I wish I had the quote handy, but memory will have to suffice for the moment. Bridget Riley, the legendary Op Art painter, once said something along the lines of, “The more you give to your work, the more your effort will show through. Viewers will pick up on this.”
I sincerely hope this will be the case with my newest painting, SuperAcid Autobacs-Ambilify. This work took one month to create, and I scrapped two versions of it before arriving at the canvas pictured here.
My new painting SuperAcid Autobacs Ambilify, completed on June 7, 2009
Painting SuperAcid, frankly, was a struggle, filled with twists, turns, dead ends, frustration, elation, and opportunity for reflection.
The composition invited ad hoc changes as I went along. The piece began as a rhythmic horizontal composition, but ended up meditative and vertical.
I conceived of it as having one set of colors, but ultimately it took me to a completely different result. Layer upon layer of paint built up, as I changed my mind about which colors to use. I even invited friend and color connoissieur Oliver Hibert to help solve the puzzle I faced when choosing the “right” color for the painting’s final section.
Above: My first pass at SuperAcid, which I bailed upon after three days. Below: Version 2, which I scrapped after a week.
Yet, in the end, I feel like I created a piece that I didn’t understand — that I almost couldn’t relate to — but I nonetheless believe it is important.
Listen and Learn
Describing the finished work to my friend Robert Bell, aka Tradica, when he was paying a visit, I said something that unexpectedly triggered a psychoanalytic interpretation from him.
The sweeping beige, orange, and brown stripes in the center of the work, I pointed out, seemed like a mountain to me. I said this casually, offhandedly, and kept on chatting away.
A few days later, when we talked again, Robert told me that the mountain represented something; I could gather some kind of transformational insight from it. The key is, I had to listen.
In Robert’s opinion, this painting has a symbolism that I might want to explore further:
- If the stripes were a mountain, after all, what did the mountain represent? Minimalist painting?
- If the mountain does represent my minimalist work, are the triangles cutting through them an unconscious representation of a “mix-and-clash” impulse?
- What did it mean that the green triangles were violently cutting through the mountain’s stripes?
- Was I looking down from the top of the mountain?
- Were the triangles trees, and the orange arc at top a sky at sunset?
To my friend, SuperAcid is a very important work — one that, if my house were burning down, I would reach for this painting first. It marks a turning point.
Mind you, I never really study my work this way, and perhaps conveying all of this to you sounds oddly self-important. That is not my intention.
I cannot turn down my friend’s careful and unsolicited interpretation, even though I am not sure what to make of it.
Let the Universe Provide
Quite often I think of this, as it relates to the process of making art: “I can’t know what the future holds. I can only trust in my ability and let the universe provide.”
At “halftime” of this painting, I had settled upon a white background for stripes. Everything would change from there.
By throwing myself into the process of a painting — which sometimes feels like the portrayal of the epic struggle to catch a fish in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea — I find that I use a different set of problem-solving techniques. “Improvising out” a painting — rather than designing it completely on a computer monitor first — forces my mind to operate on intuition.
Plotting my next move: Choosing colors using scraps of paper and a set of colored origami paper.
Tactically, I learned these lessons:
- Take chances on color. When Oliver suggested I base an entire section around a mint-green color, I trusted his advice. However, when I started applying the paint, it felt very strange. But I adapted. Sometimes it’s extremely helpful to get an outside opinion on color choices.
- When making an all-over composition that uses almost every color, the balance of colors becomes even more important. You’d think that the more colors you use, the more arbitrary you can be with color choices. Actually, I found the opposite to be true. Color becomes harder and harder to balance as you go.
- Not using white will pay off. Verner Panton is right. There are so many other colors one can use instead of white. The white you see in this painting is actually a very light, foggy gray. No straight-up titanium white here.
- Don’t be afraid to scrap things and start over. But also, know when to pull it together and keep pressing forward. The final version of this painting was my third. I almost junked this third version, but something said to keep moving forward.
In the final stages of this painting, I chose to paint over nearly all of the central area of the canvas. I just wasn’t satifsfied with my color choices.
Well, that’s my recap. I hope you artists out there can relate to this story even a little bit. Thanks for reading.