Back in my college days, an instructor observed that changes in my work seemed to happen in logical steps--things evolved and grew in a way that made clear the connections from one stage to another. I was pleased by that idea, and I've seen it myself over the years since then. Although I don't discount the widespread advice to "leave the comfort zone" in order to grow, I've always felt that this leave-taking need not be abrupt--that it can be just as valid as a shift rather than a leap. There is a lot to be said for allowing growth to happen organically in its own time, branching out from a solid base.
At the same time, various experiences, especially the artist's residencies I've had in the past few years, seem to be catalysts for more obvious changes, sometimes pretty noticeably. No wonder, with the intense focus on work, the stimulation of a new location, different culture, and meeting artists from around the world. One of these big changes happened after my first residency in Catalonia, in 2001, when I finally found the path into abstraction I'd been seeking for years.
For the past few weeks I've been pushed by my memories of my time in Ireland into work that is definitely out of my comfort zone. The paintings above, with their strong contrasts and bold shapes are like nothing I have done in the past. I find them both intensely personal and rather alien...compelling, unsettling.
Yet in a speeded-up way, these too show a logical progression from the works on paper I did in Ireland. From the small monotypes and drawings such as this:
and quick oil and wax paintings like the one below, which I pinned to the wall beside the larger works on panel as references. I am trying to capture the emotion and memories of walking along the wild sea cliffs of Mayo, and perhaps something more I have yet to know.
back in the studio
I've been home from Ireland for just over a week, time enough to unpack and spread my new work around the studio on walls and tables, and to give it some thought now that I am away from its source. Now I can also view it alongside the paintings I was working on back in late September, when I was packing to leave. Contrast, emphasis on shape, and texture are prominent in the new work.
A few days ago I sat with this work and made some notes. On an emotional level I find the strong dark shapes in the monotypes I did very compelling, expressive as they are of the rocky seacoast of Mayo, where at times I found myself close to tears walking along the cliffs, or on the wild beaches--overwhelmed by rugged beauty. Many of my small works, such as the monotype below, came about directly and spontaneously, and caught for me some essence of that experience.
The oil and wax paintings I did are for the most part softer, and more complex and colorful. They bring to mind the blanket bogs that cover miles of the Mayo landscape. The bog may appear barren and rather featureless from a distance, but up close it is a tapestry of color and form, created by the plant life, stones and turf. The soft bog lands and the rocky coast are the two most striking aspects of Mayo, and are often juxtaposed, with the bog extending right up to the edges of the tall cliffs as in the scene below on Clare island.
I love this contrast, this yin/yang of the landscape. Nuance and boldness, quiet sensitivity and drama. This is the emotional and conceptual material I want to explore in my return to my own studio. Several new paintings are underway, and I have dragged my lightweight, toy-like etching press from under a table and dusted it off. After all the fun of making monotypes at Ballinglen, I'm interested in trying some at home-I just need to replace the felt blankets and get some ink that isn't dried to a crisp. This little press hasn't been used in a good 20 years and may not be up to the task--stay tuned!