On Art

Hue and Reality

 

The thing about painters is that they see the big picture in a way that no one else can. The know how many different colors made each visible hue, how many layers and mistakes and prized moments went into a single inch of flesh-toned subject matter. They know what’s under  the big picture and they know what holds it in place. They know how strong or how weak the canvas frame is, how heavy, how secure the fabric is to the stretcher bars. They know, exactly, the pitch of the resonant heartbeat thrumming that piece made when the gesso brush beat it to a prime, like a drum.

They aren’t afraid to touch the finished piece on a gallery wall. They don’t pause to wonder if they see correctly. More than likely, they don’t believe in correct sight.

At one point, that painter had her hands slicked in turpentine and Damar. That painter is still scraping the pthalo blue from under her fingernails and cuticles. Her fingers are molting with hangnails from the turp and her knuckles are cracked from cleanup. The worst part may be that she knew this would happen, and she did it anyway.

Or that she wasn’t done healing from the last piece, or the one before it. She painted again anyway.

Or the worst part may be that the proper way to respond to her lifestyle (and work) is to question what it means/symbolizes/exalts/condemns etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. 

Or the worst part may be the drying time. The transport. The hanging. God forbid, the storage. 

The worst part could be YOU, bringing your own opinion of what it all means/symbolizes/exalts/condemns etc. etc. etc. to the table as though your opinion was fact. You’re cute.

At least she has the sole privilege of knowing exactly what it takes to create what others consider “the big picture.” The widest scope of vision and reality, as far as everyone else knows it, is in fact a mere fraction of the painter’s ability.

 
 

The Brush List

Watercolors. There’s wet-on-wet, straight paint, resist techniques, salt techniques, and any number of other tricks to use with the stuff. Thou shalt paint on a flat, horizontal surface. Thou shalt tape down thine paper edges. Thou shalt wait for layers to dry completely and work from light to dark, rather than painting light into the piece.

But after one-and-a-half attempts to feel something while working on a watercolor painting, I don’t think I’ll be investing in cold-press paper again. There’s no passion in watercolors. They’re so delicate and cute at first, soft and full of timid washes, a favorite of illustrators and those with an abundance of time and patience – or ADD.

I need huge, vacant canvases waiting to be filled with oils. I need pigments so rich and edible in appearance that they nearly negate whatever toxic death would result from ingesting zinc white, alizarin crimson, Damar and turpentine. Hell, I’d even go for the same hues blended with high-gloss, heavy body gel medium. Anything that doesn’t cower from a little rough treatment here and there. I need space to paint with palette knives.

 
 

Pattern

I couldn’t understand patterns as a child. I couldn’t visualize a bunch of shapes fitting together in a way that would make my art teacher say, “Wow, Jes, great design!”

Patterns were exact. They were precise. They were repetitive and they made sense. That much I understood. I just didn’t know how in the hell to MAKE one.

Every Mother’s Day, the elementary school art classes would have some manner of “mom” project. There were wall plaques, pots, pop-up cards, you name it and the kids were learning how to make it for momma bear. All of my classmates went about their polka dots, stars, stripes and hearts in sweet repetitions, and I tried to figure out how someone, somewhere, came up with the idea for the whole paisley thing on my dad’s bandanas. The tribal African prints on the art teacher’s clothes. The ’80s-tastic neon splash pattern on my favorite cutoff shorts. How did pattern happen? I didn’t get it, and I hated that I didn’t get it.

My go-to idea whenever we had a pattern project was to draw the same full scene over and over and hope that my teacher was too busy with the other kids to notice I wasn’t following directions. If I did get caught, I’d whine, “But it IS a pattern! It’s the same thing over and over!” Usually, she let it slide. We were blessed with an art teacher who believed in freedom of expression before the democrats did.

Nope, I didn’t understand pattern at all – not until someone plunked my five-year-old butt in front of a piano. Suddenly, I started thinking of everything visual as music, and then I could understand pattern. It was exactly like how colors were tastes and certain flavors work best when blended. I could create patterns if they were shaped like the constellations I saw in library books – white stars spread across bittersweet blackness – that was a triplet pattern layered over straight eighths, and I could sink into that for hours. Over and over like love.

I still do.

 

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