Equivalents: Calligraphy

Tag; Sunoco station, Oxford Circle, Philadelphia, February 2013

Manuscript; "This Letter Written by Mi Fei", 13th (?) century China


New Year; New Maxims

The impromptu color combinations on my stirring sticks often suggest color combinations that might work in the paintings.


Every year, I try to encapsulate some lessons I feel I'm learning, or need to begin learning, for my artistic practice. This year, they emerged while frenetically preparing the paintings for my latest show, and were fine-tuned while talking with both friends and strangers at the show's opening and First Friday receptions. They are as follows (with some explanation): 

Loosen Up

My tendency is to be very tight with my paint application, relying heavily on taping, masking, stencils, tracing, compassing, and so on. One visitor, a stranger to me, but a fellow painter in his sixties, complimented my work at the exhibit, but then said, "these lines (pointing to a work with harshly taped yellow lines) make me say, why the hell doesn't he just paint it?" And then he laughed and reminded me that he liked my work, and that he felt he had the right to speak with me this way, since he had been painting for fifty years or so. I was fine with this, and thanked him for his candor, and realized he had touched on something that I'd been feeling tapping me on the back, but hadn't taken the time to mentally articulate. Thus, the first maxim: not a hard rule, by any means - I'm not going to give up the tape, the stencils, or the masking, since these are my tools - but I'm also going to keep a reminder near that I should also rely on those other, even simpler tools at my disposal: steady hands; quality brushes that make a good edge - a human edge - all by themselves; and an ease of application which comes from knowing these tools well. 

Mix it Up

This one is loosely based on a maxim from a previous year, where I saw the need to begin adding more diverse paint application styles to my repertoire: not just straight, flat paint, but scumbling; spraying, with spray paint or stiff brush; thin paint layers, and layers bleeding through each other. In other words, allow the paint and other materials to be all that they can be; get them to do as much as is possible. Make the paint itself the most versatile tool it can be. So, in a way, this maxim is a reminder that this needs to continue. I thank the work of Corey Antis, which I sat with for hours at a time while monitoring Tiger Strikes Asteroid, for originally pushing me to this realization.

Keep it Up

Ultimately, the most simple and the most challenging one of the three: consistency. At my new location, I've resolved to eek out as much time from my week as possible, without unduly stealing from other important parts of my life, to spend in the studio. Keep plowing forward, expecting a good crop to result. An old adage, but a good one. This is tempered, of course, by my feeling that I need to squeeze out of every element in a picture the most it can provide. In other words, work with less elements, but make each element work as hard as it possibly can for the overall benefit of the picture. This is not easy, but very satisfying when it is working well.

I plan on making a sign of these to hang in the studio this year. Let's see how they look at the end of the year, what they might lead to pictorially, and which maxims might emerge as I move on.

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