Most of my career as a painter and as an instructor of painting I have sought to demonstrate that painting is a particular discipline which has a set of rules uniquely its own. In 1996 I wrote: “For me painting has always meant a struggle with its particular limitations; these limitations are the basis of its intrigue. The proscribed surface must be overcome by illusion. These properties are irreducible; they are what produce the form.” Painting is not illustration, anecdote or design, although it can embody these elements.
Almost everything I do in painting is defined by the means I use to achieve the form of the composition. And, even though I have in the main stuck to the vagaries of non-figurative compositional abstraction, I certainly do not believe that painting is limited to this position only. For me the work must be a discovery which is revealed by the painting activity — the laying down of paint marks, scraping out what doesn’t seem to work, then once again laying down more paint until the form begins to gel. At that time relationships begin to become “real” or concrete. They are abstract, yet concrete, and if successful they come together to create a unified whole in the sense that music does; they mean like music means.
The process can take weeks or months for the larger pieces, to several sessions for the medium to smaller pieces. It is imperative that they acquire a specific character which is a resolution of the form. All this, however, does not mean the process is without direction or intent. Every piece of color-value laid down must be a felt response and is governed by a strict discipline on the palette. The resolution and process are not forms of reductionism (or formalism, for that matter). The work must have a level of complexity that provides the viewer with a visual experience which is, as Cezanne said, “parallel to nature.” The work is complete when I can no longer imagine additions or changes. It is then that it acquires its subject matter, which is implicit and perhaps nameable; like a successful musical composition, it is simply complete. Another way to put it is when I no longer see “paint” per se, but experience the relationships and their unity the work is resolved. As in music, the goal isn’t merely to play all the notes, but to create a work that embodies feeling and reflects condition.
The watercolors follow a similar process, but with some additional rules. This series came in part from my reading an anecdote regarding the 19th century English painter, William M. Turner. Turner, it seems, would take with him on his much beloved fishing trips his watercolor sketchbooks now displayed in the Clore Gallery of the first Tate, London. If the fish weren’t biting, he would fill them with as many as 2, 3, 4, or so watercolor sketches at a sitting. These particular works had to be impressionistic and fast, allowing few if any changes. So with this in mind, I try to work very directly in an unwillful manner allowing the various qualities of the medium to be what they are without fussing over them in the least — doing as we must with watercolor, one layer at a time. Basically, acceptance of the character which has evolved is paramount. Once I see a relationship form I stop — this is absolute. On occasion, after a time, I go back to the work, and if I find it not substantial, I will make additions.