November 20, 2012 10:55 am Leave your thoughts


This is a piece that I’ve been working on intermittently for about 5 months, starting sometime in early June. It is an amalgamation, or maybe more a final stage of the evolution, of a few cast away paintings dating way back to late 2010. I would say it has very loose ties to the original, the major ones being that there was also a pool in that one and the concept is similar, and like most of my conceptual paintings it has absorbed different meanings as I’ve gone along depending on what I find myself currently thinking about the most.

I have mixed feelings about this stage of the evolution; some elements are appealing to me and some I see as failed attempts to try my hand at new techniques, but good practice nonetheless. I’ve always found myself struggling with when to declare a painting finished. When in art school years ago, I found myself consistently becoming a victim of my own perfectionism and racing around before class trying to get a panel glued together or carrying pieces with still wet paint on them to critiques. On one hand I think it can be a great thing for an artist to be so insecure about the final presentation of their work as it usually produces a more bulletproof piece. The artists I’ve always admired the most have usually been those who produce meticulous works that feel like a solid collection of ideas as opposed to a quick snapshot of one of those ideas.

On the other hand, I’ve seen what the fear of misrepresentation can do to your productivity. A great example of this is one of the last of my collage style paintings that I started late 2006. After spending months driving myself crazy trying to make the perfect piece and then nervously picking at it over a year or two, I eventually destroyed it by overworking it and threw it away (luckily getting a photo of it before it dissapeared forever). Granted I had slowed down on my painting immensely after starting it, I sometimes think that working on it non-stop everyday for two years may have led to the same outcome. While I am proud of myself for moving away from that kind of productive vacuum, I still and probably always will desire the ability to be as prolific as Picasso while putting out pieces as painstakingly planned as a Vermeer.

The original idea that myopic leads back to was aesthetically very different and was constructed through what I consider to be my old process: a lot of taping things off to create crisp clean edges, using an exacto blade to cut into the surface, and working on each element of the picture plane separately. I still used a similar method of sketching which entails a few pencil drawings in my sketchbook and then using found images to create a final collage in Photoshop. At that point I was printing these collages out as the room setup in my old apartment made it impossible to paint while looking at a computer screen like I do now. This made it very difficult to do the inevitable tweaking to the pieces of the collage that is now so easy. I would waste ink printing out what I thought was a final collage and soon realize that it was’t working when translated to paint, or that I wasn’t happy with my choices for imagery, toss it, print a new one, etc.

I actually hadn’t gotten far with the painting for this early concept and I am still keeping the idea on the back burner as a potential future piece. Basically it was a stark image of an in-ground, brightly lit swimming pool abutted with an image of the ocean at night. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to add to it once I got into the painting, but the two elements symbolized themes of the familiar and the unknown. The pool represents the human need to create artificial worlds with which we distract ourselves and those around us, making it easier to eliminate certain existential thoughts we may have about concepts we are inherently not fully capable of grasping (i.e. eternity, our own death, the origin of life, the infinity of empty space, etc.) that might lead to total disfunction if we tried follow them to their ends and didn’t cut them off at some point. The highly chlorinated, artificially colored and lit pool seemed to me a fitting symbol of the untruths, beliefs and theories that we use wishful thinking to desperately cling to and eventually turn into our own truths, of the lies we tell ourselves to try to mantain sanity and order in a chaotic world that we don’t fully understand and we can not control. The teal water that bubbles and churns in this claustrophobic little area represents the infectious spread of these distractions and how a culture slowly and exponentially grows to adapt to a collective existential dread, how one person attempts to neutralize the fears of the unknown in another with religion, social niceties or other banalities so that they can shelter themselves from their own unbearable thoughts (my painting “tunnel” is also a take on this idea). The dark ocean taking up the rest of the composition represents of course the unknown, the thing that our minds mutually and subconsciously agree to turn away from but that will always still be there to take glimpses of before retreating back into the shelters we’ve created for our own preservation.

I was passionate about it at the time, but due to lack of actual work, lack of a clear vision of how I wanted to express my vague idea in a painting, and lack of confidence in the idea I scrapped it.

