I had been out of school for a couple of years. The work I was doing on my own had been more reactionary to my past training, than real attempts to find my own creative voice. I was lost in the weeds, and feeling it. On a whim I signed up for a “sketch book” class with the local adult education program. I just needed to get out of my head and return to basics.
What I found was an inspiring young painter, teaching her process for collecting images from the world around her and turning them into the fundamental shapes of her compositions. Our first assignment was to go home and find five images from magazines that immediately caught our attention. Being a big fan of collecting images, I collected about 50 images rather than 5. When I came back to class I recognized that I would need to come up with a system for all of these images, to do the next phase of the assignment. I began to cull through the stacks, and discovered that I had about 5 very distinct different patterns that I was collecting. So I started to sort them into the form types. I also began to journal in my sketch book about these forms.
The result of this journaling became the first major epiphany of my painting process. It unfolded in ecstatic fits over a period of about 6 months. I began first by recognizing that the patterns I had identified were hidden (or not so hidden) withing all of the previous paintings I had done up to this point. In fact sometimes, the primary subject of the images I had created was the least interesting part of the image, and the places where I had developed these forms was the most mature part of the painting or drawing.
At the same time, two cultural experiences shifted what I was looking at. First there was an exhibit, at the local museum, of art work that had been made from life. Either photographs of stars, eyeballs, cell formations, or pieces in which grass, or other natural forms had been biologically shifted to grow into, or exhibit their natural physics. These pieces were all micro/macro illustrations of my forms. Second, the Aronofsky film Pi (1998) had just come out in theaters. The emphasis on mathematical building blocks of the universe, tipped the scales, and I suddenly started to see that the forms I was working with were not “my” forms, but “the” forms. I became fascinated with pattern synchronicities, finding books on pattern theory from Chinese to European Renaissance painters. Looking at sacred geometry, and fractal theory, contemplating the cellular make up of the human body, and the ways we see. Basically the classic, “wow, we are the stars” moment. But, in my painting.
Through the whole process, I was painting as fast as I could. Gessoing paper, that I taped to masonite board, and then drawing out the images in oil sticks with sticks of medium. Mushing the images around, to find the most freedom in my gesture, the most authenticity in the expression of my paint. I sometimes had 7 or 8 paintings going at once.
Previously all of my work had been narrative, with sometimes surreal objects, or at least organic images of floral design or body structures. But these gesture paintings were complete minimalist, abstract, fundamental. Sometimes I struggled with it, because I wanted so much to return to the mythological material I had been exploring in the series prior to this one. But apart from using elemental colors and structures that communicated their connection to the symbol elements of the past (pomegranates in place of Persephone, orchard colors instead of Aphrodite), the images remained in, and required, abstraction.
It was a time of great richness in my understanding of my basic building blocks as a painter. From that time forward I have been in a secure and recognizable conversation with myself, as an artist. I am no longer uncertain of where I am walking. I am now always working my process, my dialogue with myself, about the way I see within the physics, mystical environment, the body that I am.