Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I'm starting some new paintings this week. Even before I began my sabbatical in July, I had an idea that I wanted to make some paintings that explored unusual light sources. I've already used a couple of subjects that could fit into this category, the black and white television I bought thirty years ago in Madison, WI for example, or the wall mounted circular fluorescent tubes that illuminate the school building my studio is in. Today I began a painting that I hope will feature a space heater as light source. Sometimes characters get pushed out of the paintings as they develop, and the finished work might not have a lot to do with the original idea. But that's fairly rare and I expect the space heater to be in the painting when it’s finished.

The second painting explores an idea that I've always depended on: using the spaces that I live and work in as subject matter. We live unter'm Dach, that is, in the attic Wohnung, so the ceiling is slanted and windows are isolated in dormers. It creates some intriguing reflected light patterns that I can't resist using.

I've been photographing the new paintings at each stage of development and I thought is might be interesting to see them here as a series. The original pencil drawing doesn't show up very well in a photograph, but once I've reinforced the linear structure with very thin oil paint (in ultramarine blue) the drawing is much more visible. Then I apply the thin underpainting that I've written about in a previous post.

Simulating light effects means making illusions and since the beginning of the twentieth century, illusion has had a bad reputation. The logic went something like this: Illusion is not the Truth and everything that isn't the Truth is a Lie. Lies are bad, ergo, Illusion is bad. I was in the Hetjens-Museum in Düsseldorf recently looking at ancient Greek terracotta/black pottery and even in this, the simplest of pictorial strategies, the potters were playing with figure/ground reversals. What this suggests to me is that the artist doesn't create the illusion. It's the viewer who craves a three dimensional understanding of the image. Even when an image is reduced to simple black shapes and red middle tone shapes, we immediately form an object/background relationship. We live in a three-dimensional space and understand every image in those terms. So I don't waste much of my time worrying about whether illusion is evil or acceptable. I'll post some more images of these paintings as they develop.


Em said...

Shawn and I are very excited to see your space heater piece being realized.

Anonymous said...

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Pat said...

It's fascinating to see how the paintings evolve from sketch to underpainted piece to completed work. I can't wait to see what happens to the underpainting in the space heater piece and the slanted ceiling piece.