Monday, April 13, 2020

Containing Everything - The Walls Inside Part 3

My last two posts addressed two paintings on the walls of my bedroom. They were there so I could consider and reconsider them and they would, I thought, inform what I make next. This painting of the Citadelle de Sisteron (oil on canvas) is on the bedside table. 

I first painted the citadel on gessoed paper. I could not initially remember where in southern France the citadel had been so I sent a message to Michaela who identified the photograph or painting, whichever I sent, as Sisteron. I was painting on paper but was preparing to move to a larger scale and had ordered beautiful, large stretchers from Maine. At the time, it seemed I would begin working on this large scale on canvas and stick with it for a while, but the shift in scale (and surface) would inevitably present some problems. The attempt to paint the citadel large scale (maybe 5 x 6 feet) failed. I had too quickly given up articulating the large forms and too soon began painting detail. Also, my painting sessions were too short to make a complete pass on this larger space and on this more thirsty surface. There was no cohesion in the image and the painting was quickly looking overwrought and unstable. I unstretched the canvas and returned to this smaller scale to try to look more carefully at the few basic forms that made the composition.

Those days I was committed to making paintings that were self-contained, that said everything they had to say within their four edges and did not rely on a series or on installation to articulate something. I had also begun to think of certain source material as having special qualities or special potential. This was opposite of the practice of painting almost arbitrarily images I came across or photographs I had shot from the hip. The special potential I looked for in a photograph to use as source material was that it “contained everything.” This was the phrase I gave it. Or, "everything is there." I would go through a pile of photographs and set aside the ones that were different. I relied on a kind of intuition. Then I would have to paint them to really know. I was painting a lot on paper in oil and for the first time in my life returning over and over to the same image. 

The photograph painting of the citadel is based on, taken from a car as I drove through southern France with Michaela, did not on the surface look special. But it contained a mountain, which had been carved into a citadel. I had believed that this was a monastery and that informed my understanding (or misunderstanding?) of the image. Citadel or monastery, fittingly, at that time I considered my practice cloistered, private, and detached from any career intentions or concerns of audience. I had no need to say or write down what I was doing or why, a kind of vow of silence, so any attempt to put my ideas about a sacred image or a painting containing everything are loose translations of thoughts that occurred without words.

This painting did contain everything I knew in that moment. It is a humble claim and a humble painting because while it contained everything I knew, I really didn’t know much and what I knew was vague. So this painting, here on my bedside table is not so much an unfinished thought but one of the last completed gestures I made before moving out of my studio. 

I am looking at this painting of the citadel now. My goal was to look at these paintings on view in my bedroom all along, but I at some point I stopped seeing them. I am looking at this painting now and I see its derivative passages: the shape of the trees a little Doig-y, the palette a little more Tuymans-y than is my own, though black is there and that is for me the essential element. Can something be derivative and honest? 

Not to cut myself off (but, yes, to cut myself off), I think it’s time to take these three paintings down and store them. I see now I was not looking at them as I intended to do and they were just taking up space.

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