Monday, May 17, 2010

Glass Powder Painting : Part One


 In  my Designing With Glass class I attempt to relate the classic elements of design (point, line, form, shape, color, texture, etc) to the elements of glass (frit, stringer, slumping, cutting, paste, etc). In a recent class a student told me that she was a shape and color person. This is a very significant step on the journey of locating yourself on the pathway of self expression, because exploring just one element can be endless. Engravers play with line for their whole career. Rothko's color fields were based on the elimination of almost all of the elements of design save color, and he spent all of his final years exploring the raw experience of color.

Being able to identify which elements are central for you enables you to focus on those who have forged the path ahead of you, and who have spent their life's energy focused on a particular use and subset of the elements of design.

I'm not as brave as Rothko yet. I still need some sense of form, a recognizable subject. Color and color alone as the subject may be where I end up, but I'm not there yet. In the above digital abstraction from a photo the obvious subject is the tree.The abstraction process started by shooting very close to the ground with a wide angle zoom set to around 13mm. The image at the right is the original. I wanted to work with blue and yellow and it is a simple Photoshop process to change the colors. A little Topaz filter plug in magic and there you have it... digital art. (Art or not is a totally different topic)

This spring I visited Minnesota's Bluff Country in the southeast corner of the state along the Mississippi. I've been studying landscapes and have a high regard for the landscape painter Wolf Kahn. The landscape for me is my 'excuse' to lay down fields of color. I've noticed that the more form (the illusion of three dimensional shapes) I bring into an image the less it resonates with me. The same is true for the line, shape, texture and the rest. For me, all of the elements of design must become subservient to color. Wolf Kahn comes close, but he has a predominate formal subject too often, and a lot of his paintings seem muddy IMHO.

I went to the bluff country to find rolling vistas, but found that sitting high in the hills on scenic overlooks gives such a removed, distant and impersonal  feeling. I needed to get into the landscape, be part of it, and not aloft looking down. I traveled to the Amish country of southwest Wisconsin and found more suitable locations within the rolling hills and valleys. One creek valley in particular was strikingly pastoral, even otherworldly as though I had just transported myself into the English country side. These hidden acres nestled in a gentle rolling valley provided a quality of light and shade, sound and echo, and misty coolness totally opposite of the American farms up on the treeless and sun bleached hill tops - farms stripped of every form of variation in the relentless pursuit of agricultural efficacy.

There have been romantic painters of landscapes of course, but I seldom personally experienced for myself what they might have chosen as a subject worthy of portrayal. We can too easily romanticize the Amish life style, even make it ionic, and in some sense make it unreal and removed from our sense of reality. But here they were before me, living in their world hidden, but yet in plan site for the few who would venture onto this dusty and uneven gravel back road.

Driving very slowly I drank it all in. I saw small boys playing baseball with comical over sized mitts covering their hands. They were dressed in the typical light blue shirts, straw hats and black pants which made their mitt covered hands all the more conspicuous. An outfielder waved to me as I drifted past slowly. A school bell tolled only twice, breaking the aural calm momentarily. Children ran towards an unpainted weather worn school house as the bell's chime reverberated and faded into a valley being reborn in these those first days of spring.

I parked my car just to sit and take it in. I couldn't believe that these people lived here, actually passed their lives day by day in such a place of simple beauty. A horse and buggy approached, but was still a long way off as the sound of hooves against the gravel road preceded it. I dared not stare at them as they passed. This is their place, their country, and I did not want to intrude any more than what I already had.

There was only one small road that traveled through this hidden valley. A petite but vibrant creek danced and curved along the roadside. Its gurgling intermixed with the distant echo of a shrill cardinal, nearby chatter of wren song, and the gentle repetitive cooing of morning doves on a branch over my head. Cows roamed and grazed freely in naturally manicured pastures of unattended mixed green vegetation. One bent to drink from the cool clear creek water, making a bull frog leap into the water, ceasing its deep throated mating call. How remarkably different I thought as compared to how the cows lived just several miles away on American farms of mud pens, filthy trough water, and year old dry hay flung about on the baron dirt for them to eat.

I don't think I could ever compress how I felt in that valley into a painting. The experience made me realize that some sort of subject in a painting may be a necessity in order to illicit from the viewer any feeling even remotely like what I felt in that place. Could color alone ever do it without a formal subject?


I took my digital art and made a 36x30 pastel of it in preparation of doing it in glass (see above). The title of this piece is Approaching Autumn Storm. My personal aesthetic tends towards abstracting things to there simplest form. Having a formal subject, as much as I like one, is a crutch for me at this point. I repeatedly choose compositions with a formal subject and I'm repeatedly dissatisfied with the result. This pastel confirmed my feelings. After completing it I have no desire to continue onto glass.

Many of Wolf Kahn's paintings achieve, in my view, the balance I am seeking between a pure color study and a painting with a recognizable subject. The subject serves to accent what is already there without it, that is, fields of color. The subject is a modifier, an enhancement of the underlying color study which is actually is the true subject.


The photo for this digital art piece (above) was taken in the Amish valley. Looking at Kahn's work as a guide I should be able to abstract this further into pure color fields then lay in the trees in a very loose manner so to not overtake what is for me the true subject - a joyous feast of color.

So, now onto the next exercise.

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