Philip Koch, Memorial, oil on panel, 18 x 36", 2010
This is my first completed oil of the new year.
The title was chosen because I've been reflecting a great deal on the notion of memory and what we do with the past. It comes with lots of questions. What is it for? What do we hold onto? What needs to be changed? Just as this is true of our lives, these questions emerge in the way we make a painting.
Below is the way the then in-progress panel looked a week ago. There was a promise of a great deep panorama unfolding, but I was troubled by much of the background. Other than receding into a misty distance it didn't seem to reveal enough of a unique personality.
At times like this an artist has to roll up his sleeves and do some serious trial and error with the brush. It probably took several hundred variations in the lakes and islands to come up with the sweeping rhythm I wanted. Anyone who has ever painted knows this is hard slugging- more like digging in a mine with a pickaxe than waiting for inspiration to guide your hand. One of the things that guided me was the idea of cutting away the land masses that were already in the painting. Subtracting can be as creative as adding.
The final version has a more sweeping horizontal flow to its far distance than the earlier stage. Yet for that to be intriguing it had to offer unexpected counter rhythms to the main arrow-like thrust from left to right. You have to get playful and inventive to get the little new additions to come on board in a way that adds to the overall effect.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I was playing make believe with my grand daughters (Nora 3 at left and Maya 1 on the right).
Each of them showed the amazing capacity of the child to enter into a fantasy and at least for the moment let it totally become their world. Invention I think comes from imagination- an ability to envision something beyond just what lies before you. Artists of course aren't little children. We have the adult ability to concentrate and see things through to completion. What the little girls remind me though is how useful, and how delightful, the child-like spark of imagination is to creating. The young have a magical energy level to them. Often it runs off in many directions at once. But as adults, artists can steer that same energy to run down channels we carefully choose. When an artist accomplishes that, they have reached back into their own past with seasoned adult hands. Youth and experience join hands and something wonderful can happen.