I’ve been experimenting with different methods for starting a painting. Developing images (abstract or realistic) from random marks echoes Surrealist techniques.
Starting with one shape and letting it lead to others (until the canvas is covered) seems unique at first. But that approach owes a debt to Process Art. In Process Art, the outcome is unforeseen and relatively unimportant. The act of making the picture is the primary focus.
I finished “Nocturne” yesterday. I began it with a drawing based on rearranged shapes specific to a known subject. In other words, I had a preconceived idea in mind when I started the painting. I left room, however, for improvisation. I had no color or tonal scheme in mind, but roughed in shapes using a restricted palette (lemon yellow, white, pthalo blue, alizarin crimson) to create a pattern. On second through fourth layers, I enhanced colors, fused shapes, and added details that emerged out of underlying layers. The end result reminded me of a night time scene. The shapes and colors recalled Arthur Dove’s abstract Maine landscapes.
Esphyr Slobodkina has been another influence. She’s best known as the author of “Caps for Sale”, but was a founding member of the Abstract Artists Association. The AAA, founded in the 1930s, promoted the development of an American form of Modernism.
Slobodkina developed flat shape compositions that referred to natural and manmade forms. She did preparatory pencil sketches and paintings before creating a final version of a subject. Precision, elegance and rhythm are the hallmarks of her best work.
I may eventually settle upon a method that combines elements of the three approaches discussed above. Right now, I’m favoring the technique used to create “Nocturne”. Using improvisation over a set foundation seems like a promising path. Unplanned spontaneity (laying on brushstrokes willy-nilly) leads to thickets of confusion. (Tangled clots of paint remind me of how much I dislike the choppy disorganization of free-form jazz.) Detailed planning and controlled execution, a la’ Esphyr Slobodkina, seem too confining. I need room for discovery.
I used to worry about originality. I realized that I had ripped off and recombined sources in most of my work. Now I believe that genuine expression requires looking both forward and back. Not to mention inward.