Tuesday, September 3, 2013
"Books, Birds and Sky"
"Books, Birds and Sky" - oil on linen, 30" x 48"
The above is one of my three paintings that are featured in the Women Painting Women (R)evolution group show at Principle Gallery , opening Friday, September 20th, 2013.
I don't much like to explain my work, to tell the truth, though I'm always interested to hear what people have to say about it. If it resonates with somebody on an emotional level for any reason, under any interpretation, then it has succeeded, in my opinion. The best reason to own a painting is to decide you can't live without having the painting around you, sharing space with you. It can be outrageously beautiful, funny, powerful, dramatic, intellectually challenging... well, you get to name the emotional reason. I know there are other reasons, including buying for investment, gifts, putting something in the horizontal space above your sofa, impressing the neighbors or just adding to your collection, but if there is no emotional connection, there's no relationship with the painting. Go with the gut. I buy paintings from time to time and it's the ones I can't drive out of my head that are the ones I need to own.
This painting is what I call a "Figurative Painting", so no, it's not intended as a portrait of either the specific woman or the St. Bernard. And I would further classify this as a "Narrative Figurative Painting". In other words, there is a story taking place, albeit subtle in this case. (Some might argue that it's a "Genre Painting". I would argue it isn't, though.) It has beauty, yes, but it isn't all about the beauty. It's not all about the technique, either, though of course that's part of it. I'm aiming for some content here.
I say "subtle" story because I personally dislike obvious narratives in narrative paintings, unless you're, say, an illustrator and you need to move the story along. There are always exceptions, but in general, I think of paintings as visual poems which contain mystery, emotion, imagination, and open-ended questions which can be interpreted many ways (much like life). This approach may not appeal to you, and that's fine, there are a lot of paintings out there you might like better.
A narrative painting offers the viewer a glimpse of what's inside the artist's mind. This is, or should be, a scary thought. This fact in itself might cause you to just put an autographed basketball jersey in a lucite frame and hang it over the sofa.
Over the past couple of years I've been trying to make only those narrative paintings that can't leave me alone unless I paint them. I don't know how else to describe the compulsion to paint them. Sometimes people like them enough to buy them and sometimes they hate them, and of course they can also be totally indifferent to them.
This is a quiet painting, quiet in subject matter, color and value, not a lot of drama except for the incline of the hill and the point of view. It's not edgy or flashy - and notice that she's not even holding a Kindle or tablet reader. I put the physical books in because I love the sensual aspect of holding a book, touching paper, smelling the pages... all of that. I can't even begin to describe how much reading has enriched my life and I wanted to share that gratitude in a painting - so this is my Ode to Reading.
I love putting animals in paintings and this idea of having a young woman lie on top of a huge dog is compelling to me. I've been trying to get time to paint this painting for years, I think. She's sprawling, taking up space, not hunched in a corner. Her home is nearby, but she's not in it, she is... elsewhere.
I thought a lot about the flat, diffuse cool light in this painting. It's not the light that I usually paint, but I like it.
As I was painting this in my studio I was listening to reports of girls being attacked for trying to attend school in Pakistan. The thought of one gender trying to prevent another gender from becoming educated fills me with grief and rage. I thought hard about whether I should include these feelings in this painting. I finally decided, well, no, that is another painting. This one is about joy, happiness, imagination, freedom.
Meanwhile, the village in the background happens to be just up the road from the magnificent Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France. I need to write about that sometime soon.