Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. I got caught up in two paintings I’ve been doing for a show. Most people associate art with emotion and freedom, the expression of feelings and ideas that are beyond the power of logic and reason to describe. There numerous articles written about the association of art and madness, but few realize the planning and discipline that go into painting. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but I don’t just throw a canvas up and start in on it with my brush like an enraged knife fighter. There is a great deal of forethought that goes into my work.
Recently, I was a invited to be part of a zodiac-themed show at a Portland gallery called the Splendorporium. I can’t guarantee that was the reality of the situation, but it’s how my ego has chosen to define the situation in my mind, so that’s the narrative I’m going with. I had actually shown at the Splendorporium before, a few years ago. They’re a great space. Every month, they hold a group show around a particular theme and allow a very wide latitude on the artist’s take on the theme. As such, their shows are always fresh and exciting, with all types and skill levels represented. I’m still trying to get my art, as a business, off the ground and, while I knew about the zodiac show, wasn’t planning on contributing to it, thinking my time might be better spent elsewhere. However, I am an artist and flattery will get you everywhere and an off hand email telling me that my art might go well in the show was all the encouragement I needed.
The fact is that I don’t have much zodiac themed work. I would have to create some pieces, de novo, and with a ticking time clock in the background. Now this was exciting! First, I need some ideas, so I took out my trusty sketchbook and began drawing my takes on the different signs of the zodiac. I searched for zodiac-themed art on Google Images, DeviantArt and Pinterest. In the end, I settled on the signs Capricorn and Scorpio. I found it odd that more signs, even my own (Libra), didn’t resonate with me. But, in the end, you gotta go with your gut, and my gut told me that the goat and the scorpion would be fun to paint, so the first part of my direction was set.
I chose two canvases of the same size and began to prep them as I refined my design ideas. How to make them interesting was foremost in my mind. The problem was that I really don’t do symbolic imagery or allegorical scenes. If I paint a skull, then it’s a skull, not a representation of man’s mortality or the wages of sin or some such bullshit. So, if I wanted to provide some depth to my paintings, some “umph!”, it had to be a purely visual punch. I’ve been playing with artists’ tape and using it to block out areas of the canvas to break up the surface, visually, and create a sort of tension in my works. This is what I decided to do for my zodiac pieces.
My first steps of preparation were the same as I always do, gesso, sand and then apply a thin wash. I painted some light marks to give me a sense of the overall composition and then I got my tape out. While I don’t do symbolic imagery, I love actual symbols and the zodiac is full of them. Capricorn is an earth sign and one of the symbols for that is a triangle, the apex pointed downward, with a horizontal line cutting across near the middle of the triangle. Likewise, Scorpio is a water sign, whose symbol is also a downward pointing triangle, without the horizontal line. I created such triangles with tape, in the center of the canvases, and continued to paint.
I tried to ignore the tape and paint the main images. The animal symbol would be front and center, dominating the painting, a goat’s head for Capricorn and a scorpion for Scorpio. Scorpio has three other symbols associated with it; the symbol for the sign itself, and then a symbol for each of its ruling planets, mars and pluto. Despite my previous comment about planning, I set the same composition for the Capricorn painting, before realizing that it only has one ruling planet (actually, depending on who you ask, some say it has ten ruling celestial bodies), Saturn. Figuring out what symbol to place in the third area I had laid out for it took my two days of research and pondering, but I finally decided on the Chinese character for goat, which seemed appropriate since the goat also makes an appearance in the Chinese zodiac as well.
Next came the moment of truth. Time to take off the tape. Now my nice paintings were marred by blank triangular forms in the middle of them. My wife was dismayed, but, as I told her, with art, you gotta take some risks. How to incorporate these triangles? A few ways played out in my head. Paint them in with complementary colors? Make them black and white? I chose complementary colors. Ultimately, this worked far better for my Scorpio painting than it did for Capricorn. I ended up creating a more complex design for Capricorn than Scorpio, resulting in a triangle that contrasted less, and was therefore, less noticeable in the chaos. While I’m not entirely unhappy with it, I feel that my gambit clearly paid off with Scorpio.
So, there you have it. These are the ways I spend my time as an artist. These paintings will be up at the Splendorporium for the month of June if you wish to see them in person. Tell me what you think.