Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Landscape: Go Figure! - Day 2 (or 3?) of the 30 Day Challenge

Ancestral Landscape by Jim Carpenter, 
Acrylic Mixed Media on Crescent Board, 28" x 20" 

"Work and life were intertwined. A weaver, for example, might weave eight or nine yards on a rainy day. On other days...he might weave just two yards before he did 'sundry jobs about the lathe and in the yard & wrote a letter in the evening.' Or he might go cherry picking." 

Playing Hard

I'm a day late posting my painting for day 2 because I didn't finish my painting yesterday. You might think that "a painting a day" is about making a painting in a day from scratch, a blank canvas, but for me it is also the opportunity to finish paintings that I have been stalling on. I easily have 20 or so paintings in various stages of completion.

For Day 2 of the challenge I chose to "finish" a problematic landscape I started in 2013. Have you ever had a project that you felt you could work on forever and never finish? That is the point I got to with this landscape, I made adjustment after adjustment and just could not get it to balance out. After dinner and a Chi Kung class about "conserving the chi" I decided to go to bed early and just solve the painting the next day, or, if necessary, tear it up and move on to the next painting.

I was reminded of Matthew Daub's rhetorical question: "Why are you so intent on saving a painting?" And his suggestion: "Throw it under the table and just start a new one!" I was ready to throw it under the table. But I also know my own creative process and its time table. For 30 years without fail I would plunge into despair at the end of the fifth week of play rehearsals, convinced that the play would be a disaster. And again, without fail, at the end of the sixth week, I would know for certain that the play was going to work. I experience the same thing with my painting. I get to the point where I am certain that after pushing through the tough spots nothing can save it and I want to throw it under the table. But I also remember that some of my most personally satisfying paintings come from paintings that I destroy first, and then recover. So I pretty much destroyed the landscape in an hour and went to bed at 12:20 a.m.
 Original landscape
 We might call this the "Week 6" phase!
What I woke up to!

This painting is on crescent board and I used various gel mediums and some collage to create a variety of surface textures on it, so I could not lift the paint off the way I usually do on paper. Instead I just painted over it, using a palette knife and later a brush. I began to see some possibilities emerging even then, but it would mean moving away from an abstract landscape into something that incorporated figures. So what else is new?

It was a choice. I admit that I felt the pull to let the figures emerge, even though I didn't know what I would do with the landscape orientation. In retrospect, I see that I still do not easily listen to my intuition. I have to argue with it a little bit. I could write a play.

Intuition: Oh look! There are some nice figures imbedded in there!
Me: Oh, yes. But I am painting an abstract landscape, not figures. So forget about it.
Intuition: Ok. But, the figures are really cool. And the landscape is uh, ok whatever. Follow that path until you get frustrated with it, then block it out, and paint what I was suggesting in the first place.

This painting has all of the things I love to see in my paintings: the immediacy of improvisation, a sense of discovery, the notion of unearthing the remnants of some long lost work of art, the sense of the past always being present, ancestral history, reverence. It may take some doing, but it subverts the notion of "job" and supports my quest for idleness.


  1. You are amazing Jim. I love that little conversation. (and that you shared it with us.) I know I can relate to that. ("this is garbage.. no wait... maybe if...") I love the original. Very deep and thought provoking. And your in betweens... off in another direction. There are so many stories in this piece. Kind of like acts in a play hey? I hear voices and announcements, footsteps on dusty floors. I love the sky, and even there I can just make out three figures. I am glad you stuck it out Jim... this is wonderful!

  2. Oh, Sheila, Thank you so much for these comments! Yes! I guess it is like a series of scenes from a play - I love your description of it - especially "footsteps on dusty floors" - Wow! that's great. Yes, there are some figures in the sky - I was pretty surprised - and delighted when they showed up! Very vague - but that seemed quite fitting. Thank you for your comments. They are encouraging and most appreciated! - Jim

  3. It's always very interesting and enlightening sometimes, to read your process, Jim. Although how we approach our paintings is quite different, I still somehow understand exactly what you are saying here, and feeling it, too.

    1. Some elements of the creative process must be universal - that is probably what you are identifying. I wonder what those elements are! That would make for an interesting blog post - two different approaches but... what do they have in common?

  4. I love the process of this. I usually just paint a whole new thought on top. I'll reconsider next time.