Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When do you know?

One of the questions abstract artists frequently get asked is "when do you know a painting is done?" It's an interesting question that is often simply answered, "I just know." The question came up for me recently with Peter Harper and his work, "Empiria," shown in my recent exhibition, Only what you can carry with you. Once the show closed, Peter took the painting back to his studio and continued to work on it. This gave me a perfect opportunity to ask him that same question and a few more:

1. Can you briefly describe each of the three images and how you arrived at that moment in the painting and why you felt it was incomplete at that point?

In both my work that is abstract, as well as the work that is more representational, I am looking for the space where light and color define the sensibility of the subject matter.  With abstract painting, that sensibility is more open and defines itself as I go further into the painting.  This also opens up opportunities for greater chance-taking and expressing more undefinable feelings.

In the earliest of the three versions of "Empiria," I knew I wanted both a complex space and a more open space competing with each other with the more complex space being the focal point.  I wanted the depth to be somewhat undefinable yet pushed back into the distance with everything else close to the surface of the overall image. I got to a point where I realized that I could push the contrast of those ideas further. The shapes were not complex enough for the feelings I had; I really wanted it to be something so intertwined that lines would disappear into each other and the drawing would be more of an impression than a shape that leads the viewer to assume definition.

In the second version, I had created a swooping green rainbow pattern in order to contrast with what I felt was the focal point of the painting (the red pattern).  The painting had achieved the type of texture and emotion that I was looking for, but eventually I felt like the green swoop was competing too much with the red pattern which I thought was immensely more fascinating and thought provoking.

The final version of "Empira" is where I really think I captured the technical aspects of what I was trying to express.  The complex nature of life and spirituality dramatically taking over the surface with the green swoop now pushed back into the undefined background.  By expanding on the textural graphing pattern throughout the painting and creating a subtle light and dark behind that and the green swoosh, I feel the painting now has three different spacial focal points that express the "versus" mentality that I wanted to show.

2. Did the subject of piece change with each derivation?

Not really. Like I mentioned before, in abstract work the subject sort of unfolds, but the germination of the original idea remains.

3. Do you anticipate further changes to it?

Probably not.  I think I took it as far as I needed to take it.  I don't have that itchy feeling about it like I did with the earlier versions.

4. How does this process on this single painting relate to your overall painting process or philosophy?

Painting is a reflection of my thoughts and feelings (good and bad).  I want to be honest and revealing through my work, and if I think I can make it clearer I will.  I don't hold the image as a sacred relic that has be clarified and made pristine, but the idea, if it can be expanded on or brought to a clearer light, I will take it there—even if that means throwing it away.

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