From Tourist to Participant-Recent Landscapes

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Over the month of September and October, I have been working on a series of landscape oils along the Delaware River at a place called Skinner’s Falls. There are many areas on the river where the water dramatically slopes in a shelf like fashion. Not a clear “falls”, but a sudden drop in elevation. Many of these areas like Cook’s Falls and Skinner’s Falls would better be described as a series of rapids over an under-lying bed of shifting rock. Skinner’s is the largest of such places. It also has a large area of exposed rocks that travel along the bank and move outward toward the center of the river. These rocks are quite scarred with almost lava like shapes. They are also very large. As an artist, such rocks allow for one to set up on them and project one out into the river. Hence, there are many vantage points on which to capture the essence of the scene.

I prefer to work in a “series” where I paint multiple images of the same scene. This really allows me to analyze my subject and find, not just the grande view, but more subtle and, at times, a more sublime vision of it. Most often, the initial view that takes in the whole scene, does not present in a clear way the character of the place. I often find that my second or third take on the scene contains a clearer presence of not just the scene but also the artists’ embodiment in that particular place.

This is what one really wants to capture. Not panorama, a tourists view of a place, but the actual presence of the relationship between human consciousness and the world one inhabits. It is this relationship that intrigues us. And it is this relationship that varies between artists. But it is really this new identification with the world, that teaches us something new, real and more powerful than we had suspected. Before this moment we could only Intuit this deep connection between ourselves and this place. The artist, through the image, takes us on a journey from tourist to true participant, engaging our being in a greater whole.

I particularly love the images of Rockwell Kent. I feel I am truly present at a certain place as well as understanding my role as a human struggling with my own existence. Those rocks and waves analogously connect me to my own personal as well as universal struggle to live, and to live fully. I feel my own  mythic call to engage the world as no other human has engaged. But yet, I also feel my own fragility and need for human contact. This is landscape painting at its greatest.

Although my paintings are not epic in scale, I hope they call the viewer to engage in a dynamic participation between place and meaning, between image and human consciousness. That the image itself may call one to invest in a deeply emotive way in the world and allow a new vision to emerge that clarifies one’s relationship to all things.

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Flight- Ascension of Image, Memory, Beauty

Sometimes one has the unique sensation that one’s experience, at a certain moment, takes on a clarifying and timeless quality. There are moments where one is conscious of painting- ”I am in the very activity of applying paint”- but yet one feels, simultaneously, that time opens up and one’s experience becomes expansive. There seem to be layers of activity within one’s self-”I am painting”;”I am recalling a memory”, “I am flying above this scene and am envisioning this landscape a new”. “I am deeply within myself while at the same moment residing beyond myself”.The phenomenologist, Gaston Bachelard describes this sensation as a “cosmic reverie”.

I have had this experience many times, but it was particularly keen at moments when I was painting the mural. I had painted a study of the landscape I was to render as the mural, from a rocky cliff on the grounds of the golf course. It was a view that looked down to the greens but also looked out to the Catskill Mountains and beyond. This study was painted as I have always rendered the landscape- painterly, brief, charged with expressive brush strokes where color plays a key role. I did not change my style to conform to the wall. I painted like an oil painter. So the very process of re-formulating the image for the wall created such a strange sensation within me. It was my work- my painterly approach- but this was not an easel painting, but a 52′ painting. My goal was to give to it the brevity of the study and carry that in an enlarged format to the wall. I wanted it to feel spontaneous even though it was 52′ long.

After I had rendered the sky and the far hills on the wall, I started to paint the image moving toward the foreground. And it was at this moment that I started to have such an odd feeling. I was painting my painting “again” and at the same moment “living” within its borders. I felt as though I had taken flight, like a bird and began to soar above the ground and explore the very “image” in a total and complete way. I was no longer the “painter”, but was entirely immersed in the image. The image became beautiful and grand, vast and complex and I could live and breathe there. I could take flight and experience what I already knew to be present in a new and “real” way.

Suddenly an image situates itself in the center of our imagining being. It retains us; it engages us. It infuses us with being. The cogito is conquered through an object of the world, an object which, all by itself, represents the world. The imagined detail is a sharp point which penetrates the dreamer; it excites in him a concrete meditation. (Bachelard)

The mural became a  stepping stone into an imaginative experience, that was not unconscious like a nocturnal dream, but hyper-conscious- expanding one’s experience vertically. In our ordinary, daily lives we primarily experience the world in a horizontal fashion. One event follows another along a vector. This concentrates our attention on ego and rational thought. We all need this to function. But the Imaginal takes us on a vertical experience where we are still in the same spot, standing or painting there, but we experience the upward vector- the flight- the layers of sensate experience separate and multifaceted. And time seems to pause or I should say, reach its point of balance- not moving forward and not retreating but standing in an ever-present now.

This notion is the very reason that artists create their work.  Meaningful work creates a reverie within the viewer that allows for a prolonged “duration” of an experience. The artists’ moment and the viewers moment come together and one experiences that suspension of time allowing one to penetrate the moment in  a vertical and continuous fashion. It becomes like a childhood experience, where a child’s reverie expands his experience of the world ( a child can only experience a certain thing, like how to fly or tame lions, from dreaming). Art expands and memorializes one’s experience in the same way. This type of reverie becomes more than a single moment, a single experience, but multiple moments held together in an all-encompassing unity. (Bachelard, The poetics of Reverie) It taps back into memory while simultaneously mobilizing one to engage in a future, a future that is imagined and ever more real than one’s ordinary, everyday experience.

