When I first started “Protecting the Crossing,” I laid a ground base layer of paint over the entire canvas as a starting point for the tone and color, like almost every other painting in the show. This ground layer was a fantastic example of why I love the mark-making of painting so much. The paint was laid on with a thick two-inch brush in wide strokes. These strokes, reacting to each and every stroke before the next, create a shifting, murmuring sea in which I easily lose myself. I react quite strongly to this feeling, yet I hide it under coat after coat of representational figure. I felt a need to preserve this feeling but did not yet pursue a method of doing so.
A week before the gallery opening, I sat on a couch with Emily Olyarchuck, a fellow honors student, writing out a press release for the show. She asked me for a quote to place in the press release, so we talked for a while on the meaning of the show, the intentions of the show. In my own words, the paintings “tip-toe” around contemporary ideas, never really moving into a space with which I felt satisfied. Based off of my own perceptions and comments made by others, my inability to move the paintings forward, to shift and push and pull until they feel finished, is the worst quality about them. I don’t press hard enough into the ideas I want to convey, I let a painting sit then find it too difficult to reinvigorate. I tip-toe on the paintings, I treat imperfection with too much care. There needs to be a selective abandon that I haven’t yet cornered.
This timidity has been a running theme in my work for years. This sort of care can be a good thing when used the right circumstances, but timidity is not my intention with these paintings. There’s a Masters student here whose work I really respect, for his color and form partially, but primarily for his mark. He preserves all of the energy put into the piece with the way he uses mark. I don’t necessarily paint in this way, but I’d really like to, as that sort of energy preservation is something I’ve always respected about digital concept artwork. To treat the paint in a way that refuses to hide the artist’s hand, to flaunt it, to say “This is why painting is important. This is why one can find a human connection in the work. Because human hands made it, from the raw material, selectively placing mark after mark based on conscious and subconscious decisions. You can see it there, look, this is what people can do.” Concealment of this beautiful fact is counterproductive.
For my thesis defense, I met with David Voros and Ed Munn Sanchez in the studio to reflect on the past semester’s work. Both were positive about the work, but also presented me with difficult questions about the work, some of which I had thought of but not fully answered for myself, some of which I hadn’t thought about at all. I struggled to respond, I didn’t really know what to say. I feel like my work has never been challenged in that way before, so I really appreciate that exhausting experience. Such discussion helps one identify one’s work, further understand it, improve confidence in the work. Even so, I feel I still don’t have good answers for David’s and Ed’s questions. Perhaps with a few more hard talks things will be figured out.
What I struggled with the most, besides not working enough on the paintings, was the need to put a meaning behind the work. David and Ed asked me, “why should [the viewer] care? Why does this matter?” I felt, and have always felt, like I needed some explanation more grand than I could easily procure. That’s the theme part in the thesis title. I love mark, I think it’s beautiful, but I have this notion that it needs to be paired with some sort of other, more important thing. Yes, the big paintings are supposed to have meaning. For the most part, I think they do. But that doesn’t necessarily make them any more interesting than the small studies. I remember conversations with a Dutch painter while studying in Italy, David would know his name. The painter’s work consisted entirely of copies of stock photography-type pictures in acrylic. Upon first glance, his work seemed rather boring to me. Then he talked about his work. He spoke on and on of the beauty of the image as an illusion. He used the simplicity of the paintings to focus on the magic of paint’s ability to form reality within the viewer’s mind, the fact that without people to look at a painting, paintings remain pigment suspended in medium, useless.
I respect this painter’s discussion of his work primarily because he is confident in his reasons behind the work and because the reasons are so simple. One finds it easy to get caught up in such work when the artist is excited and clear about his intentions. I feel like I have not yet found that clarity and confidence as an artist, a problem needs discussion such as this in order to work through. That confidence, like much of life, is a barrier that when broken makes one’s life easier and more successful. If I intend to progress further as an artist, finding my voice in describing my work will be incredibly important.
As I work through these paintings, these sorts of ideas develop, and slight changes in my work appear. The change is slow. My work has not broken all the original rules I originally, informally, established, but it has changed some. My last large figure has more visible mark involved. Not much more visible, but certainly a little bit. I want to move that way, I want to show that energy.
Whatever sort of energy I put into the paintings, I have still not reached a point where I feel I’ve “pushed” the paintings enough, worked them to where they are solid, finished pieces. This was a problem discussed multiple times when I talked at the defense as well as with other artists from whom I requested critique. I need to work more freely, I need to spend more time on each painting, I need to not get stuck in one place with the paintings. There just needs to be more on the canvas, more completion, more finishing. I am excited about the amount of art I’ve been able to produce this semester, but I know that it all needs more work.
Here’s my take on the paintings as a whole, my vote of confidence towards what I’m making. Above all, no matter what the theme, I am attempting to show the beauty of human-produced markmaking. Whether subtle or loud and energetic, the beauty of that sub-image level of painting gives it authenticity, gives it importance. When I look into that random, abstract sea of paint, I am aware of a world that is motivated by both conscious and subconscious ambitions. I am aware of the symbiosis between what we deliberately choose to do and what is decided for us by our instinct, education, and endless absorption of human experience. There is a push and pull between the marks I specifically choose to make, with deliberate angles, lengths, widths, pressures, energies, and those marks that are made with less deliberate thinking, marks I entrust to my hand, my subconscious, and the energy flowing between them. Just as that Dutch painter found magic in the change from seed grease and dirt into images, I find magic in that conscious and subconscious synthesis. Whatever medium or content I’m working in, that idea holds true.
This project was not simply the production of paintings. My naïve excitement believed that renting a real galley space in the Vista and populating it with finished paintings wouldn’t be a problem. As it turns out, a solo show is a lot of work. Not only is the painting extensive, the business side of a show is an entire event-planning endeavor. I looked for advice from Emily and got some help from my mother a few days before the show to complete many of the tasks necessary to make ready, but I still had a large quantity of work to complete simply to make sure the gallery was ready to exhibit. Framing paintings, getting food, spreading the word, contacting newspapers and local media networks to put out information, maintaining an online presence to keep people interested, making business cards, consulting others on how to act within the gallery setting as an artist, getting a videographer, getting a photographer, hanging the pieces, and many more little housekeeping things that made the process more extensive than expected. This part of the thesis was just as much of a learning experience as the painting aspect, maybe even more so. I am not used to event planning but need to become more comfortable in that environment if I want to continue as an artist. It was incredibly exciting to see those around me offer help, to be able to interact with the community as a content producer. This project certainly improved my feeling of community involvement, especially with the Columbia art scene.
I created a set of paintings to show in a gallery for a week, paintings that built on a theme, portrayed my own joy in painting. The success of those paintings is more or less debatable, but what I learned from the experience is huge. That’s the point of a thesis, right?