Abstraction May 26, 2018 13:11

Homunculus oil on canvas painting by Harold RothI've done a few abstract paintings, which IMO came out very well. But I have had a lot of difficulty going ahead and doing more. I feel intimidated by it. There are so many absolute crap abstract paintings out there ('course, there are so many absolute crap realist paintings out there too). Some people think it's easy to paint abstractly. Easy to paint crap, but not easy to paint something worthwhile. For me, it is more difficult to paint something worthwhile abstractly, more challenging, than it is to paint a decent landscape painting, for instance. 

The other night lying in bed I got the idea of using magical alphabets in abstract paintings. I pictured this and that use of them. But when I sat down to paint, I took out Black Tower instead. Why? Intimidation about doing abstraction. Fear of creating a fail.

Today I sat down to paint and had Black Tower on the easel. I had not resolved how to finish this painting, which has been a disappointment for me from the beginning. Nothing has ever felt good about it. I thought about tossing it many times. I diddled around with it, adding some more shadows on the tower. And I just hated it.

I had started the background for an image of a desert city made of jawbones a week or so ago, and it was sufficiently dry, so I took that out with no intention of doing that painting but instead of dammit, doing something abstract. 

One reason why I love abstraction is because of the burningly intense colors some artists use. I love color. I also feel like abstraction is ready-made for the depiction of the spiritual. It hitches up to a different part of our brain than representational painting, IMO. And for me, it more easily and more often attains a mysteriousness that I want my paintings to have as part of my representation of the world. 

So I took out my most favorite color right now, Holbein's Chinese Red (PR188). This stuff makes the most luscious colors with lithopone white (PR5), which Williamsburg has as one of its safflower colors called Porcelain White. I have been loving lithopone white since I first got some to see if it could replace zinc white. It kicks zinc's ass. Marvelous with my other favorite pigment right now, cobalt blue.

I got right to work. I few hours later, I had almost finished "Homunculus," 24 x 24" oil on canvas. I want to add some gold/yellow highlights and fiddle with it a bit maybe tomorrow, but I feel good about it. 

What I wonder is that the best abstracts I have done have not had any thought beforehand. Maybe for me that is the secret. In those cases as in this one, I sat down wanting to use a particular color or two. And I just started painting and then followed the shapes created by the brush like shapes in clouds and then went from there. This feels so natural and frankly so liberating. I can draw and I enjoy doing my watercolors of botanicals for the mugs. But it is absolutely freeing to sit down to a canvas and just paint and still come up with something that is worth looking at. 

I feel a massive change in the direction of my art. It's exhilarating.