31 January, 1998
P256 Sedimentary (collaboration with Debbie Stenabaugh)
72x72” oil on canvas
A couple of years ago, Debbie and I decided to work on a piece together, based on our conversations at the studio. We had been discussing the duality of human nature, dark side and light side, and the struggle of maintaining a balance. The light upper section is full of hands reaching down and wings fluttering upward, two symbols of hope and faith. The dark underside is all the detritus of life, some suspended, some sinking. It is the transitional zone in the centre that represents our lives, where we strive to keep from sinking too low, and turn our faces to the light.
30 January, 1998
29 January, 1998
P254 Woman Curling in on Herself
Oil on linen, mounted on 9 panels
The vector is a spiral, the woman curled in on herself in the centre or beginning of the spiral, though this node is off-centre of the overall canvas square. The woman appears to be vanishing into the vortex, or she might be coming out of it.
The spiral repeats itself in my other work; the inner curl, to the soul, the personal universe, and outward curl to all that is beyond us. Then there is the upward curl that is escape, the winding away from chaos to isolation or sanctuary.
I have always considered that solitude an important part of my creative process. Even the feeling of loneliness, with its accompanying sadness, is essential to reflection and invention. The child alone, for example, invents imaginary worlds and characters. The little artist moves his creatures around the panel or the page, and places objects there for their amusement.
A spiral in a teacup, a little tempest of movement as we raise it to our lips, the gesture casual, the glance drawn downward, into ourselves. A glimpse of our own reflected image.
An Ultramarine scrawl finds its way around a shell. It bolts along some edges and then disappears into a dark hole I made.
A snail emerges, like a sluggish tongue. It seems to cleave the darkness as it squirms up out of chaos, dragging its cornucopia behind it.
Suddenly, another creature appears, backing tenderly out of the event horizon I drew on the very first day, stretching to drag the white chalk along with my spiralling gesture (...arms circling, spiral. It grows bigger and bigger until the gesture embraces all. Describing a universe with no words...)
27 January, 1998
OV252 Visage to Visage
24 x 24" pastel on panel
This painting evolved from an interesting photo my daughter had taken of two friends. Their bright clothing, and the compelling V-shape formed by their bodies interested me. It is really just a big sketch on Masonite, broad gestural strokes in oil pastel.
Orange Chair Series
26 January, 1998
V251 Visages in Conversation
36x48” pastels on primed paper
June 14, 1998: I started another sketch, this one very large, on one of the primed sheets of paper, 3 x 4 feet. It is a conversation among Visages, a commentary on the other night's socializing, I suppose. I put the dog in, as a welcome distraction.
June 16, 1998: Working on V251, I fell quickly into the flow of the characters' gestures and expressions, and the interaction of the bodies. There is an evident V shape between the talkers and the listener. The bounding dog seems to say, "Let's get out of here." Life beyond socializing.
25 January, 1998
V250 Woman curling in on herself
24x24” oil on panel
June 8, 1998 9pm: This evening I made a sketch on a 2x2' panel, of a woman curled in on herself. She fills the square, almost a circle herself, almost a chair. I want to make her flesh orange, with blue or purple shadows. Beside her is a rock, and this I will make flesh-coloured, the background a blue void. For a few moments, thinking about getting the paint out in the morning, I considered textured or directional strokes, instead of the very plain blended effect I had originally envisioned. It is useless to think about that, though, as whatever feels right is how I will paint it in the morning. It is always at the very moment of creation that the design is truly conceived. The rock, for example, was unplanned and appeared as I drew the lower right corner. The rock has a certain fluidity, though it is just a line or two, as if it too wants to become a woman. It is a piece of statuary about to become alive, or an iteration of the woman's pose. Is the woman uncurling or curling up? She is a knot, or a vortex, drawing to the inner being.
June 9, 1998 8am: I blocked in the under-painting for V250. She is actually a Visage with a body. She is cadmium orange against a French ultramarine background, her hair raw sienna. Her companion rock is flesh tint, looking mauve, a life form in itself, more real than the icon/woman. The rock is a Neolithic goddess, the woman a piece of furniture, product of another decade, overstuffed but somehow renewed.
Orange, transparent and peripherally jarring, is an oddity of existence. Where is orange, exactly? In blooms and sinking suns and the neon of fruits and tubers. There are orange chairs in the bank at the mall, soothingly retro and business-like; "This is not your living-room." When is the woman orange? It is an existentialist question, for the woman has chosen not to be a fixture and has twisted around into herself, refusing to be named. Not without a final pout.
The woman's expression came out of this morning's gestural brush strokes, the oily glide of a nice medium round brush tipped in linseed and French ultramarine, merging sullenly with the pure orange (the colours having been kept well apart on the palette, as I do all my mixing on the painting itself). This produces, in the sometimes backward way of art, the mother colour. Wanting to be green. The mouth turns down, clinging to orange.
June 12, 1998: Yesterday and today I worked up the arm and hand of the woman in V250. The gesture of the hand, palm down, suggests one moment protectiveness or defensiveness, the next moment the rejection of anything beyond the arm's barrier, which stretches like a glowing halo over the woman's head. A headrest. I envy the orange chairwoman her effortless curving. One does want to curl up comfortably, in defiance of angles and corners. I stayed longer at the easel today, painting flaps of hair instead of doing chores. The wind had been howling and thumping under the cantilevered part of the studio, driving great sheets of rain across the lake and against the windows. The sound and greyness outside is soothing, contrapuntal to the silent studio with its hot centre of colour.
July 21, 1998: After a long trip, and a week teaching an Artists Colony, it is good to be back in my studio. As I work on the orange lady curled in on herself, I realize that the reason, probably, that I use unusual body colour in most pictures is to lessen the sexual impact of a naked body. Here, I used orange largely to avoid using flesh colour, which would draw too much attention to the body's nakedness. Clothing, too, distracts from the gesture of the body. The movement and landscape of the body is brought out by an un-flesh colour, where the viewer is freed of mind-set and inhibitions to regard the shapes before him, all the while identifying with the familiar limbs and postures.
September 8, 1998: Several more weeks of holidays and delays, and I was finally able to get back to studio work, most importantly the finishing of the orange lady and her companion rock. The entire composition is a great circle, weighted very heavily now by the rock, which offers to keep the motion balanced as the woman turns on her inner axis. Even the rock seems to curl up on itself.
More than anything else, though, the woman reminds me of the snails I used to represent the brain in the Raven Series, a fitting symbol, since this series is about thinking.
Orange Chair Series