Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This weekend I went back into to the large (for me: basically 7'x9') format black and white series of drawings I've been working on. This was the seventh of what I am projecting in my head, for no very good reason, I guess, to be a series of ten. Following an idea I had stumbled on in one of my doodling sessions in my regular notebook I use to take notes at meetings at work, after drawing in the frame I started with some large ribbon-like arcs, and then drew circles at the intersections. As it took shape I was seeing it as potentially turning into a kind of fecund landscape, something akin to what Archibald Macleish says a poem should be: "palpable and mute, as a globed fruit." I drew in the more willowy forms on the right for contrast with the heavier tree-like forms on the left:

I liked that, but it did not yet feel like it would fit comfortably into the other six drawings, which have a kind of density of form and are basically darker. I decided to suggest a landform on the lower left with wavy horizontal lines. I liked the look of that, but it made the whole thing feel unbalanced, so I decided to start working in details over the whole thing. A that point I didn't know where it was going. But my basic method of late has been to simply go from one move to the next, trusting to the process, and hoping something surprising shows up.

I worked on drawing in more circles of various sizes across the upper half of the piece. Then I started drawing perimeter lines about an eighth of an inch inside each of the white shapes of negative space. That created about 27 or so smaller territories. I wound up drawing a second interior perimeter line in each one, with the idea that I'd do something in each area. I wound up doing the whole section in the bottom right by working in progressively smaller forms within the larger chunks. But I knew I didn't want to do use the same method for the entire piece; I wanted some variety. I took another idea from my doodles and drew in the circular wave forms in the block in the middle on the far left, and the one up to the right of that, and then the one way over on the other side of the large semicircular arc that goes across the whole picture. Then it was mostly trying to respond to all those small detailed forms with some simpler, darker forms, including the circles inside the circles.

I wound up, some hours later, with this rather odd piece. It still has the feel of a landscape to it, but day has become night, the mountain has started looking more like a lake, and what I began thinking of as fruit have taken on a vibratory quality that makes me think of Van Gogh's Starry Night, which is how I wound up with its vaguely allusive hip-hop title. 

One of the things that interests me in all of the artwork I'm drawn to is the generative relationship between representation and abstraction. This isn't in fact a landscape. It's black ink on white paper, an assemblage of forms or shapes. But it has landscape-y qualities which emerged pretty early on and which remain even though they've been softened by the addition of all that scrollwork. It's not "saying" anything, but it does have a voice of its own, and part of what makes that voice unique is the way the various elements in the composition echo or talk back to one another.  This isn't my favorite piece in the series; there are tensions or discontinuities that feel unresolved. I was worried for a while, while I was working on it, about how it was going to turn out. But now that it's done, I'm at peace with it.

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