Friday, August 7, 2009

The Electricity of Opposites and the Cleavage Principal

Continuing on my theme of the artist as a battery, charged with visual and emotional energy; I offer the concept of attraction of opposites. It’s a basic electrical principal, t’is what magnets do. But what’s that got to do with painting?

Part of the excitement for and artist is trying to interpret the world around him. An artist sees things in a different way because he brings a magic link between the eye and the hand into the act of being. Once you start the journey of drawing to understand the world, life can never be the same. It’s as if you carried around a high voltage wire that would start to spark and jump when you saw something interesting.

An artist cannot settle for what’s in front of him, there has to be more than what he is seeing. What’s missing from the scene that would give it energy, cast it in a different light, reveal that which is hidden? In my own work, I am always looking for situations that contain some form of opposition; the thing and its opposite, good and evil, calm and discord. It’s a way of putting electricity into the visual image on the canvas. For example, this painting below just about ran away from me because I was not satisfied with just painting dramatic looking clouds. It had to have more. I accidentally made a stroke around the church at the top of the hill that made it look like it was exploding. As soon as I did that I found the spark of opposition I was looking for. Granted, it’s a downright silly painting, but it has the opposite poles of good and evil.

The Ghosts of Borham Hill have a set-to with God

Another example of this is a the painting called "The Flowered Hat". I wanted something other than a pretty painting of a woman wearing a hat, so I gave it a slightly electric air and a look of distrust; i.e., flowers with a hint of malice.

The Flowered Hat

I am not espousing a shock approach to art, but I am positing the search for something that will energize both the artist and the work of art. The starting point may be that nothing exists without its opposite in some form. The space between them is where the sparks fly.

I stumbled upon this when I considered garden sculpture; the beauty of nature’s creations enhanced by the traditional pagan sculptures of nymphs and satyrs, spawned from Greek mythology where revenge and death were commonplace. Consider Beauty and the Beast with its lushly decaying gardens so beautifully wrought by Jean Cocteau.

I came across this oppositional interplay the other day while waiting for a train. I could see from the platform two people walking about 20 feet apart toward the station, the lead figure was a man in a state of disarray, his collars up, his tie askew and his hair rumpled like he had just gotten out of bed, the person behind him was a woman, beautifully made up, well dressed and self assured. What struck me was how beauty and dishevelment were walking in lock-step with each other, two opposites traveling in unity, totally unaware of each other.

The Cleavage Principal

Yes, yes, I know what your thinking, and I may have peaked your interest, but it does serve to illustrate a principal.

I had a professor of sculpture one time speak on this topic. His thesis was that when two parts are just butted up against each other there is always some flaw that spoils the line where they join, but if one puts a small space between them the eye gets slightly tantalized by the gap and any minor flaws are nullified by the space. Obviously, this principal is not lost on the particular vintner as illustrated to the left.

Another place where this gap is useful is the spark plug, where the gap produces an electric arc for the purposes of igniting gasoline. This blog encourages the artist and that electric spark of vision and creativity. The moment can be electric, the space between two people can contain a world of meaning if given the sensitive touch of the artist. It is the realm of the unspoken thought, the playground of possibility or the anguished of a distance never to be crossed. It can be the gap that electrifies the painting and your audience. What keeps the work alive for the patron may be that space where his thoughts about the work of art can live and keeps him in thrall because the artist has given him a mystery to solve. Let your work have the space it needs; it is not empty, for it is filled with your excitement and the mystery of what can reside there.