I took the prepared panel to my Saturday morning class with George. During the class I used a couple of different-sized squeegees to lay down acrylic. I intentionally began with a quinacridone violet (which is more like a red) that I have never used, just to see what that the impact of that would be. On the other side I used an ultramarine blue. I tried to create a rough, irregularly textured surface that took advantage of the irregularities in the surface of the aluminum that had appeared when I glued it down. Then, at George's suggestion, I used my fingers to rub some pigment directly into the wood section in the middle, which I then wiped back off, leaving traces of color in the wood grain. I began with brown, wiped that off, then went back into it with the violet and the blue, and wiped those off. Someone remarked that the panel looked like the flag of a little-known nation.
I decided to work on the surface some more. I took the point of one side of a pair of scissors and began distressing the aluminum surface, which created scratches in some places, and tore the aluminum in others. Then I went back over the aluminum panels with a soft yellow acrylic, with interesting results that you can see here: the yellow settle into the places where there were cracks and tears.
I was sort of not sure what to do next. George pointed out, accurately, that the two outside panels were a little too much like one another, and that I might want to try doing something different on one side or the other. I brought the panel home after class and was thinking about that. One way would be to change the surface itself. I thought about burning it or scribing it in some way. But I also though thought I might try to add some collage elements on one side, and there on my desk I had some leaves from the bodhi tree that my wife had given to me. I tried several of them in different configurations before deciding that I like the look of a single leaf in the upper right. It seemed somehow to complete the sequence from the purely mechanical and metallic stripe on the left, the wood texture in the middle, and the more organic green and blue panel on the right. So I used gel medium to put that down.
It still felt incomplete. I remembered I had an envelope full of the shavings from where I had chiseled paint from a previous panel in green. I often try to use leftover materials from one painting in another down the line; it creates a kind of process linkage, a larger narrative arc between paintings. So over on the right hand side there were those triangular yellow spots where the aluminum had torn, that suggested the shapes of leaves, and the idea occurred to me to reinforce that suggestion by using acrylic medium to glue down the larger paint chips from before. I left it to dry overnight, then worked back into the left hand panel with some brown and blue paint today, used some alcohol on the surface as well to craze the surface a little bit more, then wiped back into it with a rag and lightened up some of the random shapes. So now it feels done to me.
We had an interesting discussion during class yesterday about some key concepts in painting - materials, technique, style, and subject - and how they stand in relation to one another. I think that in painting, as in writing, it is probably more usual for an artist or writer to start with subject, and then use various materials and techniques to deal with that subject in a certain, often predetermined, style. As a writer throughout my life, and more recently as an artist, I've been drawn to coming at it from the other direction: starting with the materials and the technique, and arriving at a subject as an end product of the process.
If you were to ask me what the subject of this painting is, now that I'm more or less done with it, I might be able to come up with some plausible line of thought about the relationship between the synthetic world and the natural world, or about the quest for enlightenment in a diffracted world, or about the centrality of the organic, or about the underlying interconnectedness of all things in the universe. In a sense all of those things are present, having emerged in my mind at least in the process of putting together the painting; in another sense, none of them are. It's just a panel with colors and wood and aluminum and glue on it. Gerhard Richter again:
Pictures are the idea in visual or pictorial form; and the idea has to be legible, both in the individual picture and in the collective context - which presupposes, of course, that words are used to convey information about the idea and the context. However, none of this means that the pictures function as illustrations of an idea: ultimately, they are the idea.