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."

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