I wanted to share a little bit about one of my new paintings, and a little bit about why and how it was created. This particular painting is called Promise, and it was created over the course of the last several months for an upcoming show in October/November 2017 at Rehs Contemporary Galleries in New York. The show itself had a lot to do with me finally getting this image out onto a surface. It's something that has been brewing in me for about two years, following a serious car accident I was involved in in 2015.
In general, my inspiration for the new work in this show is no different from the personal work I do on a continuing basis. The images I create are excerpts from my own personal journey, reflections, usually described through metaphorical imagery, highlighting humanity and the human condition using the figure as an integral part of the story. What has the potential to change or evolve each time I create a new painting might be the focus. Each image is a small piece of the overall story. Like paragraphs or chapters are to a novel that is being perpetually written. The paintings for this show are all new pieces, recently created over the last several months specifically for this show, and so reflect more current experiences. By sharing my personal reflections, I strive for my work to be relatable universally, and possibly even inspire a dialog that encourages strength, awareness, and openness.
In this one particular painting, I wanted to capture the feelings that spawned from the accident, both as a singular moment, and as a lasting moment in time, and how one split second of time essentially can guide the course of the future, and most of all remind us of what's most important. Its overall message is one of gratitude, compassion and trust. It's a point of reflection for me, and I made it in hopes that it can carry its own positive energy out to others as those who have guided and helped me have done when I've needed it. The title of the painting is the title of the song that was playing in my car at the time I was hit.
What I felt was important was not necessarily to depict the actual elements from that particular scene, but to depict an overall emotional state that not only involved the immediate moment, but a cross between several things in regards to it: the moment of impact, how our minds process that split second of time and in recalling it, give us the notion that it felt like it was in slow motion or that we were floating, the sense of simultaneous urgency, fear and euphoria, and the time that followed since and what that all entailed.
After that accident, jumpstart to about a year later.. When I was contacted about the show at Rehs, it was an announcement that I was one of 6 artists who were being awarded the Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc Award through the International ARC Salon and Art Renewal Center, and that though all 6 artists' stylistic choices may be varied, the focus of the work would be the human figure in this show. What was interesting about that is that even though I do consider myself a figurative painter, for a long while after the accident, I had more of an inclination to paint abstracts, usually vast spaces or environments using texture and various marks to create them. The figure was still there but was an element in a greater whole. So, as I thought about what I'd like to paint for this show, my intention was to integrate the figure (which was essentially a requirement for the show) into these abstracts as a form of storytelling. It's really what I've already been doing, but these were new paintings, a new approach to it, with new stories to tell.
The abstract elements and imagery play a large part in the images in my work and it's not necessarily solely for the purpose of design. Though the design and composition of it do have their place and importance, the marks also have a character of their own that weave in and out of immersion with the figure as well as existing in the negative space. The color, the texture, the depth, the edges, are all very important elements to its existence – just as the figures would be, or any other object or element to an environment. Visually and metaphorically, I tend to think of it like how we all exist in terms of molecules floating in space and less like we're all separate encased bags of molecules. We're all one big organism. We exist for and because of each other. In terms of a human connection or the human condition, we exist because of and in spite of one another. I've always spent a lot of time thinking about these kinds of things, especially in the long hours I spend painting daily, but sometimes there are moments that happen to suddenly or abruptly bring it all to the forefront, and cause us to sort it all out. Among many other things, an unexpected reminder of life's fleeting quality can do that. There's also no denying that the current environmental, social, and political climate can play a big part in processing our existence as well. And it always will.
The figures in my paintings have always tended to represent the human condition in some way, and how we as human beings process and influence our surroundings. It's important to me to allow for the blurring of lines when it comes to describing and perceiving concepts and observations. Technically, I do this in a number of ways, but stream of consciousness and word association are what I tend to gravitate towards when it comes to thought process, ideation, or solidifying abstract notions. I use metaphors, idioms, and dream interpretation (which basically are metaphors) a lot. For the most part, my paintings begin with abstract marks on the surface, and I paint into the marks to pull the image out from the abstract. As the paintings develop, they morph and shapeshift into what eventually becomes the finished image. There's a lot more that goes into it in terms of describing the process from start to finish, but that's essentially most times how my work is created – it's pulled from the abstract, and evolves into a composition of realized forms immersed in the abstract. (I've posted progressions of my work in other previous articles I've posted here on MC). But aside from the idea of this purely as a progression and a way of making an image visually, there's the conceptual aspect of it – and that's a big part of it, for me. It's the why I see what I'm seeing, what the elements I'm seeing are to me, and what they represent to us as a whole. How we communicate by using those elements as subjects, and the merging of the abstract elements such as color and texture to represent mood or emotion are perhaps the more important aspects of making an image such as this one, and essentially represent how and what I'm communicating to the viewer.