But Bachelard states that none of this is possible without admiration and joy for the world, for living life. One must be engaged with beauty itself- which is a love and admiration for the world. One must feel the “grandeur” of all things. grandeur ties beauty to an innate joy that seeks expression.

“But the world dreamer does not regard the world as an object; the aggressiveness of the penetrating look is of no concern to him. He is the contemplating subject. It then seems that the contemplated world passes through a scale of clarity when the consciousness of seeing big and the consciousness of seeing beautiful. Beauty works actively on the perceptible. Beauty gives relief to the contemplated world and is an elevation in the dignity of seeing at the same time….”Everything I look at looks at me” (Novalis).  (Bachelard)

A particular cosmos forms around a particular image as soon as the poet, artist, child gives the image a “destiny of grandeur”. (Bachelard) And one is “Astonished” at the immensity and scale of the beautiful.

“It being is at the same time being of the image and being of adherence to the image which is astonishing. The image brings us an illustration of our astonishment…In a reverie which is dreaming on a simple object, we know a polyvalence of our dreaming image. (Bachelard)

Beauty opens us up to the vertical life, a life of grandeur and astonishment where one can take flight and truly engaged the world.

The Summer Mural Project, Part 3

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This week I applied the isolation coat and the final varnish. I allowed the paint layer to dry a week before commencing on sealing the mural. I have varnished my own work and understand the basics of what that entails. But I have never worked a varnish over a large area. I spoke to Golden Paint colors technical support on 2 separate occasions to get the proper understanding of how to mix and apply the coats. There were many things to consider. I needed clear days without rain, the proper temperature ( not below 49*) , the right proportion of each solution as both had to be thinned in order to apply properly, and method of application.

First I needed to apply the isolation coat. An isolation coat is basically made of the same material as the acrylic paints and it acts as a permanent barrier between the paint layer and the final varnish. This is necessary if for any reason the varnish will have to be removed due to graffiti, excessive wear of the elements etc. This coat protects the paint layer through the process of removal of the final varnish which requires some pretty hot chemicals to get it off.

I used Golden Soft Gel Gloss. It is like an acrylic medium, very thick out of the can. It is necessary to thin this with water in the proportion of 2 parts gel to 1 part water. It can’t be too thick or it will appear cloudy rather than perfectly clear. It also needs to be applied by brush in a very small area at a time. I worked in an area that had the natural division of the concrete blocks that were the structure of the wall. These were 2′ X 8′divisions that were marked in the wall. I worked from top to bottom being careful not to excessively brush the area. I did not want any foam or bubbles. I also tried not to get any streaking. Streaking was particularly evident in the dark areas and I needed to take special care brushing it on in those spots.

Another issue that I needed to deal with was all of the pits in the wall (these occur naturally in concrete and are also the areas where the concrete will begin to wear away over time). These pits tended to fill up with the gel gloss and appear white and also run if I was not too careful. I found that after I had applied a section with the gloss, I had to go back and re-check and touch up around the holes. They did dry eventually and appear clear, but it took several hours. I applied the isolation coat in a very methodical way section by section. If any one has ever visited the Catskills this time of year, one knows that the weather is particularly transitory. Even as I was working, on supposedly a clear day, the clouds threatened. Thankfully, I was spared any rain during the process. I found that after about 3 hours in 65*, the isolation coat dried, even in the pits. It took 4.5 hours to apply over the 51′.

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The next day, I applied the MSA Varnish by Golden. This was also difficult to apply. This too, had to be thinned. The proportion was 3 parts MSA to 1 part thinner (Golden) or Gum Turpentine. It was very toxic and strong-smelling. I wore a respirator, hat and long sleeves as I did not want to get anything on me or breath in the fumes. The consistency of the solution was that of “maple syrup”. When I first mixed the solution, I applied some to see if I could spread it. At first it was too thick. I added another cup of thinner to the solution and that gave , what I considered the right flow. This coat had to be applied similarly to the isolation coat. I worked in small sections, applying it by brush. The solution was very clear and was difficult to see over the isolation coat. I had to cock my head to the side to see it on the wall. This also had to be applied very, very thinly.

This coat tacked up much faster that the previous coat. I, therefore, had a difficult time with the pits in the wall. I have to say, I did my best to make sure there was some contact between the varnish and the holes. But I also was careful not to over-brush the varnish(which causes cloudiness and streaking) as this was paramount to an even look. I was not going to sacrifice the clarity of the over-all effect by hitting every pit on the wall. This coat dried in about an hour to the touch in 65* temperature. The next day the surface was hard, although it takes about 2 weeks for the coat cure completely.

The one thing that astonished me was the final look of the mural. Even though I had sealed the wall completely before applying the paint, there must have been a slight dullness to the wall. When I varnished it with the last 2 coats, the wall image became more distinct. It was a very subtle thing, that possibly others might not have noticed. It could possibly be that the varnish itself added a gloss that was not there originally and added to a sharper look. Over-all I am satisfied with the final look.

The images below show the mural in it’s final state panning left to right.

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