I’ve always been a figurative painter. I use bodies in motion to tell my stories, exploring the relationship of a couple as they push, pull, flirt, and chase in dance or play. While doing a body of work on couples underwater, I found myself becoming as interested in the dynamics of the water that moved around my subjects as I was the figures themselves. The shifting water reminded me of the driving force in my work throughout the years: motion. Suddenly following the currents of water felt as vital to my work as the catching the movements of the couple. In between painting work focused on the figure, I began exploring the water, not as background, but as subject. I’ve come back again and again to this work, and now have devoted the last year and a half to chasing this series. I feel like it is only starting.
What drive me in this work are the forms that shift and move in rhythms that feel tangible yet elusive. These paintings are both water and not. They can easily be considered non-objective paintings about rhythm and movement. The images are often based on photographs taken underwater but quickly deviate into more formal abstract territory: they may start from thoughts of water but function as studies of motion.
While this shift in work may seem abrupt to some, I see it as a continuity of my effort to capture motion on canvas. Now instead of figures, it is paint that pushes and pulls, flirts and chases. One mark calls for a counter mark. One push calls for a counter pull. The paintings become a balancing act of forces. Open space rushes in to fill the void left behind by a strong ripple in the painting.
And the currents dance.
The Water Series
A fluidity of marks, of movement, of the slippery dynamics of relationship, love. Intimacy and connection have been at the heart of my work for years. In the past I have explored these themes through dancers and wrestlers, couples swing dancing or engaged in a pillow fight: it is all the same to me. We, as people, are bound to the ones we love: we circle one another, we flirt, we pursue, we play, we cry, we want from another. My work has used dancing and playing couples to explore these dynamics.
Years ago, I made a group of paintings called the Water Series. During my first year of marriage, I convinced my young wife to sit, swim, and roll through a cold mountain stream while I painted her from shore. Why water? To me, water is the perfect metaphor for love: all-encompassing and powerful. In water/in love, a wave can carry or drown you, but the currents are so irresistible you ignore the concerns from your lungs about breathing. In water/in love, there is nothing else: any other voices are silenced in the enveloping quiet. And in that drowning/flying silence, bodies reach for each other – that is the moment I seek.
This is the relationship of a couple stripped of the social constructs of dance. There is no audience, only these two, raw and unpolished, losing their footing, tumbling, falling, reaching for each other, pulled apart or pushed together by the water.
My markmaking has always been fluid. Sliding, running from hand to paper, to canvas: hand to form. Marks find, describe form, around form as water surrounds surface. This new series gives my hand room to play. The abstraction found underwater matches my natural markmaking inclinations, providing me a level of abstraction that I haven’t allowed myself in my recent work.
At its core, this new series goes back to that initial inspiration from early in my career. Here the couple is submerged, out of sorts, upside down, completely immersed: in love. The Water Series is a love story.
Turning Swiftly Through
The complexity of rhythm, connection, and motion found in dance is by nature a whirlwind of sensation. Form flutters in and out of solidity as the focus of attention shifts along the whirling figures. As one sees the splash of light on hair, the arm becomes less important. One feels a light touch of a hand on the back and doesn’t notice the sensation of feet on floor. With this intermittent focus of experience we organize our perceptions, our reality enriched.
These paintings and drawings explore the fleeting perception of bodies in motion.
Clarity in the Flutter
With the painting of figures in motion come certain choices: to allow abstraction to overwhelm or obscure the figuration or to maintain clarity to the point of stillness? It is a necessity of process to lean towards abstraction with the depiction of motion. It’s the blur we see in photographs as the subject moves across the field of view. It’s the flutter in the corner of the eye that alerts us to a shift in the calm.
There are entire careers built on this pursuit: Robert Longo’s figures jump and dodge but ultimately live frozen in clarity. They are depicted in such specific representation that they cannot truly shift from their sole position. There is no flutter in this airless world. His figures in motion cannot move due to the weight of their own rendering. On the other side of the equation we have the figures of Cecily Brown. The lovers in her world move through the pictorial space in a constant flurry. They roll and turn obscured by the elements of landscape. Heavy brushstrokes in the de Kooning tradition carve out figure and surrounding environment with the same intensity. Bodies are lost in the vibration of the marks.
In my hunt to pictorially discuss the relationship of a couple through the dynamics of motion, I have covered ground on both sides: clarity and abstraction. These forces seem cyclical in my working process. It was only a year ago that my figures were swallowed up by the flurry of marks across the canvas. A year before that, intense, solid red grounds gave my figures a clean slate for the precise marks that carved the action from the space. This current body of work, finds the pendulum at mid-swing. Elements from each side push into the picture plane.
The precision of the white ground allows the flutter of abstraction a forum for play. The markmaking can range from loose and flamboyant to tighter and exact without becoming overwhelmed by either the intensity of the ground color or the flurry of surrounding brushstrokes. Against the white ground the figures can shift, turn, and reach without having the gesture obscured by the environment. The white is not merely ground: it also functions as light. It illuminates the figures, presses on them, pushes past them to get to the viewer. The light in these paintings strives to carve form as well as eclipse the dancers. Hair and hands get lost in the glare. The white, here, is both clarity and abstraction.
Out of this union comes new element in the work, a side effect: extravagance. The white tableau allows the action to unfold closer to the surface, unveiled. The dynamics of the couple are brought to the forefront. The picture plane will not hide them as in paintings past. Therefore, the action is in the spotlight. Moments become bigger. Gesture becomes more of a pageant. The specifics of a flowing lock of hair or the pull of an arm are heightened in the dramatic environment. The pictorial struggle between clarity and abstraction forces my exploration of the interactions of a couple toward grand spectacle.