this is the abstract start to the painting
As I start to see forms emerge from the abstract, I start to do research. For me, researching is a searching for the underlying meaning behind the emerging forms I'm seeing. It's a combination of a going within myself as well as several other things such as setting up objects, taking reference photos especially if I'm unfamiliar with the subject at a certain angle or under certain lighting, and doing research on these elements in terms of metaphor, representation, and history, etc. For example, let's take hands. There are several hands in this painting. At first, this is just simply because that's what I saw in those shapes. That is important to note because I've allowed myself to show myself what I know, what I don't know, and what I'm trying to tell myself and possibly others. When I start to dig deeper, I find some things that are key elements in what will be the evolution of those shapes becoming forms. First, what do hands mean to me? Well, in regards to my accident, I lost all function of my hand. It was crushed and deformed and required surgery and nearly a year of therapy to get it to function relatively normally again. In the rehabilitation process, there was also the whole awareness process – the mental state, the awareness of what we take for granted when healthy, the awareness that it won't physically return to what it was before, so it's a balance of what I've gained since rehab and the acceptance of that mentally, and generally how we use our hands and how they coexist. It's no surprise that I've been seeing hands in every abstract shape everywhere. Second, to me, hands represent support, encouragement, a gauge on our capabilities, help, reach, grasp, healing, and resilience. This can be in terms of ourselves as well as metaphorically, the help, support and healing given to us by others around us.
Without going into too much of a written description of this image, I'd like to quickly mention a few things.. I wanted to give this image a sense of the unknown in many ways. In terms of whose hands, and what the hands are doing (helping or pushing, and the position of the hands, for example), it could be interpreted differently. And I always want to leave room for that. Like an open, spontaneous conversation would flow. In the case of life and feeling vulnerable (or just simply feeling human) as this figure may portray in posture and orientation as well as having multiple heads with various expressions, there is an ambiguity, a loss of a sense of security and a sense of what normal is. That realization (again, and what will happen repeatedly throughout our lifespan) that what's normal is change, and to allow for floating with the tide as we process it. It would be up to us – or in the case of needing to float for a bit, it would be up to those who are there for us in times when we are needing that time to float – to be able to discern these possibilities and assess accordingly. There are other hands there to help us through it, even if it's just to allow us to float or even to stumble, and just to have their hands out nearby in case we need it.
This existence is largely about compassion. And I believe trust and gratitude are essential to compassion. The reason I chose to paint an image that was influenced by the circumstances of the accident was that, first of all, it was inevitable, but mainly that this brought out all aspects of these concepts front and center – in myself and in others around me. I learned so much about others from this experience. I've also learned so much about my mental and physical health, and I've always been pretty in tune with that. I've got other issues that have stemmed from this accident, and I still deal with them now. I'm a human being. Like we all are. We're amazing creatures, really, with an infinitely complex system that is both immensely powerful and simultaneously fragile. At the time of the accident, I knew that I was strong and that I could persevere, yes, but what I also learned is that I had to be even stronger to ask for help. And sometimes we don't feel strong enough to do that. And sometimes others around us know that too. And they help because they know. And those are the keepers.
One more thing.. When I awoke in my car after the impact, I had this recurring sonar-type sound in my head. It felt familiar (not annoying, but comforting), but I could only describe it as a sonar sound. Weeks later, I heard a song called Promise by Ben Howard and just completely broke down. That was the sound! It wasn't a sonar, but the beginning of that song.. And I remembered that that was the song that was playing when I was hit (I know because I had turned it up when the song had started, thinking the music had stopped. It's quiet at the beginning and gradually gains volume that transforms into the song. When I was sitting at a red light, I had turned up the volume to that song. Seconds later, I was hit head-on by a car who'd run a red light going about 50mph). I'm not even sure if he meant for it to sound like a sonar, but I feel like that makes even more sense. I felt like that's what I needed was some kind of sonar. And when I sent out that signal, this painting and everything that came with it during its creation was eventually what came back to me. I hope that it can – and I can – be that in some way for others as well. And I do have tremendous gratitude for those who've shown their support, and for Rehs Contemporary Galleries for giving me the opportunity and providing the impetus to process it and eventually put it to canvas for this show.
The ARC Select: Contemporary Figures show features 6 artists: Emanuele Dascanio, Daniel Gerhartz, Vanessa Lemen, Sergio Lopez, Tim Rees, and Marc Scheff. Each artist will be showing 4 to 6 new pieces created specifically for this show. The Opening Reception is Saturday, October 28th, 2-8pm. The show will run through November 17th.
Here is a link to the Ben Howard song called Promise, in case you're interested in hearing it and how it might've influenced the painting. Remember, it's quiet at the beginning, but it does gradually gain volume, and the sonar-type sound I was mentioning is throughout. Also, the overall mood and some of the lyrics are really very fitting, I think. Maybe listen while viewing the painting, and see what you think.