Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Now that it is too cold to paint outdoors, I've started a few paintings inside. Besides being more comfortable, I've found that it's much easier to paint when I'm in control of the light source (lamps). As I've described previously, working outside puts me at the mercy of the weather and the variables of sunlight, so these new paintings are a welcome relief.
The most recent painting I've completed, is of a banana palm plant that is in my kitchen. During the winter months, my wife and I take many of our plants from the deck, indoors. Besides giving our house a lush, tropical feeling, it also protects them from the elements. One that I repeatedly find most annoying to deal with is the banana palm. First of all, it's now so heavy and bulky, getting it indoors is a 2 person job, requiring a dolly and some cursing. Secondly, the only spot for it is in our kitchen next to a window, which is just to the left of where I keep my laptop computer and our toaster oven. It's now about as tall as I am, and given the small space in New York living quarters, it sometimes feels like we've added another member to our family. It's leaves fan out over and in front of the window, and I find myself always bumping into it while checking my email or making toast. So after much procrastinating, and before the first frost, a friend and I finally pulled it inside. Looking to continue my work through the winter, I thought I'd somehow redeem my annoyance with this plant by doing a painting of it. I was struck by the towering grace-fullness of the plant, bursting out of it's heavy aluminum base. I also liked the idea having my computer in the painting; the organic next to the machine.
I did a sketch and a larger charcoal drawing, then determined that the size of the canvas should be about 18" x 24". One thing that fascinated me as I worked on the piece was how fast the plant was growing. Having scrutinized and observed it for about a month, I noticed how rapidly the plant's leaves were unfolding before me. There was this very slow, but perceptible rotation upward and outward of the plant reaching for daylight (phyllotaxis). I found this completely amazing, but also frustrating in regards to working on the painting. Having picked something to paint which I thought was static (a still life), I found myself painting a moving target again. It forced me to render the leaves' positioning in a one-shot painting session, usually about 2 hours. A few days later, when I returned to work on the painting, I found the position of the leaves had changed, forcing me to destroy and repaint it anew. At a certain point I was happy with the way the leaves were painted and worked on the rest of the painting. After about a month, I thought the painting was complete and took it to the studio to put some finishing touches on it. A few days later in the kitchen, I noticed that one of the large, lower leaves protruding out into the space in front of the plant, was beginning to slowly change color. The fresh, 'ripe' leaves, all have this dark variegated green with purplish splotches, which was was a thrill to paint. The dying leaf in the front was slowly losing that deep viridian color, turning yellowish-orange from the tip on upward. This last element is what finally tied the whole painting together for me. The new yellow-orange in the leaf mimicked the yellow orange of the floor and cabinet to the right, and added a focal point to the sprouting jumble of green leaves in the middle of the painting. I brought the painting back for one last sitting and repainted the front-most leaf in one shot.
It's moments like these that remind me of why I enjoy painting from life. There's no way that the dying leaf would have meant that much to me if I had just taken a photo and decided to do a painting from it. I had observed and witnessed the birth and death of this plant's life cycle over the past month. The course of the painting contained a succession of frozen moments which were seen and recorded. The unfolding of growth and decay; from the striving fresh shoots in the middle of the plant, to the dying leaf in the front. It is by this slow, sustained looking at things which allows me to see and know the world.