Dance Steps in Painting
I'm visiting some older paintings this month. The Philadelphia painter Josephy Sweeney inspired me to get my old 35mm slides digitally scanned, suggesting I try one of the commercially available scanning services (as it's a nasty time consuming job). Just got back the first batch of scans and they're sending me back in time.
Two of images caught my eye, above a vine charcoal drawing from of the tree outside my studio window just after a heavy snow, and below a 44 x 55" oil, a studio painting done from a smaller plein air study from a field north of Houston, Texas.
I grew up in a family with good people in it but with some real peculiarities- nobody was into music. I don't think I ever heard my parents so much as turn on the radio. Time passes, things change. Years later I find myself a painter. And I even like to dance.
Humans everywhere invented a culture of dancing even before they came up with written language. Buried in our shared psyche must be some wiring that connects moving our bodies with the movement of our emotions.
The drawing at the top of the page is in its way a dance lesson. You know when something you're looking at strikes a chord within you, and so it was with this tree. This drawing is about the physical act of a painter swinging his arm to describe the heavy snow pulling downward against the springy branches of a large pine tree. Telling about a swirling descent into what...a change in mood, getting to the bottom of a question, memories of the past? And the way the drawing twists and bends as it moves your eye downwards is part of the story.
Below is very different picture. I was down in East Texas for one of my exhibitions at Meredith Long & Co. in Houston. Naturally I took my paints and spent a few days exploring. Down there they have a variety of pine that's taller and more spindly than the northerly evergreens I'm used to. Their trunks bear only a few branches, and those seem to cluster just at their very tops. Otherwise your eye is uninterrupted as it follows their gesture upwards. At first they look like pure vertical columns, but then you notice they bend in subtle arcs like the delicate bones of a bird's wing.
Walking under these trees felt a little like entering a Renaissance cathedral where all the architecture's lines force your eye to ascend to the barrel vaulted ceiling. So I did a painting about those rhythms of pines that were so good at pulling my eyes up to the heavens. A totally different kind of movement than the snowy drawing above and it stirred up in me a very different set of feelings. While I'm not a religious person, I decided a perfect title for the oil was Cathedral.
Sometimes in the studio I like to blast my music. More often I work in silence these days. Maybe that's because as I paint I'm struggling to hear something else. Painting has a long tradition of moving to its own unique music- paintings are recordings of how the artist's brush taps, sweeps, swells, diminishes Go to a museum and look for awhile- you realize it's like an grand old dancehall that never really stays quiet or still.