Fresh … In The Deep of Winter.

I love fresh starts.

All through the holidays I’ve had a hard time being at ease this year. So much has been going on, both the normal and a bit abnormal as well. Family life has been a lovely whirlwind; certainly not a destructive tempest … but not really a placid place of rest either.

Internally though, all I wanted to do was something you and I would likely call nesting. I have seen it in a desire to put things in good order, to organize almost everything around me. Why is this so powerful right now?

It is because something is blowing in along with this winter’s frigid air?

I can feel it as two linked urges growing, becoming middle.fall.wtr.tryptch webinto something really powerful once again. The first is an almost physical need to burrow deeply into my work, tackling the hard, even nasty or grimy parts of creating; to struggle with materials, images, and formats that I find so enriching.

fall winter triptych web

The second is a desire to push the work out into the world; to let it fly as high and far as it can go. To be out there for others to see and react to it. I don’t really care what type of reactions they are … it is just helpful to have the reactions. For me it is the process of stretching, a stretching out whatever wings the new work may have and taking to the air. To take work born out of digging and scratching beneath the surface or rooting around in work that just doesn’t seem to want to come to fruition and sending it out to you, to anyone, everyone … a hoping to get some feedback.

So, what I have pulled together this evening is some of the grimy, unfinished work that seems both very exciting and somehow completely wrong at the same time. These pieces I am willing to struggle with right now.  So, let us look first at this odd, potentially “never see the light of day” work.

This vertical panel has been troubling me off and on now for many months. I have drawn and painted, scrubbed and sanded until I think that perhaps I should leave it alone.

While I think that I should leave the image alone, I do not believe that I want it to be a stand alone piece. Instead, it will part of a larger multi-panel work. For now, I am thinking of a triptych that will be 29 inches wide and 18 inches tall. I suspect that I will be contrasting the rich compactness of the image, the highly textured surface, and the very distressed materials of the vertical piece with a much smoother paint application or negative spaces. I am guessing too that I will elect for much simpler depictions of landscape and plant images to offset the richness of the central panel.

right panel, ginko diptych webAnother painting that I have been at odds with for several months is one that I thought was going to be very simple and straightforward. This 12×12 panel with a pretty simple depiction of ginkgo branches and leaves against a blue sky was begun from sketches and photos that I made on the street my daughter lived on when she was in college.  My intent was to pair it with a continuation of the same tree and leaves as they traversed in front of a darkly shaded building.  I tried. I couldn’t make it work!

So, I am taking a different tack now. It will still be   left panel ginko diptych weba paired set (not bolted together, just side-by-side). But I am really rethinking what the darker one will be doing. I have scrubbed out some of the pencil, watercolor, gouache, and inks that I used. And as you can see I’ve have added some masking to begin creating some geometric elements as well. Just not sure what the next step will be.


img_3955 ginko diptych web

I adore simple, direct, almost spare images that are organized using lots of negative space and the clarity that type of image create for me. Hopefully for the viewer too. At the same time, I do love making a mess sometimes. That seems to be what is holding me up in both of the two previous pieces.

And that is also part of what intrigues me about this next work. I have played with other images from the physical site that this piece comes from. It is of a pine that sits atop a nearby pass through the Blue Ridge; something I traverse at least three or four times a week. Stopping to sketch, draw, paint, or photograph on this site has been a fairly frequent part of my practice for almost 15 years. It is almost a seasonal ritual. I have done several really nice simple drawings, quick sketches, and even a few paintings up there. Some I have sold, some I have shared with friends and family, some that I even put in major exhibits of my work. This one has started off a bit different though. Instead of simplicity … it will lean towards a bit messier but highly connected imagery.

mtn pine triptych web

In this piece, the far left panel closes in on a single (as yet barely depicted) pine cone. The central panel is about the shadows between the deeper interior of the huge pine and will be far more abstracted. My current thoughts are that it will probably be comprised of a combination of simple mimetic line work distilled from branches, bark, and pine needles, arbitrary color marks/surfaces, and some geometric passages. The large right hand panel will depict the lowest branch of the pine, its shadow on the ground of the hilltop and between those a hint of the trees seen on the next ridge.

I seem to be eschewing the simplified, essential image in favor of multiplicity, the visual equivalence of dissonance. I am going into the deep end of my image pool, willing to sink or float long enough to really get a feel for where these images take me. I don’t know if they will ever work out.

That isn’t the point is it?

It is about the freedom to embrace the freezing cold and the blistering fire … to stay in the fight no matter how it turns out.  In fact, to be excited by the ever shifting fresh challenges.



3 Responses to “Fresh … In The Deep of Winter.”

  1. mari french Says:

    Happy New Year John. An interesting and thoughtful post and I do understand the impulse for nesting this time of year! I really like the narrow teasel panel, although I’m not clear whether this was then painted over? Either way, your ideas for the multi-panel painting of the pine on the Blue Ridge sounds (and looks) very promising. Enjoy the challenges!

  2. St Brigid Press Says:

    Thanks for writing and sharing all this, John. I resonate with so much of it, in my own medium of poetry. One of my favorite poets, Arthur Sze, says that sometimes he has to make a big mess first, before he can see a “structural through line” to a work. He also uses juxtaposition of (word) imagery, something I see you doing above with great interest. Keep going! Your work is alive and enlivening!

  3. jamiebrame Says:

    As always, I love your writing as much as your painting! Reminds me of long walks and talks back in Wilson when we were almost children! Thanks – and Renae and I refer to this winter thing as “hibernating,” although “nesting” is true, too! I find it a pretty productive time of year for my writing, though – no temptations to stay outdoors for long periods. Thanks, John! – jamie Rev. Jamie BrameProgram

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