art and language: part II

It’s 6:30 am. I am on my farm and I have already walked the dog. I am inspired to continue this previous blog post thread because of some thoughts I had while on the walk.

I am a dreamer. I vividly dream every night and most nights I wake up I am able recall and record the night’s dream. The logic of dreams shares a lot with abstract painting.

Arshille Gorky probably also shared this view. In school we talked about his painting, How My Mother’s Apron Unfolds My Life.  We spoke of his painting process as telling stories to himself. He famously spoke of this process by saying he would often think of his mother’s apron, how when he was very young he would bury his face in the fabric and she would tell him stories. As an older person the stories would come back to him while he painted but they would get a little bit jumbled. In his work one shape was at once a coxcomb and a liver. One shape could be two things at once. One way to understand this is with the logic of dreams.

In our dreams we can be at home but it is also the restaurant where we work. Someone starts out as someone you knew in another time and place and they morph, later in the dreamtime, into someone you know right now. Freud talked about this but I am more interested in talking about what this could mean for painting.

In my practice I have a ritual. I usually arrive at my studio at 830am, work on a bit of writing, then bring out my sketchbook for some free drawing. Next comes watercolor because I like to warm up my hands a little and begin to think about color. Its easier for me to separate the logic of line from the logic color in my work if I give them their own space in the beginning.

Next, I usually eat some fruit that I have brought with me and look over the oil paintings. I try to have four or five going at once. This helps me to keep working when one section is boring me or another piece needs to dry.

What this process of oil painting shares with the logic of dreams is in the accumulation of line, shape, color, and free associated thought that I have worked with earlier in the morning and as I do every morning. If the work is going to be good that day, I have moved from one part of my ritual to the next, seamlessly and without much interruption. The shapes, lines, drawings, and thoughts that I am having at that time accumulate, pushing one on top of the other and make their way out onto the oiled surfaces of my large abstract paintings.


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