Posts Tagged ‘Rhythm’

Thomas Hart Benton Google ScreenshotOne of the books in my to-read pile that is more of a tower now is one called Tom and Jack from writer Henry Adams.  It details the long relationship between Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock, two painters seemingly worlds apart– Pollock known for his vibrant abstracted drip paintings and Benton for his distinct but more objective view of the American landscape.

But Benton was a mentor, teacher and surrogate father for Pollock and many of his lessons found form in Pollock’s work, particularly the ability to create a rhythm in each painting.  Both were masters of the graceful organic rhythms that run through their works.

One of the things I often do when looking at the work of other artists is to do a Google image search for that artist.  Seeing the work grouped together, as you can see in the  images at the top and bottom of the page, allows me to quickly take in the overall tone and feel, to get an idea of the general fingerprint of that artist.  At the top is a screenshot of Benton’s landscapes and the thing that  immediately jumps out at me is the beautiful organic roll  of the landscape that creates a rhythm that instantly draws me in.

Thomas Hart Benton _trail-ridersOne of the paintings from the Benton page is shown here on the left, The Trail Riders, and is a great example of this rhythm.  It creates a sense of movement and gives the forms of the landscape an almost human quality in its curves and rolls which makes it seem familiar.  Part of us, who we are.  For me, that rhythm in Benton’s work was a revelation.  The landscape became something more that a static backdrop.  It was alive and breathing and moving, very often the central character in the work.

And I knew that was what I wanted in my own work, just as I believe Pollock  observed it and wanted for his own work.  And he found a way to take that rhythm and create his own living  landscape through his distinct  visual vocabulary.  Much different than Benton but built on the same underlying energies.

Seeing both their works is really motivating for me, making me chomp at the bit  this morning.  Each spurs me in many directions, but always fast and forward moving.

And that is always a good thing…

Jackson Pollock Google Screenshot

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Failure is inevitable. Success is elusive.

Steven Spielberg


I’ve written in recent posts about that rhythm that sometimes comes when I am readying work for shows, a deep groove filled with a self-regenerating energy that feeds on itself.  Just a wonderful feeling when I can stop for a moment and relish it.

But sometimes during these grand bouts of this rhythm  there are days when the wheels seem to come off the wagon and everything crashes.  Nothing works and every effort results in frustration and failure.  The rhythm that seemed onmipresent just moments before seems to have suddenly vanished completely and every action feels like I’m trying to move a huge boulder.  That was yesterday.

It started promisingly enough, working on the small detail work that is the grunt work of what I do.  Staining a few frames here.  Varnishing a few paintings there.  Then I worked for a bit on a piece in progress and stiil everything felt good, the synapses still sparking brightly. 

But then later in the morning  I pulled out a decent sized canvas, 2′ by 3′,  to start.  It had been treated with multiple layers of gesso and I felt like stars were aligned for this piece.  By the end of the day I realized I had misread these stars.  They were telling me to run.  Nothing worked at all on this piece.  The color was flat and every effort to bring it to life failed miserably and made the whole thing seem even more drab and lifeless.  Six or seven hours in and I step back to take it in and it is nothing but awful and the lightness that came with the rhythm has been replaced with a frustrating weight that rests heavily on my shoulders as well as in my gut. 

 I am at that moment verging on  screaming in a very primal way, like the character in the Edvard Munch painting.  My scream was replaced by a grab for the  paint and within minutes there is a layer of  black on the canvas, all evidence of my day covered in thick strokes of paint.  Seeing the failure of the day covered in black actually takes the edge off of the frustration I am feeling at the moment.  The flatness is dead and gone and I know that I will no longer be struggling over it, no longer struggling to bring a corpse back to life. 

But the frustration still lingers in the studio and I know that there will be nothing gained by fighting it.  I clean up and end my day, hoping that the new morning will find me refreshed and back in rhythm.

That being said, I have to go.  There’s a rhythm in here someplace and, godammn it, I am going to find it.  Like Darth Vader says above– failure will not be tolerated.

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Seeking Rhythm

This is a new piece, a small painting about 7″ by 11″ on paper.  I still have no name for it.  I’ve been spending the last several days trying to refind my normal painting rhythm.  I use the term rhythm quite often in describing what I do and always struggle when trying to descrribe exactly what I mean when using it.  But this time it means the actual ebb and flow of the act of painting, the tempo of the creative process as an idea forms and takes shape before me on the surface. I normally fall easily into a pattern where one action of painting inspires another and so on, almost self-perpuating.  Color begets color and line begets line, each sparking a new idea, a new thought.  It’s a rhythm that I have depended on for most of the time I have painted.

When I’m away from painting as I have been lately, doing needed projects around the home and studio, I fall out of this rhythm.  I can tell during the day, an uneasy knot forming in my gut.  This rhythmic pattern has become vital to my well-being  and when it’s disrupted, I get antsy and out of sorts.  Usually, I am back into it within a day or two with little loss of momentum and this unease fades quickly into the paint and routine.  Some times, as is the case at the moment, it becomes more of a struggle to regain that rhythm, to find that groove in which to take hold.  Nothing starts nor finishes easily.  Color doesn’t sing on the surface, laying there with an uninspired flatness.  Lines are listless and forms dull.  One piece does not inspire the next.  In fact, it brings dread to the next piece.

 I find myself trashing piece after piece,  something I seldom do.  I normally can find something that I want to keep in a piece even if it is only for the lesson learned from its deficiencies.  But these failures seem dismal and dull.  Their very existence bothers me and they go in the trash.

But time has taught me not to panic when I am struggling to find footing.  I became more determined and go back to basics, working on small blocks of color, trying to find life and visual excitement in each little block.  At first, even this was a chore, like slogging in ankle deep creative mud.  But eventually, something broke loose and I find myself finding a stirring of life in the colors and forms and soon I am excited by what I am seeing.  The next move has been inspired and soon my mind is filled with possibilities and potentialities for several new pieces.  Rhythm seems almost at hand and the knot in my gut begins to subside, my mind settling into a familiar hum.  Like that red tree in the image above, looking out over its domain and feeling that, for the time being, all is right with that world.


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