Friday, September 25, 2009

Equipoise and Intention in Painting

Years ago a friend introduced me to the rudiments of Taichi in Taiwan. "Stand with your feet under you, toes pointed forward, and imagine that a vertical line passes through your body, connecting you to the sky and the ground.

I had never felt more relaxed and centered on the moment, and those exercises have accompanied me since that day, roughly twelve years ago.

"Searching for China" (ink on paper 18" x 24")

These days I seek to approach painting with the equipoise I felt that day on the beach in Taiwan. Breathing is important. I feel a sense of emptiness accompanied by calm as I lay out the blank paper, remembering that all that white space is as essential as the marks I will leave with the tools at my disposal. As with musical improvisation, I sense that I have no idea what exactly I will be creating so much as the urgency to do it, come what may. I have an idea, (or rather the idea has me) and I begin, likely loading a roller with the "right" amount of ink , thickened or thinned as I like, until I know (more or less) what will emerge from the gesture.

Or, rather, I do not know.

At that moment the idea grows tangible on the paper, fills in the blank space, becomes an event of form-making. And then that form suggests the next, and I move according to the way the mind's eye corresponds to the actual composition, revealing itself by the moment as the moon takes its form after clouds pass. The brush work is intentional, methodical, chosen.

This is what I think, until I'm not sure at all what leads what.

I change directions, mid stroke, across the length of the paper, by way of a subtle suggestion, without lifting my hand. This freedom within the emerging form's own requirements awakens my senses to the whole; inspires a more focused forward motion, accompanied by proper breathing. I have been tempted to call these strokes "breathing strokes" because they seem tied to and enacted with the breath. The long-line brushstrokes intersect the block-like forms and enliven what would otherwise risk becoming a stolid, static composition. This abstract pattern emerges organically and afterward seems to have been delivered, in turns, via a mix of
painstaking internal logic combined with the enriching moments of happenstance. At one moment I am as preconceived as Mozart and then, without warning, I am rolling John Cage's dice.

Two nights ago I was painting and couldn't really answer a simple question rattling through my consciousness: is the brush following my hand or is my hand following the brush?

Both are true, of course, and perhaps the mind toggles between leading and following as the ink flows out from under the bristles.

These are matters of process and progress as a work unfolds. It leads to another question. How much of the spirit and intention by which an artwork is made translates into the experience of the receiver, taking in the aesthetic terms of the final piece?

I don't know, and feel certain that I will never know. Parents pour love into their children and such children are more likely to have a happy childhood. But something as simple as moonlight affects the hearts of those who take it in differently. Equally, the ocean can be appealing or terrifying, depending on the terms of what a person brings into that environment.

So I do not expect everyone will relate to my paintings the way I do and I do not even know if that is to be desired. Intention is not a be-all end-all, and the terms of a painting connect according to one's own internal landscape. Abstract art does not represent the world directly, and we experience a freedom from recognized objects in its crafted ambiguity. Swimming around in that open space reveals to me a more oceanic way of being, and I feel grateful to Mark Rothko, Louise Frankenthaler, Jeff Hengst and many other abstract painters for providing this service to the mind. I like to think my abstract art has a job to do that entails recharging the psyche; providing an arena for introspection not easily found elsewhere.

Do you get this, dear reader, from my work?

Doug Newton

See more of my paintings here: