Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Concept of Painting in a Series

For over 15 years I have been told that it is very important that artists paint in a "series".  The series should have a goal.  The paintings within a series should be related to each other and visually connected. When an artist has exhausted all possibilities within the series, then they move on to a new series, never to return.  Although I've been pressed many times to declare that I work in a series, and I have even given names to various chronological periods of work ("Journey" and presently "Contemplation") I really don't see much division between the two.

What I do see when I review my work is growth over time and a whole bunch of "mini-series".  For instance, right now I'm in the middle of about 8 paintings where the subject is a begonia plant in bloom.  I've approached the concept using watercolor, gouache, acrylic inks and most recently poured watercolors.  I might do a collage.  Does this mean I'm in a "begonia" series?  I don't think so.  

In fact I don't think my brain or my artistic expression works that way.  I'm wondering if declaring a series and a goal confines me as an artist.  It's sort of a declaration that an artist will "stay in this box until I give up, run out of ideas or die..." Some people are comfortable with the concept, indeed several of my very good artist friends are painting in a series.  And several other wonderful artist friends are not painting in a series.

My most recent declared goal is to simplify my shapes and move away from rigid compositional forms, use shape and color with line and pattern more freely.  I think I'm accomplishing that.  And I think I will end the idea of declaring my work fits into a "series".  If I want to paint something that fits into Journey, I will.  If I want to paint something that fits into Contemplation, I will.  And if I want to paint something that doesn't fit anywhere, I will.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Learning Lessons

I believe that every single painting or collage I create should teach me something.  Every painting should be a chance to try something new, different, unique.  Whether I am painting representationally or not, I am always looking for that new experience, the "look at that!" moment when, perhaps, two colors collide that I've never mixed before or maybe brush strokes leave an unexpected texture.  That sort of small but powerful lesson is the experience I am looking for in painting.

"Winter Solstice III" 15"X22" collage
I was a white water kayaker for many years.  We used to paddle the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River (Oregon) almost every summer with a group of other paddlers from the Seattle area. One of the regular guys was named Joe and he was an expert paddler who played guitar but was otherwise a pretty quiet guy.  One trip, coming into our last camp at Solitude, Joe lingered on a small wave just upstream, surfing his kayak back and forth.  Camp was well established before he finally came in.  I asked him what he was doing up there so long and he said "I wanted to stay on it until I learned something."  An expert kayaker on a small surf wave?  "Did you?" I asked and he smiled his gentle smile.  "Yes".

That small lesson is what I am looking for when I paint.  Recently I read a blog about setting intentions in art.  I set intentions, consciously, in yoga and in Healing Touch (I am a Level 1 practitioner).  I never considered applying the concept to painting.  Intention equals "what I want".  Intention is a goal.  If I truly don't know what I want, then I am, as the blogger put it, "just pushing paint around."  The blog provoked a lot of thought because I asked myself "is it enough to say that my intention is to learn from the process?"  I believe it is exactly enough intention.  I seek that wonderful, breathless place where I don't care about anything except watching what happens if.... And, when that moment arrives, it defines what the painting will be, where it will go.  It feels like flying.