Monday, March 31, 2014

Out of Dreams

As a child I often had dreams that consisted of colored geometrical shapes against a black background, moving over and through one another: rectangles, triangles, circles in motion, combining and recombining, morphing into one another.

Over the last few years I've devoted a fair amount of time to what might be thought of as abstract expressionist drawings of a sort. But whereas the abstract expressionists were enamored of the spontaneous gesture, making their marks in bold strokes, the drawings I have been doing are spontaneous only in conception; in execution, since they are being done not with a brush but a fine-tipped pen, they are very slow to evolve. Just to do one dark black line or curve involves drawing two outlines at either side and methodically inking in the space between. It's a centering exercise, slow and and deliberate, and most often when I'm at it I'm listening to music as well. (I toyed with calling the last one below 400 Lux, because Lorde was a dominant presence during its gestation.)

These drawings typically begin with an impulsive mark—a random shape, a line, a squiggle—and then evolve outwards. Having made one shape, I make another next to it, and another next to that, working around in a vaguely circular motion toward the edges of the paper. Often, early in the process, a rule will suggest itself: this drawing will have only curved lines, or only triangular shapes, or only shapes that do not touch each other. Sometimes the rule is that the drawing will consist only of solid black and solid white; other times I will use an extra-fine marker to create shading via parallel lines and different degrees of cross-hatching. Recently, I've played around with adding ink washes of varying consistencies for contrast:

I rarely have any idea at the start what the drawing will look like, and most often I will make an effort to steer away from anything that begins to look like it might want to be something. Every once in a while what emerges from under the pen is so strongly suggestive of something real that I will go with the flow and let it become what it seems to want to be. In one case that caught me by surprise, I found myself looking at some kind of fishlike creature, at which point I just gave him some additional fins in the back and let him be:

The drawings I've been doing lately have reminded me very strongly of the dreams I had as a child. In several cases, I've actually gotten ideas for drawings from the latent images on the inside of my eyelids as I was arising from sleep. The image below had its origin in just such a way. I was waking up from a nap and the image of the blue rectangles with the incomplete lines moving in from the edges to the center were in my head, and I thought, okay, maybe I'll try drawing something like that:

So while my drawings may not have a subject as such, they do feel true to a deeper, discursive logic that arises from within me. The two most recent ones I have completed were both more complex and more satisfying in the way those complexities resolved themselves:

There were several points in this last one where I was tempted to stop and leave more white space, but it somehow wanted to keep growing. Now it's presenting itself as some kind of fantastic tree. It didn't start that way; it really began up toward the top in the darker section and grew downward. But once it reached the ground, I felt like it was in fact done.

So this is the current state of my art practice. I'm hoping to work my way back to painting at some point, but in the meantime, the drawings are helping to keep me tethered.

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