sparta courthouse day
sparta courthouse night
These are the two most recently completed art objects. I've been at them for several months, mostly drying coats of oil-based paint. The back wall, the colors, each have seven or eight layers of color. I cut out one square and one rectangle of corrugated cardboard for each color. I painted one side of the cardboard with one color and pressed it onto the surface, rubbing it as evenly as I could for each layer. The two outer rectangles were given the same sequence of blues, and the square in the middle got its own sequence of blues from light to dark. Each layer of paint did not print evenly in its own way. I like the translucent quality of oil paint. Each layer shows some of the layer under it. I find that color depth can be found in several layers. If I were to use just one layer of blue in each section, it would be dull and flat, the colors would have little vibrancy. I built the layers, a couple weeks between each application, until I was satisfied the color had reached a vibration I was looking for. Vibration is the word I use here, because it's the word I mean. I was looking for the vibration I see in a Mark Rothko work, the colors suggesting the light is coming through them like stained-glass. In the case of the day courthouse, I used several shades of orange between canary yellow and almost red. It was depth in the colors I was looking for. Each layer I'd assess while it was drying and felt it needed another layer. Kept on like that until the layer I assessed had the quality of light I was looking for. It's hard to name, like that pink suggestion of an aura on a dove's dust-colored feathers.
It has been several years I've wanted to paint the Sparta courthouse, but have been unable to find the way I wanted to paint it. Can't get a good photograph of it for the dozen or so wires draped across the front and all the highway signs on the pole at the corner. It is a photogenic courthouse and no way to photograph it without the distraction of wires and signs. I did get a photo of it in the coffee shop window that was quite nice, full sun on the courthouse. It was clear as a photograph on the window and all the words on the glass had the courthouse for a background. And it was easy to get the picture without getting a selfie in the reflection. That was the only photo I've made of the courthouse that had the zip I think of verging on art. I'd been looking at approaching it in the least brushstrokes, the least lines, let its shape be its art. This had been floating around in my head for some years, but I hadn't made any attempt to apply it. One afternoon in the coffee shop with nobody there to talk with and I'd finished the word jumble puzzle in the Winston-Salem Journal, I sat on the stool at the bar, gaping out the window, adrift in not-thinking, and saw it. Rectangles of orange, four vertical white lines, a pyramid on top, framed in white. Just a few lines. Reduced it to architectural intent, its drawing-board composition: county courthouse. It occupied my mind for several days looking for how to approach it. I was thinking on a flat surface. I found two wooden boxes I've been keeping for probably fifteen years, waiting for the vision of what to do with them. I had some strips of wood that were the right size, cut them to length, columns. The boxes had a sliding lid on them. I think they were originally meant to hold two liquor bottles. They were minimally put together in a factory.
I liked that the boxes were so simply made they were like a blank canvas. All I needed to do was apply the paint and fix the vertical posts in place. First attempt was thinking I could superglue the posts into place and they'd stay forever. I laugh at myself now. That didn't even come close to working. Nails it had to be. Two five-eighths inch headless nails at either end of each column. Had to hold the nails with needlenose pliers and tap-tap with the hammer. It was easy through the outer pine of the box, then it hit the fir the columns were made from and it was like driving them into steel. Bent a few. Drove the nails below the surface with a punch and filled in the holes with finger spackling. Painted the whole box with a coat of acrylic primer, the columns too. It was after painting it all white that I put the colors on the back, took as long as needed. Had two boxes, but didn't take to making two. First reason: I'm not a factory. I like everything to be the first time. Eventually, it came to mind to make another one blue, day and night. This way I can make two that are not the same. They're independent entities and they make a pair. I like them best as a pair. They are two distinctly different feelings. The one is warm sunlight and the other is cool moonlight. The sliding lid only needed the white pyramid and the blue above. The finger hole I let be the sun and the moon. Chose not to put something in or behind it, gold for sun, silver for moon. That I didn't like. But I do like letting the color on the wall or whatever is behind it, around it, its context, be the color in the circle of sun or moon
Light, whether window light or from a lamp, casts shadows from the four vertical lines across the front onto the colors in back, changing the colors. The shadows cast on it make vertical rectangles increasing the variety of shades in each color. The shadows become a part of the whole. Moving my head back and forth it changes continually. My feeling about this image is a fusion of abstract expressionism and minimalism. Hearing a tape by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Creative Fire, she told of how the forest was the original sanctuary where one could commune with God, Goddess. Trees became symbolized in columns around temples. The columns make a sanctuary of the scene behind them. In town, it is the courthouse. In my wooden boxes, the scene in the sanctuary is color play. It was all play. I refused to take any part of it seriously. I had nothing to go by for what colors I was seeking, layer upon layer, just waiting to see which layer brings it to the feeling I was seeking. Feeling is the only word I know. It was not feeling like anger or sympathy, a totally visual feeling, felt only visually. I can only think of it as looking for a particular vibration, not a vibe projected from what I "want," but by feeling after each application of color, each new vibration. Mind was in there too, making decisions. Then there is the pyramid held up by the four tree trunks. I thought for about five seconds how fun it would be to paint a caravan of tiny camels walking across the front of the pyramids. That turns it into a cigarette commercial and abolishes the simple lines. Not going there. Whether these painted boxes are art or art-wannabe is not mine to decide. In my own estimation, I think they touch art a little bit. I feel like I reached the original vision. It's always disappointing at first to see the vision materialized, an object in the world of matter with my name on it, a thing. The glow of the vision is gone. I feel like first visioning it was pretty accurate to how it worked out. Asked do I call it a painting or a sculpture, I suppose I'd have to say sculpture, if necessary to pick either/or. Could also call it a painting because I did not make the box. I'll go with painted sculpture.
neil jenney himself