At the beginning of this year I started another pool themed painting. I think I kept coming back to it because it includes two of the most visually and conceptually fascinating elements to me: water and small interiors. After looking over all of my paintings in the last few years, I can see that whatever is going on in the painting is usually taking place inside a room of some kind. I don’t know exactly why this is, but I find the effects that light can produce in small enclosures to be visually fascinating and it also does something for me emotionally. I think I also like the idea of the room symbolizing something more abstract, containing all the concepts of a painting into one big highly concentrated chunk. I have many emotionally stirring childhood memories of different rooms and various kinds of enclosures. I was fascinated with lego sets and small scale models of buildings – also with snowglobes and lightup christmas villages. I remember hanging upside down from the stairs in our house and staring at the ceiling, a whole new environment appearing before me by seeing the ceiling as the floor, the hanging lamp now upright and literally casting a completely different light on everything.

As for water, I think the fascination comes from fearing it. I was obsessed with sharks as a kid and so predictably Jaws was a large part of that obsession. As I grew older, I started to realize that it wasn’t the shark or the large bodies of water I was afraid of, it was what they represented. The ocean and the fish, in reality, are completely alien to those in the movie, as they were consciously used by the author as triggers for the deepest, most universal human fears, and, as Peter Benchley put it and I’m heavily paraphrasing, “The attraction that people have to Jaws and horror movies in general comes from the desire to act as a voyeur to the deaths of others at the hands of unstoppable forces of nature. From watching these scenarios play out, we can in turn prepare for survival if the same fate were to befall us.”

So the concept for this second painting that never was was similar to the first one, and it brought back the elements of small interior and large body of dark water. After working on it for a few months, I began to loathe it more and more until I scrapped that one too.

Wanting to give this concept one more chance, I arrived at myopic. The inspiration for the imagery came from viewing a series of photos of abandoned indoor pools in Pripyat, Ukraine – remnants of the Chernobyl disaster. I used one of the images for the 2nd painting that never was, and, while I loved the image, I found myself struggling with a recurring problem of it being of so poor quality that deciphering the details was difficult. This can sometimes be a good thing as it forces me to reinterpret the pixels and it pushes creativity, but it can also produce a flat boring image because I am trying to paint something realistically that has so little visual information. I was really fond of these images and I was determined to use one, so I settled on the one in the painting above. Many things, beside the fact that the image was much clearer, appealed to me, namely the light blue / teal color of the tiled walls, the rich, deep almost black burnt sienna of the shallow water, and the beams of light that shone in through the windows and reflected beautifully off of the walls.

This was a great setting for me to do my lingering idea of familiar vs. unknown justice, only now it had taken on a few more meanings. I needed a point of interest in the interior to make the painting feel complete to me, and I knew I wanted some kind of living thing but I wanted to skew it so that it wasn’t identifiable by the viewer. I decided to use a picture of a snow owl as, aside from owls being mysterious and somewhat dark creatures to me, I wanted to see what I could do color-wise with the subtleties that the white feathers offered. It also contrasted with dark grungy water, creating the black and white with subtle hints of color spectrum that appeals to me. I sliced up the owl in Photoshop, taking away and adding pieces as well as turning it upside down.

I began to see this creature as a more personal element than I intended to to, and started to imagine the scene as a whole representing my struggle with the last painting, and with my faith (or lack thereof) in my own art in general with each successive painting that I saw as failed. The thin strands that would barely hold up the writhing, chaotic mass of feathers were bits of optimism and healthy habits that I tried to adopt as a defense against my doubts about myself and my work (oh, I am so tortured…)

Months later as I continued working, I started ruminating (more so than usual) on the brutal, sadistic side of man, evidence of which was brought to me whenever I encountered the most recent news of someone torturing a defenseless animal, getting raped, commiting war crimes, etc., or when delving into the pages of history and finding acts of violence and sadism so unually brutal that I have a hard time believing they happened at all.

I started thinking about why this bothered me so much as I lead a fairly privileged life and have never had to deal with most of the horrible things I’ve seen, heard, or read about from afar. Although I sometimes think it’s more difficult for me to pretend like it’s not happening or it has nothing to do with me than it is for some people, I usually have the option of turning away when things get too uncomfortable. But even though I know that I can protect myself from these things on a surface level, I know that I can never escape the most frightening aspects of human nature, because the potential for them to rise to the surface if provoked by extraordinary circumstances is inherent within myself and everyone else. The fear and distress I feel from hearing about these stories of cruelty come not only from the idea that it could happen to me or someone I care about, but also from the nagging hint of familiarity I feel when I recognize something of my own capability for cruelty toward others. What I imagine follows is the ancient impulsive desire to condemn the perpetrator, so that I can in turn condemn the part of myself I see in them, and isolate myself from my own potentially violent nature. I worked on the end stages of the painting with these thoughts most prominent in my mind.

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This post was written by mryczek

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