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Archive for January 20th, 2011

I wrote yesterday, while descibing the initial stages of my painting process for a new piece, about stepping back from the canvas at a distance to take in the piece as a whole.  During these early stages, when I’m blocking in the painting with red oxide, I give it what I call my snake-eyed look. This entails squinting the eyes and sort of unfocusing, taking in the shapes as sort of abstract forms that play off one another.  Without taking in great detail with this snake-eyed look I am also imagining ahead in the process, seeing the shapes taking on color and how they’ll react within the composition.  It’s hard to explain except to say that it is a sort of intuitive visualization.

I got the term, snake-eyed look, from a scene from the movie Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb, the son of westward bound settlers who are killed in an attack by the Pawnee tribe and is subsequently raised as a Cheyenne after being foundby them  in the wreckage of their family’s wagon.  The story tells of his misadventures in going back and forth between the worlds of the Native Americans and the white man , culminating in him being present at the Little Big Horn where Genral Custer (played brilliantly by Richard Mulligan) meets his death.  Great movie and a great tale based on Thomas Berger’s wonderful novel of the same name.

In one scene Jack is reunited with his sister who also survived the massacre but escaped from their rescuers, certain they would rape her.  The Cheyenne, however, thought she was a man.  She takes Jack out to teach him how to use a handgun.  She tells him to go snake-eyed and to visualize shooting a bottle before drawing his gun.  Kind of like the description I gave above.   It’s a scene that I always think of when I find myself standing back from a painting with my eyes in a snake-eyed squint and I often wonder if I adapted this because of the scene or if my squinting  just came naturally.  Whatever the case, it worked for Jack Crabb and it works for me.

I will show the progress of the piece I wrote of yesterday in tomorrow’s post.  For today, here’s that scene from Little Big Man with that snake-eyed look.  If you haven’t seen the whole film or read the book, I definitely recommend either.

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