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The Bridge between Painting and Photography

The bridge between painting and photography is becoming blurred and I think we should welcome this evolution. Photographers have become more adept at modulating common images. They can subtly overlap images, juxtapose photos, give them an appearance of movement, fade and blurr photos to the point where they barely resemble the simple, fixed photo.
This may be an attempt at abstraction, or sometimes just to see what and how an image can be bent and changed. Whereas photos naturally tend to be more incisive, more specific or more detailed, this process of abstracting an image in the dark room or now with photoshop is bringing the two disciples much closer together.
There are some painters who take photos and place them within the painting. This kind of interplay sometimes works well to enhance an image on canvas. This bridge between painting and photography will no doubt continue to be explored. The photographic image in the hands of a professional can in fact resemble a good abstract painting. This kind of creative effort is invigorating for the broad art scene in general but also opens up possibilities for the individual artist.

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A Difficult Painting

It is not unusual to wind up with a painting that becomes extraordinarily difficult. Sometimes as artists we try something new and we get half way and get stuck. We are just not sure how to proceed – we are faced with a difficult painting. When this happens it is best to put our brushes aside and to rest on it for awhile.
After a time pull out that painting and have another look and ask yourself what is it you are trying to do? What mood, what effect?
Try to establish a basic, fundamental direction for the painting.
WHen I have a difficult painting – one that I am just not sure about, I will attempt to get one small area of the painting right. This may mean getting a particular design correct, or just the right hue or shading but get it just the way you want it. Be very satisfied with that one small part. It is surprising how a painting can develop once there is one section that is done perfectly. All the other parts can then begin to relate to that first successful area.

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Essence of Color

We have come to understand that in the pursuit of good design we often place the symphony of pure color in second place.  I am reminded of Tubular Bells by Oldfield and how fascinating the relatively simple patterns he creates stir us so deeply.  Essence of color in painting comes when we begin to place color as the foremost element.  Color after all has its own essence, its own purity.  It is even possible to abandon design entirely in creating beautiful art.  This is done by being sensitive to the purity of color itself, such as the relationship between tan/gold tones against those of blue and red combined or purple.  Those two properly and carefully juxtaposed creates a very unusual and effective dynamic.

abstract oil paintings with oranges, greens and grays
Symphony 20, 2017. Original painting by Michael A. Wilson

What we can call essence of color, where color itself is center stage depends greatly on contrast of hue and intensity.  A blue against gold as mentioned above is striking but when the contrast is deepened the energy increases proportionally.  There are no rules in this kind of arrangement but a heightened awareness is necessary.  Some colors seem completely muddied without employing proper contrast.  Though Rembrandt exercised extreme restraint for maximum results, the impressionists broke free from classic modeling to create scintillating dynamic compositions based essentially on pure color.  Blending of colors gave way to placing pure colors side by side to create a more vital, energetic effect…a dark hookers green placed adjacent to viridian (without blending) was discovered to be far more emblematic of nature itself.

Pluck one string on a guitar and then pluck an adjacent string in the same range creates a simple but resonating quality.  It seems the Tubular composition was after something like this – the subtlety of tones being predominate over particular style.  Painting with pure color arrangement, that is the dynamic of color effect and sublimating all design elements to the vitality of color is an exercise vital to the development of an artist’s maturity.  Tubular Bells by Oldfield depends on overlays.  This can also be accomplished with color arranging.  It is a fascinating process when executed skillfully.  In my own work I often start with hard-pressed drag painting.  This is done with dragging pigment across a hard primed panel.  This method creates wonderful though accidental effects.  These elements provide an excellent and dynamic base for a painting primarily concerned with the essence of color.  I then apply multiple overlays and critical accents.  Whereas Kandinsky would often title his paintings ‘Composition 20’ or such I find that composition does not suit this particular style of painting – this creative effort.  Though I made four or five preliminary sketches prior to beginning, I ultimately chose none of them but began to paint directly unto the panel.  The first layer was selective drag passages.  After that came multiple overlays and thus the reference (right or wrong) of Tubular Bells.  Then later, particular accents, deepening contrasts and adding some elements of design.  Therefore it seemed that the work was more of a symphony of color combinations rather than a composition per sey.  A symphony in my mind is a process of adding multiple instruments to create a complete structure, a complete piece of music.  Painting in this way seems to be very close to this creative process in music.  Spontaneous may not be accurate because though a painting like this stems from no particular composition, the work follows a process nevertheless, but it is a process that builds as it develops.  Each layer invites or evokes the next and myself the artist makes critical decisions which to choose.  Spontaneous tends to imply a impulse over thought but a painting like this definitely requires careful attention.  There must be a very conscious awareness of what the particular passages are ‘saying’ – what they elicit, what they require to follow.  I have titled this piece then,  ‘Summer Symphony  20’ .  This painting represents very clearly what occurs when essence of color takes precedence over compositional design. Summer Symphony 20 represents an important milestone for me personally because of this practically complete observance of painting  where color itself is the predominate element.

By the way I wish to thank my brother Jim and my sister in law Pam for their recent visit to my studio.  They spent considerable time looking over my work, even the several stacks against the walls.  It was fun sharing my work with them.  Both of them have a remarkable ‘keen eye’.

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Developing Concepts

What can be more fundamental in any artistic endeavor than developing concepts?  This represents the beginning, the essential kernel that spawns the artistic project.  However I feel that artists are stymied when their concept (however it is conceived) is not fully developed, either emotionally or visually in the case of the visual painter.  All of my articles are essentially about the visual painter as artist but it is quite easy to see how many of these written constructions also relate to the other arts such as music, dance and sculpture.  We begin with a concept and then the process begins with developing those concepts.

