My working habits can be ugly. I try a color, wipe it off. Try another color, scrape it away. Try another, hmmm. Maybe. Five seconds later, yet another color joins the muddy rag heap.
Sinew Over Water
What makes a color work in a painting? Forty years of painting have given me no clues. I never know until I find it. And sometimes, even then, I keep trying for a better choice. There have been particular paintings with particular spots that I have wiped and scraped and changed hundreds of times.
Yet the reality is there are no wrong colors. It’s how they fit together that is important. A small tiny bit of green or magenta or naples yellow can transform a whole canvas. You just have to be willing to try and try again until you find it.
Before I get back into the studio, I’ve been thinking and writing about India, trying to capture what I can before it fades like the henna tattoos on my palms. Maybe it’s the constant heat of the tropics, maybe it’s the rainbow of fruit and flowers that grow year round, or the nearness of the sun and all the pink and red in the light. But at least in in southern India, people treat color more robustly than they do here in the United States.
I attended a wedding, and two dressing room attendants mercifully helped me choose clothing. They suggested color combinations that I’d never anticipate, just when I thought I’d gotten the hang of it, I’d reach for a red dupatta and they would throw in a gauzy turquoise one, making the whole constellation of colors sing in a different key than the one I was going to choose. Out of the store and back out into the sunny streets of Mumbai, I had a new bead on every woman’s sari, and each one seemed made of wild bold and daring, always rocketing toward more vibrant, pushing emerald greens and royal purple to their absolute limit.
While Mollie has been traveling, I have been deep in the studio watching paint dry. It’s funny how paint dries a lot quicker if you let it dry and don’t keep adding more and more wet paint.
I can never seem to let go of a painting. I am always futzing with one particular section, trying different things to make it better. Sometimes I try the same thing over and over again hoping for different results.
Two paintings in particular are irritating me. A photographer friend Erik Gould just shot images of them Wednesday night for my website and exhibit promotion. A few hours after he left, I was hard at work on both of them.
I’ve been traveling for the past six weeks. I started off in Berlin, Germany, a city where I lived for several years, and continued by train to Istanbul, Turkey, and then on to India (flew to India though). I had forgotten how much energy one expends absorbing new environments. The first days arriving in any one place were studded with crucial naps, and even though I had brought a great book, I would usually find myself happy just to stare out the windows of trains gliding past the landscape, or walking around looking up at trees and buildings.
(View of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania from the train)
In Istanbul, the mosques have a powerful presence in the cityscape, dramatizing the city’s position between East and West. On the inside, in contrast to many Western churches, your attention is not guided to and focused on the body of Christ or a crucifix, or even the place where the khutbah (sermon) is held. The whole interior is so densely ornate that your eye wanders continually throughout the space, creating a transcendent atmosphere. It brought to mind the abstract expressionists’ all-over technique and their equal treatment of the whole visual field.
(Inside Yeni Cami, the New Mosque)
I’ve brought all my paintings for the show into to my studio – 16 in all, maybe 5 years worth of paintings. They surround me, often clashing with one and other.
Nature is not peaceful and like nature, my paintings do not coexist peacefully. I think people are always surprised at the undercurrent of energy that flows through my work, but my paintings reflect what I see and and what I see in nature is not always quiet or kind or still. It is, instead, kinetic and always moving – full of energy.
So many artists congregate in urban environments, asphalted over, connected by cell phones and subways. Nature is forgotten until a big snow storm or hurricane hits. Then we think of nature as an inconvenience, something to plow through or get around. For me, it is a continuing source of wonder, both beautiful and terrifying.
I often walk down to India Point Park to watch the water. My favorite walks are in inclement weather, when the bay is unsettled and deeply, darkly grey. Sometimes it is so cold, the water closest to shore freezes in the odd circular patterns. I haven’t tried as yet to paint them, but someday I hope to.