One of my goals with this series was to be direct, straightforward with the image. I thought carefully about what it is exactly I’m creating. The conclusion that I came up with was the same one the abstract expressionists came up with; I am creating a two-dimensional object. I am applying paint to a flat surface containing width and height, but not depth. The compulsion is to compensate for that by using the image support (in this case paper, for the oil painter canvas) as a window into another world, to use the qualities of the image to fool the eye into seeing depth where there is none. By employing the tools of spacial illusions, overlap, scale, value, stage placement, etc., the image becomes a hole in the wall, a direct contradiction to what it really is; paint on paper. As a landscape painter, this presented particular problems. No subject matter relies on these tools of the trade more. We sense deepest space outside, in the world. So it becomes necessary in creating the deep space of the landscape to employ several spacial tricks in concert to express this great distance between the viewer and the horizon.
It was a natural progression towards these Big River paintings from my last series, “Construction.”
With the Construction set, I kept the flatness of the page visible by keeping the subject matter parallel to the surface. I didn’t even include a ground below or sky above to contradict the two-dimensionality. However, I did utilize color to give the facade the “push-and-pull” effect. Each unit, by virtue of it’s color, appears slightly closer or slightly further from the viewer in relationship to the units around it. Additionally, I punched holes clear through the flat image to blocks of clear blue, contrasting with the warm colors around it, creating the illusion of spots of deep space through the windows. At this point, then, I was on the fence concerning the issue of fact and fantasy with spatial relationships. Maybe not indecisive, just retaining certain aspects of space while acknowledging the picture plane.
I think the key word here is “dynamics.” What are the visual directions of the image? Where does the image move to/from? With deep space (and landscape painting) much of that dynamic is spent on depth, visual movement from picture plane to horizon. Is it possible, then, to create a landscape painting without that?
So these Big River paintings try to address some of those issues for me. They are an attempt to create dynamics across the surface of the page, left to right, top to bottom, while remaining wholly FLAT. No energy is put into the illusion of space. They accept their width and height as truth and use that as their stage. The paint moves across, rather than into, the surface of the paper.
But are they landscapes? I think so. No, they do not duplicate in detail the visual experience of a landscape. But that is not an option without the gimmickry of deep spatial compositional techniques. Instead they duplicate something more important; they reference the sensation of the landscape. They imitate the action, the “verb,” of the natural world rather than objects, or “nouns.” They are the energy, not the vessel. This metaphor is most clear in the river, veins of energy that move across the surface of the land, always coming, always going, always staying exactly where it is.
This is where presentation plays a key role in the series. From the earlier images, you can see these are displayed unframed and hung by wire offset from the wall about 8 inches. This is a two-fold response to the issues of the image. The lack of frame is in part to avoid the window effect. Because I am attempting to work two-dimensionally, and not create deep space, a window into another world, it was important to keep the thing-ness about it intact. It is a piece of paper that exists as a flat surface; the image is an image that conforms to this. A frame, in my opinion, is a tool to reinforce the window idea of the image. It encloses the artwork in a way that suggests it is something not of this world. A frame is a border separating the real world of the wall from the invented world of the image; bring your suspension-of-disbelief with you. Not here. What you see is what you get. It fully exists here and now, with you the viewer.
The offset from the wall is the other tool I utilized to accenuate the flatness. By creating depth in the real world of the image’s presentation, the paper’s lack of depth is reinforced. With the clear visibility of the wires and the drop shadow immediately on the wall behind it, its two-dimensionality becomes a clear component of what it is.