Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas




June 2006

"When people look at paintings that they can't define as abstract or representational, it forces them to really engage."


Elizabeth Neel, quoted in "Boundary Issues" by Rebecca Spence in ARTnews, April 2006.




Dear Reader,

Have you ever had one of those moments when you finally feel vindicated, or less misunderstood and out of the loop? Reading April's ARTnews had those effects on me, albeit for a brief time.

Its cover delivered the theme by asking the rhetorical question: "Painting: Are the Rules Changing?" I am certainly not the only painter who tore through the issue, searching for the articles designed to inform me of a new trend, one that I might actually be a part of. Two piqued my interest immediately: "Multiple Personalities" by Ann Landi and "Boundary Issues" by Rebecca Spence. Note the word choices in each title: they imply some sort of trouble in artistic paradise.

Before I delve into the articles, let me share two judgments about my painting I have heard over the years: "You are all over the place" and (intended to be more helpful) "Paint more pieces like this one."

Here's the truth about my process: "Art making…begins with an intellectual and psychological urge to explore what is on my mind," (preface from my unpublished manuscript, Reciprocity). Once I begin to create, I lose control.

In "Multiple Personalities," Ann Landi interviewed curators whose visits to several studios all over the world revealed a new trend. Michael Darling (MOCA/LA) said, "These artists seemed to be making a kind of attack on the concept of a signature style and to be engaged in a promiscuous working-through of different genres."

In the nearly ten years since I returned to painting, I had the notion that I probably should be working toward that self-same signature style. Then I'd step up to the easel, and bask in the knowledge that I would never be famous anyway, so therefore I would not have to subscribe to that "rule."

Michael Darling concludes by saying, "[Painting] is activated and prodded one way or another…by other things going on in the artist's mind." If one style of painting or another suits the subject, I am free (a.k.a. promiscuous) to use it. I rest my case!

Here's another evaluative comment about my artwork: "I like looking at your work, because the more I look, the more I see." It explains my interest in Rebecca Spence's article, "Boundary Issues." She discussed artists who are using both abstract and representational styles in the same painting, in what she calls the "creative free-for-all that is today's art world." I immediately thought of the nineteenth century and J.M.W. Turner's later work, which pushed toward complete abstraction, and Gustave Moreau's luminous washes of color, from which he teased out phantasmagorical architectural shapes and mythical figures. This has been going on for centuries, and now it has been identified as a trend.

Spence quotes contemporary artist Elizabeth Neel, who falls into that category of "artists, [for whom] experimenting with a middle ground is an effective way to capture the viewer's attention. Neel said, "When people look at paintings that they can't define as abstract or representational, it forces them to really engage." Like Neel, that is an effect I relish when someone is looking at my paintings. I want people to work at looking at my work because it is not obvious. After reading the article, I realized that occupying this stylistic middle ground between abstraction and representation not as something I have necessarily thought out: it just happens.

Will the kiss of death come when someone says, "I could tell that is your painting."? (It has already happened.) Or, "You actually used two-point perspective!" (Already happened, too.) Do you notice a coherence among my pieces when you look in the Gallery Chapters? Help! What if I am working toward a signature style without intending to do so? Such anxiety! Here is my answer: As much as I believe that reflecting on my work is an important part of my artistic growth, I will continue to follow Paul Cezanne's simple advice: "Paint, don't think."

Speaking of thinking, if you have thoughts about these two trends in contemporary painting, you can write to me:

Next month's journal will be about poetry. What are some ethical issues that come about when writing a poem involves telling "what really happened"? How far should poets take "the truth" in a poem?