In my own case I rarely am fortunate enough to begin a painting with a fully developed concept or idea.  There is a germ, a spark, a feeling but this is often all we can go with.  We have to rely on that to begin.  We have to believe that this small spark of an idea can lead us into a finished product, a painting.  The process of developing a concept is however quite different than the actual process of completing a painting which is I think, often misunderstood in the art world.  Gerhardt Richter has a very large, expansive studio.  His process is to take a ‘so-called’ finished painting and bring it physically in to another room.  This room is uniquely un-cluttered and separated from where the painting had been conceived.  In the entirely new environment Richter will study the painting on and off for sometimes several weeks.  He studies it to ascertain how technically this painting should be completed, what nuances should be added, what tones need adjusting, if the painting ‘works’.  Most of us do not have the space or opportunity to remove our painting in to an entirely different environment for study.  The point is that the initial thrust of the painting strives to attain the concept.  The second part of the work is done by technically bringing the painting to its full completion.  Shapes and forms may have been articulated but in the second part of the painting’s development, those shapes and forms should be carefully delineated and the brushwork refined.  

This refinement is noticeable in Kandinsky’s work.  Each shape is technically refined and beautifully rendered.  In the developing concept this would have been impossible…it is enough to get the concept down in terms of location, design and coloring.  The second part of the process is necessary to bring the painting to its fullfillment.  In my own experience this is best done by studying it a week or two after the painting had been initially developed.  It is very rare when I find a painting that does not need further attention.  Elements inevitably need modulating.  Perhaps the best example might be the sculptor who works with the chisel to establish the basic shape of the form.  He or she gets it quite close to the concept or idea.  After that, however begins the long, tedious work of sanding and refining the various shapes.  Without this final attention the work is not truly ready, not truly finished.

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Artistic expression

Our lives tend to be fairly linear following an ingrained and patterned series of actions.  School tends to reinforce these patterns.  When we declare our major it is assumed we are finally charting our own, personal course.  We know however that  societal ‘grooves’ are hard to deviate from.  Soon even our chosen vocation itself becomes a highly patterned and linear way of living.  04

It is only with great effort do we discover our true passions that give our personal lives meaning and value and purpose.  Life no longer is no longer along a straight line but our experiences begin to waver up and down from typical linear patterns.  We continue on with our jobs and our vocations and in one sense everything is the same, we are following the same patterns.  But there is now an inner spark and an inner purpose that begins to gain precedence.  We begin to make choices and decisions out of a personal relationship with this new personal precedence.  We feel alive.

For some the choice is artistic expression and it takes many forms.  Dance, music, painting, writing, sports and horticulture are some of the more commonly known means of artistic expression.  These activities begin to grow and expand as we get older providing our senior years with a degree of fullness and satisfaction.  Authentic artistic expression is when we are expressing ourselves most honestly – when we are not just copying established forms.  It could even be said that artistic evolution for ourselves as persons is very much about learning to be authentic.

We admire artists of the past such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso and Kandinsky because they seemed to be painting (for the most part) honestly and authentically.  This is not always easy to accomplish but ultimately brings the most joy and a sense of accomplishment.  As I have often said in these series of articles, Abstract art which comes from an inner resource is an important medium for expressing our personal selves.  By painting abstractly we can very effectively break free from those ingrained social patterns and begin to express our emotions and responses in ways that are in harmony with our own inner perceptions.  It is this ‘fine-tuning’ of our perceptions that will lead to an enhanced artistic experience and even to great art.

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Fear and Art

Fear and art is an interesting title, right?  Why should there be any fear in artistic expression?   There is a new art book out.  This one is different.  It is by an artist from Scotland and is a coloring book for adults with elaborate ink drawings of trees, vines and forest animals.  I think this is a great idea, especially when our time is limited and we don’t have the time to invest in coming up with our own ideas but want to paint and color for relaxation.DSC02676

For the more serious artists however…those who have a deep urge to create but are troubled about fear of failure, there are some things I have learned over the years.  This fear or we may call it simply ‘servere self-consciousness’ sets in early.  Pre-adolescence, peer pressure and the great need to fit in, often is the time when we become self-conscious of what we create.  It can even set in much earlier – age eight or ten, which is a shame because art can be a wonderful way to express our feelings.  Children should be encouraged to create and express themselves through the arts.  Fear and art, should not go together.  They should be separated.  Art should be a time when fear melts away, both for children and adults.

Fast forward to when we grow up and we are young adults.  We have a little better handle now on our place in society and our confidence (hopefully) has grown.  We are not as concerned about what others might think.   Sometimes it takes an active ‘pushing out mental process’- that is, pushing out negative thoughts or any thoughts at all.  Just getting in touch with our feelings or appreciating simple, natural things can often be enough to get us started painting or drawing.  It can start small with a private drawing pad.  You don’t need to share it.  Simple drawings, almost like a diary can also be colored.  This basic form of expression can then lead to an art class or buying some supplies and starting to experiment with color mixing and discovering the world of painting.  I suggest starting with acrylics.  You can buy simple canvas boards cheaply.  Have a glass of wine while you are painting – ha.  Just enjoy yourself.  When I was a kid we would tune in to the painting shows on T.V. but now we can find just about anything on YOuTube.  The important thing is to start, just start drawing and this will probably lead quite naturally to painting.