Sunday, August 24, 2014

Seeing the Light

Venice Beach Laundry © Taylor Barnes 2014

"Seeing the Light" may refer to the many levels that "light" is experienced when creating a piece of art. This recent painting posed the challenge of rendering a dramatically lit nighttime scene (alá Edward Hopper). In some ways, dramatic lighting is a cheap trick because if you do it at all well the result is a magical and dramatic work. Lighting used to portray a story within a story is something photographers and filmmakers understand only too well. A scene filled with dramatic lights and darks just screams to be interesting. Think, film noir.

I have passed this laundry for years and watched life play out in front of these well-lit windows. Some nights there is a line around the corner for the homeless to do free laundry, compliments of the management. Every night there is a congregation of homeless hanging on the steps trading information and hitting up the well-healed patrons of the Whole Foods Market next door. This laundry represents a true class intersection that is practically symptomatic of the entire economic displacement of people happening in Venice Beach. 

Through these windows, the light reveals a whole society of people normally hidden from view. "Seeing the Light" refers to the technical aspects of how this work is painted as well as the story it reveals. The emptiness is probably the future of this place. As wealthier families move into the area, they won't need a laundry. In the past, this was where neighbors gathered to meet neighbors, exchange information, or find a helping hand. Local artists painted the walls and there was a sense of an extension of home. The landscape is changing and some of the soul of Venice is leaching away with that change.

Of course, it is only a laundry mat but it is also a symbol - if we look, we can see the light.  The final part of the journey of this painting revolves around communication. In my effort to communicate clearly what I was seeing I rendered the white letters of "Venice Beach Laundry" with the precision of a sign painter. I failed to see the painting that was the engine to the image – until I showed it to both my mother and my daughter. Each, independently of the other, said the letters were too dominant and should be pushed back. Their critique helped me to "see the light." I realized that the danger of leaving the painting and the world it creates in favor or the literal world is to loose track of the dynamic of painting. By being too literal, I was loosing the spontaneity of the brush and what set my work aside from a photograph. Texture, depth of color and – lighting – were my tools. I pushed the letters back to a rougher form and the work was complete. 

In the end, I find each painting is a psychological journey into some aspect of my thinking that has yet to be revealed to me. This painting was about seeing the light, literally and spiritually. It is a little like playing God in your own personal universe, “… on the seventh day God said, 'let there be light' and there was light."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good Beginnings and Good Endings

Convergence, Jackson Pollock, 1952

When I start a painting, I want to lay down a great base to work from but when I finish a painting, I want to recognize the perfect moment when I should walk away from the canvas. It is similar to a love affair – in the beginning; you are on your perfect behavior, trying to create a great impression for your lover. As the affair starts to lose steam, you still remember when everything was a beautiful event making it difficult to recognize the moment to say enough and walk away. You don’t want to destroy the gorgeous memories you have already made with one bad memory of the end. Beautiful beginnings leading to graceful endings are the ideal.

The start and the finish are the big moments in life and in art – everything else is just getting to or from one of those points. The ability to see these two moments is what separates the experienced artist from the student. Looking at the Jackson Pollock painting above, you have to ask yourself how he knew when to stop. How did he know when he had the perfect amount of paint on the canvas? Yet some artists never see an ending - Claude Monet was rumored to travel to museums with a small paint set in his coat and when visiting one of his paintings, he would pull out the set and touch up his work. I suppose you could call that a series of revised small endings.

There is energy in life and art imitates it through process. Embarking upon the journey starts with the first step (to paraphrase the famous Chinese proverb.) Ending the journey requires either knowing where you are headed or at the very least, recognizing it when you arrive.

So here is to the journey, which starts with the energetic and hopeful first step but ends with an elegant final step and a look backward to view the progress that was made.