Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chromatic Scale

Some new work is developing, in a slow way; incubating quietly and playing close to the chest. I see it fleetingly, in a dream sometimes. Or it occupies my thoughts in the way I find my cat occupying a place on the rug at my feet, silently, although I hadn't even noticed she'd entered the room.

I was driving to an appointment this morning. I drove over the Delaware River and it seemed as though many impressions suddenly felt the force of the current below, and they ran together in my mind.

I had written last week about my work of the 1990s and currently, in the context of my show online; I alluded to the influence of Mughal painting, which I'd seen so much of around 1997, with many exhibitions displaying the work as part of a global commemoration of the anniversary of India's independence from Great Britain. At that time, my painting palette had been most influenced by the life I'd had living among woods and fields, then transplanted to the Pacific coast and the concrete, treeless streets of San Francisco. The Indian paintings I was seeing opened up another language of color for me. I was painting abstractly, always (as now) concerned about how to invest the work with intention. I  saw then how color could bring all my feelings together - it was revealed to me not in the narrative content of those works, but the ways in which the close harmonies and varying intensities seemed, to me, to speak of the range of human emotion and drives.

As I was listening to the news on the radio, driving over the Delaware River this morning, I was thinking how odd it is that the most basic, and even base, of human drives are now expressed in the world through the most technological of means, and then the outcome is broadcast all over the world through the internet, radio and television. But nothing really changes enough, when it comes to destructiveness, greed, and violence.

At the same time, the prior week I'd been into New York and had seen a few really wonderful painting shows: Thomas Nozkowski at Pace Gallery; a brilliant group show called "Painting Advanced" at Edward Thorp Gallery; Al Held at Cheim & Read; and Andrew Masullo at Mary Boone.

Well, I'm starting new work and thinking about color, and my use of it, and about how color is being used by my contemporaries in painting. There is a lot of very saturated color in contemporary abstract painting, brilliant and bold. For the kind of nuanced and sensitive calibrations of color I most enjoy, I was excited by the group show at Thorp and the Nozkowski at Pace - although the inventiveness of the imagery keeps me interested in Andrew Masullo's work too - the "Alphabet Paintings" by Al Held are in a class by themselves.

So, driving over the Delaware River and listening to the news, and ruminating on all the many currents flowing into my awareness, I was visualizing new work, in particular a few drawings I've made recently, without much color. I came back to the realization I had in the 90s, about how the stories didn't really matter to me in the Mughal paintings; it's the colors, the expression of nature and design, and the way that emotional range and the coexistence of noise and song, dissonance and harmony, rage and joy, make that kind of chromatic composition very meaningful to me. As much as I love, even prefer black and white photography, I think I can't, for now, express what I need to in painting through the use of black, white and grey alone. 

Still, maybe because when I am composing I am using value as my scaffold, I remain a big fan of black and white photography. Here are a few books I recently found at a favorite bookstore, Panoply in Lambertville, New Jersey. You can find just about anything you want there, and things you didn't even know you'd love to see.

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