“One man short of a three-legged race”, 24″ x 24″, oil and pastel on canvas
Recently I was asked to create a 24″ x 24″ abstract painting for a friend. To say that I was initially daunted at this idea would be a huge understatement.
The thrill of abstract painting for me has come to lie to a great degree in the scale of the works I’m creating. There is nothing quite like the experience of standing in front of a white canvas that stretches seemingly indefinitely in all directions – the bigger, the better, I say. This wide expanse of white just invites one to dive in and let the colors and the paints explode in all directions, the swaths of color diving and swirling off into corners and crevices and then circling back into the center to re-emerge as completely different objects then bouncing off again in a new direction. It is nothing short of a dance of the imagination that unfolds on a large field before my eyes. I LOVE painting large abstracts … just love love love it!
And, as a contrast, a smaller canvas tends to rein in the crazy dance of paints and color and texture. With limited space, it has always seemed to me that every move, every gesture with the paint needs to be more carefully measured and considered. This, for obvious reasons, goes against every muscle in my painting arm and forces me to constrain my enthusiasm and my flow. For this reason, my smaller paintings have generally tended to be more representational or, at best, not as satisfying for me in the abstract outcomes.
So, to restate the obvious, I was not thrilled at the idea of taking on a 24″ x 24″ project. It took me several days to drag myself to the art supply store to pick up two canvases on which to experiment with this silly proposal. And once in my home studio, the canvases sat a further period before I would even look at them in their taunting cellophane wrapping.
But eventually I bit the bullet, unwrapped the first of the two small squares, and set it on my over-sized easel, where it seemed to disappear entirely against the large wooden structure. OH … what was I taking on?!
The initial passes with my brush were half-hearted at best and forced to an uncomfortable point. After working through three different color changes and the various blended ranges between them, I started to lose heart. This was going to be a complete disaster, I told myself.
But I pressed on – I am nothing if not stubborn once I open the paint tubes and spread the color on my palette. And I pulled out some other less familiar colors – a bit more restrained, I would say – in hopes of finding my groove. Switching to straight gloved finger application, a few vague but compelling images began to slowly emerge around the edges and toward the center of the canvas. A quick break to grab a beer from the fridge and assess the progress with a more balance eye, brought me back to the canvas with something approaching excitement. There was definitely something happening on this canvas, no denying it.
I worked without pause for the next several hours, stopped for some dinner and then dove back in. By the time I realized that I needed to take my pup out for her evening walk, I had achieved a place that was actually making me smile at the canvas. Yep, this was not bad at all … matter of fact, I was kinda jazzed about it.
The next morning, coffee in hand, I went back into the studio and sat for a good 40 minutes just taking it in. This was, in fact, a danged good piece of abstract painting if I said so myself, and by golly, I’m saying so.
A few days later, I’m still grinning at this quirkly little canvas and the funny humorous image that is grinning back at me. I think I might just like working smaller for a bit … I still have a second 24″ x 24″ canvas waiting for me in its cellophane jacket … and it’s raining outside to beat the band, so I think I’ll have at it this afternoon and see what new little gem might be lurking in the 24″ x 24″ realm for me.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy holiday with your friends and families.