I’ve been white washing over paintings lately. It’s not a decision I make ahead of time though, and it feels somewhat frightening as I’m doing it. The process of doing it isn’t like painting a wall with a roller, I still take into consideration all the marks I made before – they guide me into where I might paint next. It’s funny how the order in which you paint something seems so important while you painting it, but is mostly unknowable, and less significant after you’ve made it. I find it really hard to paint over the figure, which makes me think about how I’ve been giving more significance to the figure than to the space around the figure, and is something that’s come up a couple times in recent studio visits. I really know more about what the figure is in my paintings than I know what the space is. I’m starting to try to push the relationship between the figure and the space. I had a studio visit with Suzanne McClelland last week, she suggested that I “go on a diet” in terms of painting. That I needed to pare back- it’s hard to explain what that means, but I think I understand, it has to do with an economy of mark making, and not indulging so much in the paint. It’s easy to put down a mark you like, it feels good to put it down, but then you want that feeling again, so you put down another mark like it- you get pulled in by the seductive qualities of using paint. Before you know it you have a hundred marks that say less than the first one you made. There’s a painting by the french painter Charles Francois Daubigny in the Herber F. Johnson Museum of Art, which is at Cornell. I used to look at this painting when I lived in Ithaca. My favorite part in that painting is the yellowish white hat on the figure in the field of poppies. I like to imagine it taking Daubigny some restraint to not paint a million of those little hats all over the canvas- although perhaps that’s exactly what he’s doing with the poppies.
“White washing” the canvas is a way to start fresh, but I think about how the underlying things influence the overlying things. Obliterating the underlying things through simply painting over them kind of feels like some kind of denial. I feel a responsibility to the marks that came before, that I can’t just “sweep them under the rug.” But then I also think, “you made those marks, and one is no more important than the next, you can do whatever you want to them.” That brings me back to the fact that I’m having trouble painting over the figures, I’ve given the thing I’m painting more importance. It stymies me.
When I had my studio visit with Nayland Blake he described painting as something where you have this complete perfection in the beginning- a perfectly prepared, smooth canvas. But, when you make the first mark you’ve “fucked it up” (I think were his exact words), and you spend the rest of your time painting to regain the moment you had when you started, which is impossible to attain.