Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thinking About Painting

I've been trying for quite awhile to find words for the nature of my art appreciation and art making of the past year or so. I feel woefully inept at capturing le mot juste, but here's what I've come up with for now as a partial exploration of my experience.

The paintings that catch my attention these days, and the paintings I am most interested in painting lately, are mostly abstract. Abstract paintings don't represent or attempt to represent objects, and I experience them in a very different way from how I experience representational art.

Let me start by seeing if I can—maybe?—describe how I respond to representational art. Take a look at this painting by Liz Balkwill. I am genuinely awestruck by its beauty, color, composition, and masterful technical skill. Yet I respond to it essentially the way I would respond to a high quality photograph of the same still-life or to the actual still-life set-up itself, i.e. I respond to the represented or physical objects. I see—and enjoy seeing—an exquisite blue pitcher, a glass canister, and bright orange clementines together in a pleasing arrangement. I see captivating reflections and refractions, compelling shadows. What I'm noticing does not get evoked by such a painting, however, at least of late, is any particular curiosity about the painter. I don't find myself wondering about her, or wondering what her internal process was.

This says nothing about her and everything about me right now.

To wit: when I look at expressive abstracts—for example, Simone Nijboer, Krista Harris, Barbara McLean, and/or Debora Stewart—I see choices, decisions, impulses, and intuitions. I see marks, colors, lines, and shapes that are the painter's responses to earlier marks, colors, lines, and shapes, all of which point to who the artist is, to the inner feelings and experiences she manifests as she paints. I feel as though I am seeing the artist on the canvas. I see a captured history of her ability and willingness to tap into what is deep inside her—or perhaps on the surface!—and express it with paint. It's as though she's in the room with me, sharing herself in such a way that I am curious about the mystery of who she is. I think, Oh my gosh, I've got to talk to her! 

In my own studio recently, I have begun to tap more fully into wordless mystery through the act of painting. As you know if you've been following my blog, I'm deep in unknown territory! The whole process is mysterious to me! I start with blank canvas or paper, and see what happens (or doesn't) when I start marking and painting. Making my way in this uncharted place often calls for courage and commitment and plain old grit, at least for me. It can be grand fun and adventure-filled; it can be frustrating and perplexing.

It seems to be where I want to be. It seems to be what I want to see.

Jumping Double Dutch with the Winter Solstice
30x30x1"; acrylic, ink, collage, and pastel on canvas


  1. Well said Dotty :) I love your piece above. Truly wonderful. It took me over an hour to ready your post. Following the links and discovering new artists and works. Thanks for taking me on that journey :) Wishing you JOYful Thursday painting :)

    1. Thanks, Sheila. This was a challenging post to write as I seem to be in somewhat of a wordless space with my art these days, but I wanted to have some kind of record for myself of what I THINK my thinking is! Like a painting, these words act as a physical indicator of the moment in which they were recorded. What I think I was trying to convey, in part, was a record not of any absolute, but of where my focus is at the moment and a guess as to why. Sort of like when, for example, we decide we want a walk leading to our front door and all we notice when we're out in the car is everyone's front walks!

    2. Also meant to say I'm glad you enjoyed following the links : )

    3. and, please see my comment below written jointly to you and Carol!

  2. I also enjoyed your description about your ways of seeing and feeling art. Thanks for the links, love meeting and seeing new artists. Yes there are many "realistic" painters that aside from really technical abilities don't move at all. Yet there are some that evoke an emotional response. As you know I also just love abstracts, mainly because of their detachment and mystery. For me abstract is far more difficult, and frustrating... but I will keep trying.

    1. Carol, glad you enjoyed my post. It was helpful for me to struggle through its writing to see if I could get to the heart—or some part of the heart, at least—of what my current pull to a certain expressive style of abstraction is all about. I think another part of the picture, that I never even touched on in my post, is that when I try to paint realistically I have a knee-jerk need to get it "right," which in turn feeds a knee-jerk reliance on external signifiers, whereas abstract painting forces me to work from within and to rely on inner knowing. VERY HARD for me!

      Please also see my comment to you and Sheila below : )

  3. Sheila and Carol, thank you for cheering me and handing me the occasional water bottle or power bar as I ran the marathon of this particular painting. Its size and my approach were new to me, and your support was so encouraging!