Wednesday, June 1, 2011


One collection of recipes

Last week I prepared Boston baked beans.  After soaking the dried navy beans overnight, I had to change the water and simmer them for about an hour before putting them into the bean pot with the other ingredients.  As they cooked in their water bath, foam rose from the surface and I skimmed it off with a metal spoon.  My mind leapt out of the kitchen and into my studio.  With beans, the undesirable foam rises to the top.  It is almost the opposite process in my studio.

The preparation for a painting has a certain rote quality to it.  My tools and paints are already gathered in my studio, so I simply choose the size of my prepared support.  My most important task at this point is to cover up that white expanse of gessoed canvas or board, using arbitrary colors.  As I keep adding marks and purposefully chosen color, I cover up what "simmers" underneath.  Experimentation with educing forms, playing with value contrast and making spontaneous gestures in the paint with any number of implements, bring the painting along.  At unspecified stages I scrape or dissolve back the surface until what "rises to the top" is satisfying enough to let it stay.

I can remember learning to cook when I was barely a teen.  I loved the chemistry of mixing ingredients together, and with the application of heat, they were transformed into cookies or casseroles.  It wasn't until much later in my life when recipes often became mere guidelines or suggestions, not something to be strictly followed.  Sometimes my results were less successful than I'd hoped, but every new attempt gave me pleasure.

There is definitely a correlation between experiences in my kitchen and my studio.  I've learned to wing it more and more in both places, but in my studio there are never any recipes.  Certain parameters underlie the process, but there is an enormous amount of trial and error since I have no fixed idea of how the finished painting will look.  It is with the "heat" of my own passion for making art that an alchemical action takes over.  When a painting is complete there is no remembering how it arrived before me.

"Artifact" is an 8 x 8" oil and cold wax on board

"Rain" is 24 x 18", oil and cold wax on board

As I grow as an artist, I still rely on the basics I learned years ago, and like preparing tasty food, I use the best ingredients I can afford.  But something mysterious intercedes when I am in the midst of creating, and I feel directed towards a conclusion.  Like some dishes I prepare, some paintings I make are not as successful as others.  But there is always the next one and the next one... no beans about it!