Peter Schjeldahl. It is the following two paragraphs that spoke loudly to me:
"It’s a return to roots for MOMA, which initiated its narrative of modern painting in 1929 with a show that included van Gogh, Seurat, and Gauguin as well as Cézanne, whose broken forms made the others look comparatively conservative as composers of pictures. He stood out then, as he does now, for an asperity of expression that is analytical in form and indifferent to style. The appearance of his works is an effect, not a fulfillment. He revolutionized visual art, changing a practice of rendering illusions to one of aggregating marks that cohere in the mind rather than in the eye of a viewer.
You don’t look at a Cézanne, some ravishing late works excepted. You study it, registering how it’s done—in the drawings, with tangles of line and, often, patches of watercolor. Each detail conveys the artist’s direct gaze at a subject but is rarely at pains to serve an integrated composition. Cézanne was savagely sincere in his ways of looking, true to what he called his “little sensation” in how things, bit by bit, met his regard. He made pictorial vision the exercise of an artist’s concerted will and a challenge to a viewer’s understanding."
Recently I have this fear, a fear that my complex vision, the manner in which I make art, is broken into minute qualities and quantities of form, all searching for a coherent composition. With my "tangles of line," and "little sensation" after "little sensation," I find a composition. I fear I have a propensity to work like Cézanne, who Peter Schjeldahl says, was "rarely at pains to serve an integrated composition." Now I am at pains to serve an integrated composition. My recent idea is to identify a central form, or central thematic area, in each of my works. Yesterday's drawing is such work.
The force of my will made this one. It is apropos of my need to grab your attention, grab my attention. I center you, I center me, by using strong vertical forms. Somehow, when I was finished with this drawing, I was reminded of Picasso's "Crucifixion" from 1930. I believe it to be one of Picasso's most remarkable works, different as it is in color, space, and forms from anything else Picasso. Yes, in this crucifixion there is relationships to everything Picasso had done, and would do, but Picasso's approach here is quite different. The viewer is centered by the light-valued blue of the Christ figure and his distraught mother. After this centering, the viewer can wander, be continuously surprised by the complete animation, the literal references, within the composition, one after the next. My drawing is simpler, yet equally haunting.
This bring me to the question of background. There is blank paper in my drawing. Does that work? I usually like to touch every surface. I usually feel the need to identify every part of my paper's surface as part of my space, my time, and my composition. That did not happen in this drawing's background. Does it work? There is a bold, forceful grab here: the viewer is captured by strong, vertical forms, I do believe the white paper ground serves its contrasting purpose. I see the white as definitive space; it is the flat plane in front of which the rest of the composition resides. Notice how Picasso dealt with his background and the negative space; four flat colored areas: blue, yellow, orange, red. Is the viewer bothered by these unidentifiable spaces? No! Instead the multiple compositionally positive forms grab and install the viewer within the composition. The forms are strong enough to support the vague spaces and surfaces Picasso's flat colors depict.
I am using a sketchbook again. You will not see it here because it is sketch notes to myself. It is teaching me basic needs. It is teaching me the simplicity of vision. I do need to change directions. I do need to go short and sweet. My work, too often, becomes complex. Too often I have solved problems by adding to complexity, rather than paring down to simple messaging. Yesterday's drawing exhibits my confusion. It has duplicity, and self awareness. Yesterday's drawing wants to go simple, but ends with a complexity of forms. Number and kinds of forms can distract. Going toward fewer forms is not necessarily going too little. There are all kind is of ways of making simplicity, sparsity of forms, into grand statements, ones filled with emotion and meaning. I am on the road to blunt and purposeful art. Keeping ideas alive, minute by insightful minute, will help. This is the reason for carrying a sketchbook, everywhere and always. I often awake with insights. My sketchbook was on my bedstead last night. This morning it was the first thing I picked up.
Working toward simplicity is necessary. That is happening in the painting, "No Living Thing Can Exist Without It".
Understanding is slow to form, but when understanding is accomplished, it is resilient, and consistent. My favorite painting of Leonardo da Vinci's is his unfinished St. Jerome. As with all things I love at first sight, I did not immediately comprehend the reason for my instantaneous love. It is the overall organization of the canvas I relish so much. Here is an incomplete list of reasons for my visceral enjoyment of St. Jerome: (1) the rotation of lion's tail mimicking the overall rotational dialogue of the entire image, (2) the intriguing negative space between Jerome and the lion, (3) the thrust of Jerome's outstretched arm being parallel to the lion's torso, (4) the semi-circle of the lion's mouth ensuring consistency in rotation, scaled small to large, (5) all the rotation is in contrast to the central pin of the composition, firmly set by the vertical thrust of the St. Jerome's right leg. I enjoy this image deeply, relentlessly, with great satisfaction. My visceral connection, both emotional and intellectual, to Leonardo's St. Jerome is because of its compositional structure. Acknowledging Leonardo's accomplishment is an important insight in my journey to making my own work more satisfying. I can draw form as will as Leonardo, but I continue to labor to fully comprehend compositional structure. I want my art to be fully satisfying, intellectually and emotionally satisfying. I want my viewers to fall in love with my works of art at first sight, just as I did with the painting St. Jerome.
Yesterday's drawings are efforts in the right direction, toward full compositional satisfaction.
What am I doing? I am looking carefully at the space between the lines, the negative space. I am filling the page with carefully considered forms, forms created by pencil lines. These lines, inherently, leave gaps between one another. These gaps are emotional spaces, ones that create light and darkness, good and evil. My current research is investigation into the emotional satisfaction, personal self-expression, that I may obtain from the space between the lines.
There is something special about this drawing. Excellent Drawing! Perhaps it is its robust use of the page, its vibrant use of the negative space, its dramatic contrasts in forms and in value. Whatever it is, it is definitely another step forward.
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