Thoughts on Not Thinking

Thoughts on Not Thinking

Gallery shot from Recent Paintings, January 2013, LGTripp Gallery

Lately I've gotten somewhat skeptical of least thinking too much. I finally found some evidence, or root of this in my thoughts about recent art works which in my estimation have been the most successful: I didn't over-think them.(Yes, it's very hard to actually get away from thinking, as the title of this post implies). Another symptom of this fatigue of over-thinking is just that: being tired, mentally and visually tired of all the things to think about, and just trying to avoid being tired out from more. So, really, one impetus towards making a change in the way I approach art making was fatigue. It's a funny thing, that combination of desiring to make things, but not wanting to think about the making too much; wanting to lose oneself in the actual manufacture, without over-thinking the whys, whats, and wherefores.

My tendency is to over-think things; lay things out via thoughts; catalog them; record them; hash over them; redraw them many, many times; re-consider them; and then finally pick through the resulting piles and find which way I'd like to / most need to go. This has consistenly worked for me...but several times throughout my art-making life I've noticed that this becomes over-worked; becomes counter-intuitive. 

One previous time that I noticed that thinking was becoming too prevalent, was around 2004, right before the time when I was included in a group show of young artists at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, called Meatball (as in, hash it up; roll it up; make something new and delicious). One of the paintings, which subsequently was bought, was a painting on a found piece of wood: a lacquered panel, three sides of which (top and sides) had shallow molding affixed, creating a "broken frame" of sorts. At the time, I was painting versions of cross shapes; on this one, there was (if memory serves me) a white or cream cross at the top. I don't remember much more about the making of this painting, except that I was feeling stuck on it...and very quickly, nearly instinctively, painted a hot pink cross below the cream one, and let it drip down onto the bottom of the lacquered panel. This is a technique which I've since used now and again, but this was the first occurrence of it...before this, it had not entered my mind; I'd become fairly rigid and closed with my edges and lines: hard-edged, some might call it.

It immediately became evident to me that it "worked", as artists will say. And I hadn't really thought that much about it. This is a large example of many lessons along the way, in my fledgling "serious" studio practice, that have stuck with me, about the balance between not-enough-thought, and over-thinking.

The flip side of this is that, once it is seen to "work", it can become a technique which is used over and over, with more thought than before...and it too might need to be brushed aside with a new, fresher, more instantaneous reaction, to break through that wall of thought that has gotten too high to bridge.

Two of the pieces that have worked really well at the studio recently, here nine years later, have both returned to that instantaneous, reactionary technique - not necessarily dripping or drips, although that could return at some point. In these cases, I simply went quickly off an impulse: in one, to join two pieces of found paper together, and make it into a painting surface, on which I painted a shape directly from my sketchbook; the other a quick decision to make a partial circle on a found faux wood panel, based simply on an impulse that that shape would "work" on that particular shaped panel. Now, one of the ways in which I characterize my art work to people when they ask, is that my formal decisions are largely intuitive: I decide one color based upon the last, and then the next shape upon the first, and so on, until that particular conversation is finished. But though this is a pattern, it still is a pattern which cycles in and out.

Another important point to make is that, in these two examples, I was really reacting to the formal reality of the shape I was painting ON, not simply looking for the best shape or color to paint ON it. In other words, I was living up to something I use to explain my work to others; namely, that I react to the preexisting visual matrix, or reality, of the surface...this is especially true of working on found surfaces or objects. It is a manner which fits me well, and perhaps that is as good a lesson as any to take from this.

Another instance, more recently, where I noticed over-thinking, or overt control of painting got the better of me, and thus the works, was on a few of the new paintings for my recent show at LGTripp Gallery, in Old City. Granted, I was under time constraints, and sought (almost unknowingly) to control my production by using taped-off lines; rulers, and straight-edges. Now, again, I've used these tools to good effect in the past, and still use them sparingly, but here there was a bit too much control; the images became a bit too stifled and dictatorial. I still think they are strong pieces, but they are of a different kind of spirit from my more recent work, which feels more natural, effortless almost.

A telling comment from a LGTripp gallery visitor, which I wrote about in a previous post, was also a word to the wise: "why the hell didn't you just PAINT those lines?" As opposed to laying them out with tape, I'm guessing. He thought my taped lines were, in fact, tape; but still: touche, sir. I've tried to become more confident and rely upon my hand skills and quality brushes more since then.

Home Slice, 2013

It's funny how this tendency goes in cycles...and I'm sure it will cycle the other way again. But perhaps as the studio life goes on, and lessons sink in more deeply (I've heard it takes eight times to remember something permanently) those cycles will become larger, and the spin will be less radical; less apogee and perigee, and more consistency. 

But maybe radical is something that's okay at times? I'll stop thinking about it now.

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