The Evolution of an Idea
I spend a lot of time staring at water, trying to understand it, enjoying its predictable unpredictability. I find it comforting that it will behave in a more or less reliable manner under similar circumstances, but is mathematically ridiculously difficult to map fluid dynamics. When I visit waterfronts, I do plein air watercolors whenever I can. I have to be quick with these, since the weather conditions and lighting can change so swiftly. You can only work on one for maybe 3 hours at a time max, because the sun moves and the lighting completely changes. You can tell the difference between my work from observation vs. studio paintings based on the level of detail for this reason.
I made this 10″ x 7″ watercolor one afternoon on the Delaware River waterfront in South Philadelphia.
I also take thousands of photographs as notes for use in my studio. The paintings I make in my studio are a composite of my memories and the various photos. I combine the things I learned on site with the best qualities of different exposures, white balances, compositions, and depths of field. For comparison, here is a watercolor I made in my studio based on this process.
"Under the Dock" is a 15" x 11" watercolor of a place in Lake Belle Taine, Northern Minnesota, where I have been going since I was a tiny child. I’ve been painting and photographing that lake for years, and in August 2018 I decided to make an installation that harmonized with the way the waves come into the shoreline around a dock. I shuffled and stomped around in the sand to draw with my feet…
…and got a little help from my buddy Caleb to make some waves.
Then, I spent the week rearranging the rocks on the bottom of the lake by color and size to complete the composition. I photographed the process at all different times of day and weather conditions.
I couldn’t decide which photos I liked best, so I printed a couple hundred. Of course, I cannot possibly make that many large, detailed paintings in a year, nor do I want to. I began making collages of the photos, picking my favorite parts, arranging them in ways that emphasized movement. Some of the collages are here.
Then I made paintings based on the collages. They became increasingly abstract as I generated more irregularly-shaped fragments from earlier collages, such as architectural elements made out of water.
Here's a watercolor from earlier in the process.
a 48" x 24" oil painting from later on...
... and one of the most fractured compositions, a 24" x 18" oil painting.
The collages almost never end up totally squared off. I consider most of them autonomous works of art, but some I think would be fun to paint. I always add or subtract something in translation to the language of paint. One of those things is deciding what to do with the non-squared edges. Sometimes I invent extensions of the existing patterning, but sometimes I accentuate the odd boundaries with hard-edged geometry, as I have done above. Changing large areas of color completely alters the image. Imagine how different that painting would look on a plain white background!
On the other hand, this collage would look totally wrong trapped in a rectangle and needs to wander along the wall. I've made some like this that are as large as 6 feet wide, but figuring out how to mount and present them in a permanent and professional manner is causing me some puzzlement.
As I mentioned before, I often significantly alter the image in the process of translating it from a collage to a painting, and using paint increases the variety of visual vocabulary through gesture and surface options. For example, The wood in the painting (right) is textured, thick paint, whereas the water is painted in fluid, translucent layers. They look the same size in this presentation, but in reality the collage on the left is 11.5 inches wide and the one on the right is 50" x 36".
I hope that you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes of what I’ve been working on the past few years and that you visit the relevant sections of my website for related paintings and collages. I’m in the middle of several new paintings, so check back for new updates.