Posts Tagged ‘Abstract Expressionism’

It is Easy to Repeat, but Hard to Originate

August 8, 2013
Archer City Hudson Beginning

Archer City Hudson Beginning

It is easy to repeat, but hard to originate, . . . we may easily multiply the forms of the outward; but to give the within outwardness, that is not easy.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 2, 1841

The Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1940’s and 50’s despaired of Thoreau’s sentiment posted above. Abandoning visual subject matter in order to focus on painting expressively their feelings and emotions, they wrote and spoke of the difficulty of expressing the inward, when they had no external props.  Having been an abstract painter in my earlier years, I knew that difficulty then, as I know it now.  However, returning to recognizable subject matter has not gotten me off the hook where expression is concerned.  I recognize the difficulty of being “orginal” when I paint representationally.  In fact, to borrow from one contemporary painter’s published remarks, this style of art tends to make artists of my caliber “dinosaurs.”

But the issue I address here goes beyond style or classification.  I am speaking of inward expression.  I realize that when I paint objects representationally, my work could be viewed as illustration, and my artistry could be assessed in terms of skill or technique.  Edward Hopper wondered if viewers looking upon his work would feel the emotions he felt while creating the work.  I believe that as he got older, he stopped worrying about it and just continued to paint.  I think that is where I am emotionally as well.  But, since I am blogging, and some are reading, I will say this again–I am painting things that hold my attention, things that draw me in, because they are assoicated with warm, Proustian, primal memories from my childhood that I love to re-visit.   I miss the curvilinear, full-bodied automobiles from my childhood.  I most notably miss the Hudson.  When Sal Paradise asked Dean Moriarty how he got from the west coast to the east so fast, Dean answered: “Ah, man, that Hudson goes!”  Ever since I read Kerouac’s On the Road, I haven’t been able to pass an abandoned filling station without envisioning those anti-heroes pulling a Hudson up to the pumps, and dashing inside to steal cigarettes while the attendant pumped their gas to send them back out onto the road.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Why the Abstract Expressionists Matter to Me

May 1, 2013
Screen Door Study Coming Along Slowly

Screen Door Study Coming Along Slowly

I have this conversation with my high school students so much, that I cannot remain silent about it on the blog.  Especially when we come to the end of the year in art history and my students, knowing the kind of work I do, ask me if I truly enjoy studying and teaching about the Abstract Expressionists.  I tell them that they are among my favorite artists and muses.  I have read major biographies on Rothko, De Kooning and Pollock, and have read The Collected Works of Robert Motherwell.  Of course it goes without saying that I have read biographies of Wyeth, Hopper and Homer and have studied their works extensively over the years.

But I draw much inspiration from the lives of the Abstract Expressionists (New York School) and have learned a great deal, studying their works.  For two weeks I have been poring over Willem De Kooning’s works, and the textures I saw in his painting “Excavation” made me decide I wanted to try a close-up study of this paint-peeled, abused screen door.  As I’ve worked on scuffing, scumbling, scribbling and texturing the wood on this door, I’m reminded of techniques I’ve seen from De Kooning, Motherwell, and Cy Twombly.  Many of the techniques that contribute to the overall paint quality of De Kooning’s paintings I have tried to put into this watercolor.  And for years, I have joked with plein air painters that I copy just as much from Jackson Pollock as Winslow Homer when attempting to render tree foliage.

Robert Motherwell is a kindred spirit, because he was a scholar of art history and philosophy and a lover of literature.  He was also a splendid writer.  I haven’t found too many “published” artists that I’ve enjoyed reading more than him.  I understand that he was perpetually conflicted between studio time and reflective, scholarly time in his lifestyle.  I love that conflict, and love reading that a man was successful, not having to choose one over the other.  That is one reason why I’m choosing to leave the studio for the night (unless the creative bug bites me again, or the muse whispers in my ear).

The other reason I am backing out of this painting is the need to look at it from a distance, study what is going on, and decide on what exactly to do next with it.  Again, I find that Willem De Kooning was often ridiculed for that.  He would look at a painting for thirty minutes, pick up the brush, stare a little longer, add one or two strokes, and then sit back again for another thirty minutes, looking, contemplating, deciding.  Sometimes, at the end of the day, he scraped every bit of the painting off the canvas and onto the floor, completely obliterating his day’s efforts (I don’t plan to do that with this watercolor).

So, I plan to spend the rest of this evening, reading, journaling, contemplating, looking at this watercolor, and deciding my next move. I’m very happy with what has happened so far, and hope it continues, tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.