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.

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