Friday, March 23, 2012


My inclinations are visual first of all. As a child and long before earning my BFA, I looked ceaselessly at nature and art; as an introvert, I come naturally to study and evaluation of my own responses. In adolescence, living near Washington DC, I spent many hours of many days in the National Gallery, just looking, honing my vision and taste. I’ve had academic shortcomings, but in the visual region of my creative life, I am most like a cultivated field.  In my musical life, I feel less informed; and in poetry I am the least prepared to discuss my own writing or anyone else’s. But this I will say: I like short poems, and short poems are what I write. Here is one I wrote which broaches my thoughts for this day: the matters of size, and scale - whether of work, or of content/intention.


umber shadow slipped
across the pallid face of
my abandoned building, growing
to partner, matching scale. This

is how perception thinks
How I figure
How to live

I might have chosen several others. This one aspires to be about one way that perception can inform a life; and I like that I had titled it “Entelechy.” For my purpose, it is simplest to think of this word’s meaning as an intrinsic quality which is an end in itself, while also a potentiality that has become actualized. (One can read a little more about entelechy HERE and HERE.)

Samuel Menashe is a poet particularly known for dense brevity in his work. In an essay in The Southern Review (spring 2008), Robin Ekis described Menashe’s poems: “Terse, tense, and compressed, they still manage to make space for contemplation.” Here is one which epitomizes the quality I’m looking for, something very small which contains a larger idea, and embodies a large ambition:


I wake and the sky
Is there, intact
The paper is white
The ink is black
My charmed life
Harms no one - No wife, no son

(The poem was excerpted in the review from the book, Samuel Menashe: New and Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Ricks, in the American Poets Project.)

I love the way the imagery in this poem, and its language, are plain and simple, but the way it ends allows it to unfold in one’s mind, silently, long past the end of the verse, into a realm of emotional complexity.

I think about size and scale in painting, a lot. When I go to an exhibit, if the work is notably large, I ask myself, Does this need to be so large? Why is it large? Is being large saying something that being small wouldn’t say? I do the same with work that is particularly small. I want work, on any scale, to look comfortable in its own skin, and to have gravitas without inflation.

Some artists stay within a certain scale most of the time, working large or working small, or something in between; at least the formality of exhibitions leads one to that conclusion. In my own case, I enjoy changing the size of my work, as I enjoy changing any habit (although when I want to work large there are practical considerations that can impede me at times). I’m interested to observe that whatever the size of my work, I have a sense of scale which is like my palette; it evolves but it is part of my identity and not something that I can decide as arbitrarily as the dimensions of a canvas or piece of paper. Hence, a photo of a painting can be very deceiving, and a very small painting can appear to be large, or vice versa. In such a case, it would be mistaken to call a small painting a “sketch.” It’s rare that I make what is called a sketch, in fact. I try to invest the same purpose in my work no matter what I am doing and no matter what its size.

Here is an example of what I mean, a few small paintings which have larger ambitions.  I think any one of these could be read in feet instead of inches, and fill an entire wall, instead of filling only one hand. Would their content and intention be enhanced, or merely altered, by making them larger? Would larger even be a diminishment in some way?

In an upcoming post I hope to feature the work of other artists who have made small work which can contain larger intentions.

Ravenna Taylor, "Rent Time," 2009, gouache on linen, 4.5 x 6.5 inches

Ravenna Taylor, "Sussurus 01," 2008, oil on wood, 7 x 8 inches

Ravenna Taylor, "Private Issues," 2006, oil on linen over wood, 8 x 6 inches

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