Plein Air Painting as Re-Invention

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The fact is, I am an intuitive painter, a direct painter. I have never worked from sketches, never planned a painting, never ‘thought out’ a painting. I start each painting as if I had never painted before. I present no dogma, no system, no demonstrations. I have no formal solutions. I have no interest in the ‘finished’ painting. I work only out of high passion.

Barnett Newman, Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler

As I began painting shortly after sunrise, with temperatures at 62 degrees, I started with a blank sheet, and as I stared at the Pedernal, contemplating what to put on the picture plane, these words from Barnett Newman seeped into my consciousness. Without delay, I did something for the first time–took up a pencil and drew in my landscape composition completely, every shadow and facet of the Pedernal, along with the rock outcroppings below and the sweep of the meadows and desert in the foreground. I never do that–always in plein air landscape attempts, the pencil is used only for architecture or human-made structures. I never draw trees and seldom draw horizon lines. As for mountains, I have only laid down an outline for a suggestion, but never tried to draw the details or shadow lines. And then, as it came time to lay down the colors, I ignored my basic palette and began mixing a stew of new colors never before used. And I laid down light washes without trying to accent with the dark tones. All of it was brand new to me, and I thought of Newman describing the sensation of painting as if he had never done it before. In another context (I could not locate it), Newman discussed inventing painting as if it had never been done before (around 1941). The sensation was indescribable. I enjoyed experimenting, and did not concern myself with how the finished product would look. These plein air attempts are a laboratory for me, and I’m swimming in bliss.

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A Little Re-Touching of Yesterday’s Attempt

I felt a rush of enthusiasm as I worked on the new composition, and then laid aside the art materials in order to return to Ghost Ranch for a hike up toward Chimney Rock, one of my favorite sites from Georgia O’Keeffe compositions.

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Chimney Rock

There wasn’t time to get all the way up there (three hours required), as lunch reservations had been made. But the ninety-minute trek was exhilarating, and all the while I wondered (after an old Timberland Footwear advertising tag–“What kind of footprint will you leave?”). The desert here in Abiquiu is not Extreme, but worse: Exceptional. So I tried to stay on the hardest surfaces of the hiking trail, hoping not to leave boot prints in soft soil. At any rate, the hike was an experience I seldom know.

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View of the Pedernal from near Chimney Rock

During my descent, I saw a button on the trail, face down. Thinking of the environmentalist adage: “Take only memories, leave nothing”, I picked it up, not wishing for litter to remain on the trail. Turning it over and reading it, then looking back down at where it had been lying, I realized what someone had done. So I replaced the button, face up:

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Hope that doesn’t offend. I felt embarrassed when I saw the message, knowing someone, somewhere was amused at folk like me picking up the button and turning it over to read.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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2 Responses to “Plein Air Painting as Re-Invention”

  1. cjwaterfieldart Says:

    Fantastic insights into how you paint. Me? I love the planning phase.

    Like

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