After a year of graduate school, what I’m painting

As I move through this summer between my two years of graduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts, I can’t help but wonder how any “painting” can be original. In my first semester  I “painted” with other materials: like Schwitters’ collages, I incorporated trash; like Mark Cooper, I manipulated canvas into unusual forms, while considering these subjects for my work: politics, crime, and my family history. Yet, when I presented my work, repeatedly, the conversation always turned to my oil paintings and the personal.

I entered graduate school thinking I was going to change and my art was going to be different. I did, and it is. However, not in the ways I anticipated. From my reading and studying of history, theory, and commentary and from discussions, my views about art have changed. The art that I’m making has changed too, but I still make it with oil paint.

I disagree with many of my contemporaries who believe today’s “painting” must experiment with non-traditional materials. Picasso and Duchamp began this a over a century ago. I also don’t believe my art has to blatantly shout what it is or change the world, because it won’t. What I do believe is my paintings can possess qualities and messages that speak to people more effectively and differently than words and can be part of a meaningful experience individually, or as part of an installation and exhibition.

I have chosen not to use detritus, plastics, recycled materials, and typography in my work, for now. If I find these substances, video, Tweets or other elements work their way into my pieces intuitively then so be it. But like a musician, say a cellist for example, I’m not going to practice bow techniques for years and then show up for a recital with a trumpet. I’ve been painting with oil paint on canvas for over fifteen years, mostly with painting knives. This past year I returned to using brushes too.

As a result of my education, self reflection, and contemplation I’m exploring the tension that exists between thinking  freely and privately, while invasive, persuasive elements encroach upon us and effect our choices. For instance, in personal relationships we may intentionally or not push our ideas on our family and friends. In marketing, advertising, and politics, influencing the thoughts and actions of others to do and be what you want them to be is the goal. In those situations, gaining market share and winning is everything, even if the communications used may not be ethical. e.g. messages purposely made to those least able to realize they’re under attack.

To express this tension, I’m painting with techniques and color harmonies reminiscent of late seventeen, eighteen and early nineteenth century artists including Rembrandt and J.M.W. Turner. I chose to do this as an expression of my freedom, as an artist, to paint the way I want even if it’s not in vogue, as did Rembrandt and Turner, and because in those eras communications were less instantaneous and life traveled at a slower pace. The works are abstract but in them I aim to portray the beauty, the vastness, and mysteriousness of the mind as it is in conflict with invaders. I refer to the paintings as “mindscapes.” I’m almost done with the first of three I have in progress. Here is a sneak peek.

mindscape, one, in progress

mindscape, one, in progress

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