Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fabric of Memory

Those who sketch often mention that studying and then rendering a scene on paper is more beneficial for reference than taking a photograph. Recently, I had the opposite experience.

Cutting a piece of corduroy to press into my wet acrylic paint, I turned the fabric over and saw an outline strongly reminding me of an Irish site I had photographed. Two churches, the old next to the new, were both dedicated to the female Saint Gobnait. Standing in the roofless older church, I had angled my camera shots to look toward the newer chapel’s sharp turrets. Within this fabric, I saw a bulky building with a pointed steeple-like shape and I was thrown back in memory to that misty afternoon.

Debating about whether to continue or consult my photos, I couldn't ignore this challenge and decided to follow where the Muse was beckoning. I put down my trusty brayer and picked up a big brush.

Memory of St. Gobnait's
acrylic on paper
9" x 12"

After completing the basic shape and adding some green countryside, I was deep into my memory. I did not stop to glance at my photos until later. And when I did, I was almost disappointed, wondering if I needed to continue working or start another more faithful to the original site. As you can see from my photos, it is not recognizable as that place in Ireland. But in the process of painting it I connected with a fabric of my memory.

This painting might not be the best, but it meant a great deal at the time. If I had deliberately tried to match my photos, I might not have had that energized shock of memory and might have lost interest in reproducing reality.

That seemed the best part--and maybe what was what I was after in the first place. The painting stands on its own now, a short-hand for that experience, and in no way a realistic rendering. Actually, I’ve done many quick paintings that moved me, profoundly and mystically, that aren’t much to look at. In those cases, it’s something I discover in the painting experience rather than the resulting painting itself that is important.

The more personal iconography an artist uses, the more true it reflects their soul, don’t you think? That was one reason for returning to Ireland--to take photos and use them for painting reference. Ironic, then, when I didn’t even follow my own images but rather my own feelings. And that made it so powerful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief!

Hail to the Chief
8.75" x 7"
acrylic on paper

A little red, white, and blue for today's historic day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Remembering Patrick McGoohan

Last Tuesday, the actor Patrick McGoohan died at age 80. After doing stage work in England, he graduated to “B” movies then switched to television, becoming the highest-paid British actor for roles in Danger Man (1/2 hour version) and Danger Man (hour version; called Secret Agent in the United States). In mid-1960’s, at the peak of his popularity, he quit that last show, turned down the role of James Bond (he thought the character immoral), and helped create, write, direct, and produce the brainy and brilliant 17 episodes of The Prisoner. He went on to create many more memorable roles in television and movies thereafter.

Although I never knew or met Patrick McGoohan, he had a huge influence on me in the 1980’s. I was working at my first full-time job and felt my mind turning to mush. Those enigmatic, puzzling episodes jolted my 9-to-5 insurance office brain, giving me much to ponder.

Seeing only the last few episodes PBS aired of The Prisoner in 1980, I was intrigued to learn more. This was long before the Internet and the Information Age. I was desperate for information about this esoteric show and little could be found. Wanting to see and discuss the complete series, I met fellow fans in person around town and by letter across the sea. From my local Star Trek club, I discovered others not only interested The Prisoner but also possessing the whole set on Beta Max tapes with a large-screen projector to study them on; high technology at the time. A friendly group gathered to watch and discuss the series, as well as Patrick McGoohan’s other works, and to socialize. It was magical.

Flourishing creatively, I wrote analytical articles and short stories based on the series. I bought the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" and began sketching seriously and successfully. Contributing both writings and drawings, I was published in many different fan publication dedicated to The Prisoner.

Writing frequently to a dozen pen pals spread over the U.S. and England, we shared not only our interest in the series and the actor, but also articles, photos, and our own lives. When my San Francisco pen pal enthused over her recent trip to Ireland and two other fans living in Brighton, England, invited me to stay with them, I booked my first trip abroad in 1982. The latter couple, who had met and married because of mutual Prisoner interest, very graciously took me out to tour original filming sites in southern coastal England, London, and Portmeirion, Wales, where I met more fans. Taking this trip, when I was 23 years old, helped cement my love and fascination of Ireland and the British Isles and laid the foundation for my later discoveries of ancient Neolithic and Celtic history and culture.

Finding and scanning theses old sketches, I marvel at my first real venture into art. Looking at the various fan magazines I wrote and drew for, I marvel at the output one television show inspired. Remembering all my pen pals and friends at the time, I marvel at how small connections that can bring people together.

Thank you, Patrick McGoohan, for everything. Rest in peace.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Taking It Further

acrylic on paper
9” x 12”

Back into the routine, I did a few good paintings by deciding to take them further. With brayer paintings, I’m doing the equivalent of sketching. You know, flexing the wrist, throwing color and form together, pressing things into wet paint, seeing what happens, playing. It’s always the discovery that thrills me. When I plan a composition, it never quite turns out the way I envision and then I’m trapped with a not-very-satisfying experience and painting. But I also have lots of flops by going so fast, leaving a disappointing experiment to start anew instead of working with the previous one. This week, I was slower to put pieces aside as “done” and gave them some time to develop.

Do you ever go far in a piece? Or like me, not far enough? Sometimes that extra step can spell ruin or enlightenment. It’s such a fine line. I struggle with composition and pure play. Do I make something that pleases me or does it become a mish-mash? Is the experiment too busy and now only has one good section?

With these two, I wasn’t pleased with the beginnings but went beyond. Both are on cold press watercolor paper, not my favorite texture since it takes forever to roll paint into all those cracks and crevices. But in “Boundless,” I allowed myself not to fill in every nook and I actually like the result.

This opens up a new way of working that could be very beneficial. It might also limit the number of failures (rescued only by cropping for mini-paintings, cards, book covers)!

Wondrous Universe
acrylic on paper
9” x 12”