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Monday, April 30, 2012

PAINTING JOHN BROWN'S DREAM


   
     john brown's dream, tj worthington 2012


There it is. I've been at this thing for four months. Not every day by any means. Long lapses of time between a few touches of the brush in one color. Then another time another color. It stands on a portable easel for light weight carrying with collapsible legs like a tripod. Handy. It stands to the left of the wall I'm facing with the home entertainment unit. Watching a movie, it's there. Reading, it's there. Listening to the news, it's there. Writing, talking on the phone, it's there. I see it all the time, and as I look at it ideas come to me for darkening this, lightening that, getting the hands to look flexible. Hair not too neat, but country men keep their hair neat and in place. I've learned that the more time I spend looking at the canvas while it's being painted upon, the more open I am for visual suggestions. Sometimes, just a touch in the right place can bring quite a lot together. Sometimes it doesn't make any difference at all. I've learned so long ago I forgot I learned it that ideas I get in my head don't look as good on a canvas as they look in my head. I think, Oh, great idea! Yeah, great idea, but it makes a lousy visual image put on canvas. What's interesting visually has to feed with visual ideas in direct relation to context. Green, black, brown and white together in an image looks one way when I see it in my mind and another way on the canvas with paint. It takes time to train the mind to have visual ideas that are not mental ideas. Mental ideas are dead in a visual art form. Anway they are for me.


Picasso's Guernica is not dead because it is made of visual ideas. Made of mental ideas it would be boring. That's what I'm getting at where mental ideas are concerned. Mental ideas, to me, are gray without much texture and variety. Though Guernica is painted in grays, it is not static. I suppose the Spanish Civil War was seen in black and white photographs in the Paris newspapers. A visual idea for a painter, like an auditory idea to a musician, has the light of inspiration about it. I don't know a clearer way to say that. It's that light of inspiration that I go for in everything I paint. Light of inspiration, what do I mean? I've been looking at it 3 weeks without touching it. I'm one to feel colors, so there comes a time after seeing the top of Gary's guitar awhile, something isn't quite right. It needs a very thin coat of white over the yellow to take the flash out of the yellow and set it back. The shade I had on it brought the guitar too far forward from where he was sitting in the back of the picture. Just that thin coat of white softened the intensity of the yellow until the guitar settled down into his lap.


George's banjo I wanted to come forward with a fairly intense yellow, it's a yellow wood with the silver hardware of an old-time banjo dancing in black and white streaks. The banjo's yellow draws it forward and at the same time pushes Ernest in his two shades of blue back to where his chair is. I learned that about yellow from Kandinsky's Concerning The Spiritual In Art after he studied color by scientific method and discovered yellow and red come forward all on their own. The colors have gradations from close to far away. I used these principles he found of colors to give a 3 dimensional sensation on a flat surface. I like to honor the 2 dimensional surface and not try to make silly attempts to give the illusion of 3 dimensional. I like to get a feeling of depth by use of colors. Like this one, there is quite a bit of distance between man in foreground and man in background. It has somewhat of a sensation of depth while at the same time staying comfortably in its 2 dimensional context. It is, after all, paint on a flat surface. I don't want to get involved in that's not enough--I need more,;I want to need less. I don't want to pretend against the nature of the surface, the context that all the colors of paint share. At the same time I like to play with the sensation of depth in a kind of juxtaposition with flatness that gives it a visual tension I like. Even though George stands out, it's size not sleights of hand with the brush. Also, I'd been wanting for some time to make one with blue, white and brown the colors, the brown of wood with instruments. The idea came from blue, white and tan look very good together, and at the same time as bland as the very definition of bland. They are Kingston Trio late 50s Ivy League with button down collars and khaki pants with a crease.


 I wanted to take those colors, breathe life into them and make them dance. They don't have to be dull. They're beautiful colors when allowed to play. Got a kind of diagonal oval going that the lines of the instrument necks and the musicians' arms make a triangle and the movement of the energy around that triangle makes an oval. It looks like it seems to have an oval of flowing energy around it. It's kind of tight in the center, the knees in blue and white and dark brown. To me it looks like a washing machine with the lid up looking at the circular energy in there, the colors in motion. I like the triangle of the instrument necks in relation to the oval of flowing energy in the rectangular frame of the picture itself.


The part I'm enjoying immensely about the paintings of musicians is putting a minimalist composition down for the background. This one I divided diagonally slightly, an ochre with a breath of red in it that makes it almost pumpkin. Above is white. Lower portion ocher, upper portion white. Though under the white are a series of vertical rectangles spaced more or less mathematically across the white. First vertical rectangle on left is 2" wide, very pale peach ice cream. Then a 2" very pale olive green, lime ice cream. The next vertical yellow rectangle is 1.5" wide and the green space the same, then the next yellow rectangle 1" wide, all about the same length coming down from above. Then four coats of thin white over the green and yellow wall softened it down until the design of rectangles behind them is softened down to off-white. At first glance, it's a featureless white. Then it looks like 2 different colors, then they become completely visible.


I had hoped when I did this that the more or less mathematical difference in sizes would give a certain dance to the painting. And it did. It was a visual idea that worked visually. It subliminally suggests movement like the pictures suggest depth. I don't know if anybody else would like my minimalist composition of ochre and white with the subtleties under the white. but I could see it on a wall looking good. Then I paint the musicians on top of the composition. In the picture, the ochre lower part is the floor. In my mind's eye I can divide the composition vertically into four vertical panels like a Japanese screen. If I penciled 3 vertical lines to separate it into 4 panels, I'd be the only one to get it. I don't like putting private jokes in paintings, though sometimes I do,  That's only for my mind's eye. I don't want to make it like I'm pretending it looks like something it's not, like printing wood grain on formica. None of these principles I'm rambling about is a rule or even a rule of thumb. I do them because they come to me as a visual idea, and that only. Like a mountain musician likes to make music for the fun of making the music, I am now enjoying making images for the fun of doing it. There is no better reason than that for just about anything.

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2 comments:

  1. I like the painting: I particularly like the way the texture smooths out the skin of the old men, and mightily furrows the legs of their trousers.

    If mental ideas are gray, why did Picasso chose to paint Guernica in shades of gray and black and white?

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