Coming in July 2019 to Glen Allen Arts Center: The Angels of Hollywood Cemetery and Views of Richmond
One of Richmond’s treasures are the Victorian neo-classical sculptures that adorn Hollywood Cemetery. With a commanding view of the James River, these guardians of the spirit world are now reinterpreted in a modernist style. The goals of this exploration involved finding a “lightness” in the picture, perhaps even transcendence. The accompanying views of the river and the city give us a sense of the grandeur of the setting, in a painterly expression of colors.
When I was in high school, I went to the beach, Wildwood, New Jersey, with a group of guys. All the usual exuberance was in tow, along with the youth-fueled hunt for girls! And the ones we met were ready to party, loud and brash, from Philly, and ran in a pack. They were on the loose, from who-knows-what-kind of backgrounds, and they were fun, coarse –cussed like sailors– and were very sexy. We were used to the sometimes demure Southern Belles of Virginia, coquettish nymphs who would tease with smiles. These Philly girls were of a different breed altogether, and one part of my adolescence I would never forget.
The painting of the Frolics came about when I decided to paint something fun and light, a painting that could live in someone’s home at the beach. This is very much in keeping with my thoughts on what a painting should be…that it should give life and joy.
These works start as simple orange and magenta swirls and marks painted in a random way, on a large gessoed panel. This bright warm color shines through subsequent layers giving the painting visual interest. I lay in the basic background shapes and paint the figures with a large brush. The abstraction comes from creating a room or space for the figures to live within, and to integrate with. There may be light marks and swirls that come from what the Dadaists and Surrealists called “automatic writing”…that is, pure intution (let’s be real–it is all “directed”). Later additions may include quick sketches of sea and surf objects such as seaweed and seahorses, in a thick line style. This gives impasto and depth…and is really fun to do!
The notion of having a figure integrated into the background is central to the ideas I am working with…that the people in the painting are a part of their environment, not separate from it or overlaid upon it or even existing within an empty space (on a beach or in the space of a room or city street). They are melded with their environment, as we all are…we inculcate our beliefs, those we were raised with, and those we encounter in our culture and most importantly, those we choose for ourselves, to be our very own core beliefs. They are within us and we are within them. We are integrated within our families, our society, and our heritage. As Maurice Sendak, the children’s writer, said “I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!” Hopefully it is the milk of human kindness.
Going forward I am going to attempt to be even looser…to make the paintings more intuitive, to find the magic in the marks…and find the spirits within the paintings.
The experience of painting the angels is at times fascinating. Or confusing. Though I have painted the figure within an abstract environment in the past, this time the exploration involves finding a “lightness” in the picture, perhaps even transcendence. In other words, I want to make paintings that encompass the feeling of floating, of light… an expression of the spiritual. I want my painting to be like a flower, something that simply grows, as if by magic. Something God put there for our sustenance. Something that just happened.
Vassily Kandinsky’s large, expressive artworks contained simple colored masses that were to be considered independently from forms and lines. He suggested that communion between artist and viewer is available to both the senses and the mind. He directly experienced synesthesia; indeed equated artworks to musical compositions (not the first artist to do that — one immediately thinks of Whistler); he maintained, and eventually proved, that combinations of colors produce emotional vibrational frequencies.
In his writings he advocated that the artist paint with ”absolute subjectivity”, relying on inner spirituality to guide the decisions of a painting. And in his treatise, “Point and Line to Plane”, Kandinsky suggested that the artist embrace the “dematerialization of the object” with artworks that vibrated “the sensible and spiritual strings of one’s soul.”
The density of experience causes time to speed up. So that the brain and the heart, in the emotional sense, must react more adroitly. Multiple stimuli, while fascinating, increase stress – both good and bad – as the body and the brain alternate between fascination and wariness.
So therefore being in the jungle of our life with its multiple requirements of responding to stimuli is a little bit like being on the old market streets of Hong Kong, joyous and maybe a little stressful, yet none of us would want it to be any other way.
Except when we go to the ocean, and stand on a lonely beach, and are swept away in the power and simplicity of the sea.