Friday, June 1, 2012


After my Open Studio event passed, I immediately put my studio back to working order. But I also turned my attention to the Bach B minor Mass, my final performance this season with Princeton Pro Musica. The concert was a big success and the B minor Mass is such a great source of artistic gratification -- I'm still singing it!

Since then, I've been working on altering my schedule and habits to allow for more intensive work days. I have several small panels prepared, and a few medium ones, but I need to get some larger surfaces ready because I'm wanting to make some larger work again. I have some time to build work in the studio this summer, and have done the finishing on two pieces, have two new oils underway, and started another small one yesterday. I am also continuing work on paper, in watercolor with gouache, sometimes added collage.

Sometimes a prepared panel of linen over wood is a beautiful thing before I do anything more:

Yesterday I walked into the studio, and looking at those things I had decided not to remove from the wall, those things I'd added, I was reflecting upon my drive to compose space, to build patterns -- I think a lot about subject matter in art, and how can it support the intended content of my work. When I am in a museum and see things from the Italian Renaissance (for example), I always consider how the subject matter of artists' work was more or less given to them in that time. That is possibly the defining thing about contemporary art, that we have no ascribed or proscribed subject. But we are also not given a ticket to meaning.

As I look at my own work, while other parts of my mind might be flooded with information about the world outside my studio, within, my concerns seem simplistic: spatial organization; color relationships, the edge of one touching another; transparencies and overlays; how things influence one another, obscure one another, support one another. It's all about those relationships, and about the human condition in a broad way. But it's possible for an abstract painting to be co-opted by its environment, and to seem to be about decor and aesthetic pleasure above all, while I have a metaphysical bent I wish to communicate also.

I happened then upon a page from Milan Kundera's "Unbearable Lightness of Being." Many years ago, I'd photocopied it and then drew boxes around certain parts of page 52, so that I could highlight this thought:

... human lives are composed ... like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence ... into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life ... with its dark beauty. Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

I've had a lot of questions in my mind lately, and the selection from the novel made me wonder if I might find some answer in the patterns I paint. The previous day I'd worked on a small watercolor with gouache, actually copying one of my oil paintings in process, as a way of re-entering the imagery I'd begun, before stopping for studio preparations last month. I didn't draw the pattern on my paper, although I made some marks at the edges to show where the centerpoints were. I work all over, establish a pattern, then repeat it, allowing edges to overlap as I add layers and colors and tone, the shapes and patterns to become defined through repetition. I ended the day thinking it would go into the box for collage materials (but went ahead and worked on it more the next day anyway).

It occurred to me that life is like this, in that we repeat things, we make patterns in our days, and then maybe the edge of one aspect bleeds into another, a boundary drawn, redrawn, broken, moved. Every day a new opportunity to express a conviction, to obscure something that might have been preserved, or to honor a beautiful accident -- or even an occurrence not so beautiful, but which, being flawed, makes what is beautiful seem all the more so.

May 30, 2012, watercolor, gouache, 6 inches


  1. Beautiful - what a beautiful image and a great post Ravenna.


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