Monday, September 29, 2014


Levels of Motivation

This is the second part of two posts meant to address my process and thoughts on the development of this body of work. This one concentrates primarily on the large painted sculpture, "Stance"

So often during the sabbatical show someone would mention something that was triggered by the work and I’d feel surprised then think about it and realize it was part of another level of motivation that I hadn’t seen before. It’s been like that since I started the drawings. It’s probably the most mysterious body of work I’ve ever done in terms of how little I knew about why I was doing it. The need to do a large figure emerged as I was doing the bowls. I wanted to paint the surface,  create the illusion of decaying external layers to question the preoccupation with the external self. It took a month to hand build the figure, using coils from the bottom up smoothing and shaping and getting a sense of what I would be painting on it as it grew. I knew it would be subject to some cracking because it took so long and it was hard to keep it drying at the same rate, but just like the bowls I was welcoming whatever happened as a way to get me started, by mimicking the things that happened naturally. During the time I was doing it I was driven by the challenge to materialize something I needed to see. It was more exhilarating than anything I’d ever done because it was so hard. That might be why the attitude achieved after balancing the difficulties feels as good as it does. Understanding has been accomplished, a new perspective reached. The title “Stance” comes from something that Viktor Frankl wrote in "Man’s Search for Meaning". He said the meaning of life was in what you took from life, what you gave to life and the stance you took toward what you can’t change. That was the part I’ve been thinking about ever since. Philosophically what I was looking at while I was working on "Stance" was the transitory nature of the physical self. Now in my sixties I think about the limitations of the body and futility of trying to hold on to past selves. I use many layers and try to get the form within to strain against them suggesting that we shed the older skin as we grow like molting. That attachment to the previous skin inhibits inner growth. So my conscious ideas while working had more to do with bringing out the consciousness within.
We live in a world where we breathe the air of marketing constantly. It conditions people to put too much emphasis on the external self which is then shoved into an external category.  I’ve been using genderless gray figure since the 1980s to avoid any categorization other than person. Facial expression and body language show something of the inner life, something true of our experience. Even with the growth and change over many years, something about the internal self  feels constant, and science has given no evidence that consciousness  is  bounded by the body. 
Since "Stance" has been displayed I’ve learned much more about what I was doing that I was completely unconscious of at the time. It’s one of the best things about visual ideas, they can hold so much. In his Ted Talk Adam Savage said,“Things stick around for years before you find out why you’re interested in it” . When someone told me that they were so disturbed by the show they had nightmares, that all the trauma I’d been holdng inside finally burst out, I saw something more going on that I had to acknowledge was true even though I hadn't realized it. Seeing it is an opportunity for personal learning but also reflects how visual structures show the essential character of feeling and offer stimulus to the imaginations of others.. So whatever these long buried imbalance were that were being addressed, the ideas that grow from this particular visual philosophy are wide ranging and now belong to the viewers.

Monday, September 22, 2014


On Process

During the time the sabbatical show was up I was often asked about my process. So I'm hoping to provide some background on the way my work develops in the next two posts. This one will focus on the drawings and the jump into bowls and I'll mainly stick to the techniques and visual goals. Some of the things that were behind the particular imagery  were unknown to me consciously at the time I was doing them. Someone now will talk about their associations with the work and I’ll feel surprised then think about it and realize it was part of another level of motivation that I hadn’t seen before. It’s been like that since I started the drawings. It’s probably the most mysterious body of work I’ve ever done in terms of how little I knew about why I was doing it and where it was heading. The emotional philosophical pastel drawings that dominate this blog have been my inner mirror since the early 80s, but the covered up metaphor of the stitched drawings only let me see the technical and formal goals and not that I’d been fighting to hold something back for years. The challenge of accomplishing what I wanted to see happen, to get people to see a force behind the visible surface pushing out was enough without me knowing what it was. All of my drawings try to defy indentification and draw attention to the feel of behind the scenes forces. The drawings began with watercolor leading the way. Like the big pastel shapes, watercolor is a means to concentrate on the abstract composition and find what I needed to see. Then I attached the duralar. My first works with duralar were two large graphite drawings each of which took over two years. This  broke me of my need to finish and get on with things, so I could stay as long as necessary with the development of beautiful areas of tone. Having a technical preoccupation is my strategy for keeping my conscious mind from interfering with the decisions of my visual mind. Which is not to say I didn’t think about many different ideas that came from the images. Illusionistic work generally opens a window to the world created beyond the picture plane so I was interested in trying to get the drawing to push out at the viewer instead of falling back. It was what I'd begun to think about with the second big drawing, In these drawings I sewed duralar over the paper along the top edge to secure it against slippage, since the graphite work on the duralar reinforced and synchronized with the drawing on the paper. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to include the stitches and something in me immediately saw them as shades of red. I wanted a spontaneous start since my method of drawing on duralar was so time consuming, which is why instead of a graphite drawing underneath I worked with watercolor, feeling for the shapes that best matched what I needed at the time. Stitching the duralar was a way to draw attention to certain areas and then a new graphite challenge was to create the illusion that the surface was pulling at the stitches.  The whole time I was doing them I was conscious of how tormented some of them, maybe all of them looked and when I was showing them to my classes said over and over that I didn’t really understand where these were coming from myself yet. A clue was that when I started working 3d I stopped doing the drawings and went back to my pastel side. On one level the drawings represented what was trying to burst into the physical world, to get out from behind the window into imaginary space and have it exist as an actual entity. They were also preparing me for what I would be painting on 3D surfaces though that was still far in the future.

The real technical leap of course was 3d. It wasn’t as foreign as it seemed to those who knew only the work I’ve shown. Many times over my adulthood I have made a little series of figures or beetles, always emphasizing face and body expression as presents for family and friends. I wanted to learn the wheel and became immediately interested in the bowl's shape. Without planning it I saw that I needed figures in the bowls and that I wanted to paint the world they came from around them. At the time I wasn’t aware of the obvious connection of myself pushing out into the world or my interest in body and facial expression taking over my public work.
The bowls represented the process of emerging from the portal. As a beginner throwing bowls I was dealing with my limitations and how to make use of them. I waxed part of each bowl before glazing so I could mimic and go off on what the glaze and other imperfections did. The illusionistic space exists but the figure emerges from it. The first bowl touched on all the ideas that would unfold in this adventure.It's been a chance to explore the interconnections that bind everything together, to acknowledge what it takes to support human life. An idea I first came across in Gregory Bateson's work probably surfaced here too, that who we are is not just the physical self but self and environment because we couldn’t survive without all of the systems that link with our existence. In all of them I wanted to give more of a feeling of us growing rather than being made, of life as an continuous individuation of a pervasive consciousness.  I’m thinking about the process of manifesting physically, the hopes, difficulties and doubts, but connected at the roots to what energizes and supports growth.