Mendocino Cove Plein-Air Study 2018
11” x 14” Oil on panel
One can paint a portrait, a landscape, or a still life, but to paint a portrait of energy itself—energy flowing through, animating and emanating from form, that is the challenge and the reason I am irresistibly drawn to painting. And it is that which gives meaning to my life as an artist.
PROCESS and TECHNIQUE
My Plein Air Paintings
When I go out painting on location, whether a landscape or an interior scene, I first scan the scene for the forms that have the strongest, most dynamic energy (often sacrificing a more ideal traditional composition of the scene). Once I decide on a powerful subject, I next look past forms altogether and focus on how the overall place feels; I begin to sense a changeless life filling and permeating the scene—what I call the Unified Field. Now I am ready to begin the first layer of my painting–a simple abstract interpretation of this life and energy.
Once that is completed and dry enough, I return to feeling the energy and power of the forms. I begin to portray the way forms dynamically exist in space, distorting them as is needed to express their power—the way Cézanne distorted the plains and surfaces of shapes to achieve that same end. The next stage in the painting is to portray the distinct emanations of the forms through line and color. And finally, over these layers, I begin to paint, here and there, the final surface detail of the forms—the way the forms appear to the eye, in some places covering over the earlier layers altogether. I also fade off the surface detail in other areas, allowing the previous energetic layers to shine through to predominance. Thus, the painting expresses these various levels of perception into one integrated whole, and my full experience of the scene is passed on to the viewer of the painting—sometimes, surprisingly, in very literal ways.
My Large-Scale Paintings and the Use of the Computer
Before I speak of my use of the computer, I would like to say I am most happy when I have the tactile experience of thick paint on a brush or trowel, boldly striking across the canvas, where I am taking real chances on the fly. This is where the art process comes alive, where the adrenalin flows through the veins! And though I can draw or paint about anything with pretty good skill and had done so for decades, when I finally realized the creative potential of the computer, about fifteen years ago, I dove in and began to explore it. I have come to know it as a wonderful tool, as you will see as you read on—yet a tool, for me, to be used sparingly.
For my large-scale paintings, I first do a painting using traditional methods of brush and paint, sometimes oil, gauche or acrylic, on canvas or panel. At this stage in the development of the painting, this original source can be as small as 9” x 12” or as large as 4’ x 10’ For the larger paintings, I use towels, large brushes and sometimes spray guns.
Unlike doing a plein air painting all at once, where all the elements are combined, I do a few individual paintings on location: the abstract painting of the Unified Field, a painting of the “force” of the forms in the landscape, distorting form, as I mentioned above (see also on my educational art website “The Force of Objects” https://www.perception4u.com/force), then a painting of the emanations of the forms, and often a variety of other paintings of surface details, as needed. Later I photograph these paintings and bring them into the computer, with the abstract painting being the bottom layer. I then mask the more realistic paintings, revealing the abstract underneath to varying degrees here and there. These transparent effects I achieved in the past before the computer with tape and sandpaper, often sanding too far and needing to re-paint parts; a very time-consuming and imperfect process.
I make other minor adjustments to the painting on the computer, but I also intentionally leave out elements that I can do by hand later once the final image is printed out on canvas. I have found the computer allows my vision to, almost effortlessly, manifest with precision, the orchestration of the subtle effects of energy, but nothing takes the place of hand-painted effects.
Most importantly, the computer allows me to finally print out the painting on canvas to the specific size that will create in the viewer the desired effect. I cannot know the size a painting needs to be until its final developmental phase where I can clearly see and experience all the facets of the painting. Then I know what size best captures and harmonizes with the essence of the energy of the image, Size is a powerful expressive element—one of the most important. And to be able to orchestrate size with such control is one of the things I appreciate so much about this age we live in. So many times, in the early decades of my painting career, I would be left with regret, as I looked at a finished painting and realized it would have been a stronger piece if it were only a different size. But since using the computer it is very rare that I have that feeling anymore.
Printing out the image causes it to lose most of its energy created during the hands-on process of drawing and painting. The exciting challenge then is to bring the image back to life. One thing that helps is to hand paint in the additional elements that were intentionally earlier left out for exactly this purpose. The next thing is to literally re-paint the entire surface, but this too can be creative—adjusting hues, values, opacities, or increasing the tactile nature of strokes of paint, all to enhance the painting, giving even more expressive control.
That is my process. Though it is an expensive and very time-consuming painting process, to me, being a perfectionist, it is well worth it when I look at the finished painting and see it capturing and expressing the subtlety and power of my experience!
Though I feel my process needs no defense, I understand the negative reaction some people have to artists using the computer because we have all been faced with “art” that was obviously done on the computer where it was being used to compensate for lack of skill, and even worse, for lack of vision. But, to me, such judgment makes no sense when a person of talent and vision uses it as a very precise tool to bring forth the physical expression of a vision—a vision of a miraculous multi-dimensional reality no less. I do not doubt that if Leonardo da Vinci were alive today, he would be using the computer to refine the expression of his own clear vision. That being said, I can’t wait to get back to the studio and squeeze out some thick luscious paint from a tube and watch my big bristle brush begin to dance!
MY PERSPECTIVE ON BEING AN ARTIST
Principally, my relationship to art has been as a vehicle for exploration and a catalyst for self-discovery. There is a unity of purpose to my art: to take art to its furthest limits; to see what art can and cannot do; to see if paint and brush can express the most transcendental states of matter, perception, and being. Many times I have been amazed at the level of communication art was able to achieve. I have also seen my art become a catalyst in opening up others to their own deep experiences. It is this ability of art to touch people in deep and mysterious ways that I marvel at and value so much.
Regarding my artistic journey, it has been a serendipitous adventure, not for the faint of heart. It has been filled with unexpected turns, some frustrating setbacks, as well as incredible advances. Now, from where I stand looking back, I see an overall intelligent pattern and design to it all. Even what I thought were detours and dead ends were necessary to bring about needed change and insight. And the rewards of my art career have far outweighed any of the many challenges and difficulties I have had to face over the decades.
IN PARTING – Some Last Words
I would just like to mention, that though art has enriched my life in so many ways, I have also found being an artist and doing art at moments can be much overrated, whereas just being can never be. It is true that some of the most fulfilling times in my life were when I was forced away from doing my art. Life is rich and it’s not so much what we do that makes it so, but what we are.
And to you young artists I would like to say, be open to what life sends you, especially if you are a struggling artist. Do what is required. I have found if my expression is cut off because of the demands of living in this world, it naturally flows out in other expressions. And the artist's eye continues to grow, no matter what we are doing, if we are open and present as we move deeper into the heart. Also, don't be in a hurry to limit your art by dressing it up for the marketplace, but learn to demand much more of it, and it will become your ally and source of strength throughout your life.
It is my hope that my art will, in some way, inspire you to explore the expression of the most profound levels of your being, letting your expression, whatever form it is, clarify and strengthen your understanding.
May you appreciate the wonder of your incredible journey and thank you for letting me be a part of it.
Two Islands – Mendocino 2018
63” x 77” Mixed media on canvas