Untitled, May 2011
Lockwood de Forest
Frederick S. Wight
I’m having problems with abstraction. For a decade and more I only made abstract drawings, then in 2007 and 8 this changed. I made a drawing for a friend (this is my usual way of making work – for someone or about a friend) and this friend seemed not to be an ‘abstract kind of guy’ to me, so I pushed myself. This all gets complicated, I’ll explain:
Another friend, an abstract painter, does an image and text blog. On this blog I found reproduced an antique photograph of a man sitting with a guitar in his lap. Something struck me about it – I mean something more than simply being on my friend’s blog.
Not being sure why, I free-handed a drawing of the man and separately, of the guitar. I used Seated Gentleman and Guitar as templates, and tracings from them served as the basis for many drawings. the first of these was a small drawing for the first friend, non-abstract guy. I really loved these.
Two months later, for the new daughter of friends, I returned to a (for me) much older way of working – on 9″ x 12″ paper I drew pages for a book. Illustrating these pages with bright, crazy characters, and nonsensical stories, I glued and taped found bits to the pages and made a funny cover. The drawings were satisfying representationally and formally. Doing the book and then giving it away – this giving is another essential part of my work – began a cavalcade of production, by my standards anyway. I made six or seven large books and three smaller ones. I made many drawings. I was having fun and did not stop to think.
Meanwhile, my interest in looking at art, at paintings, remained basically rooted in abstraction.
Three years went by. In Santa Barbara one weekend I saw paintings by Lockwood de Forest, these were oils painted en plein aire during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and were painted all around the Santa Barbara area. de Forest painted by day and by night. I felt something magical to his practice – painting one’s home, what one sees around oneself, again and again. For years. Probably coincidentally de Forest went deaf in his early middle age, this made socializing difficult and I imagine made his time spent looking and painting that much more valuable. Each of these small paintings was dated and many gave the time of day of completion. They were truly lovely paintings. They spoke to me of looking deeply and of looking over time – they also seemed to speak to me of the artist himself. I could see his hand, I witnessed changes in his painting over time. He had captured himself within these hundreds of landscapes. He had also painted wonderful images that did not need any real world reference, or so it seemed.
My next stop on this conceptual journey was several weeks later at the Oakland Musuem looking at paintings by David Park. Such beautiful paintings that man made! I felt doors start to open. I went all sorts of personal places with the paintings, they reminded me of so many experiences during my life. I thought of a book that early on informed my looking, a book I had forgotten. I remembered falling in love with paintings the first time.
More time went by, weeks and months. One weekend recently a bunch of abstract painting shows opened all at once. One of these I had waited years to see and each of the artists are painters I respect and admire. I went from gallery to gallery and back through again. I felt a hollow place in my chest and I wondered, “What is it that I’m seeing? What is important to me about these pictures, these paintings, the marks upon them?” I was stripped bare of something, some faith I had in abstraction – or so it felt. Shaken, I went home.
Now I think back to another recent show – a friend (the second guy who began this story) showed abstract work in various media. It was months before my recent experience that I saw his show. Interestingly, the work I remember best, the work that felt the deepest and riskiest and most honestly troubling were some small paintings on paper – heavy paper that curled with the application of gouache. (So nice this!) These paintings were of stones, stones that had belonged to a member of the artist’s family. A family member who also was an artist, a sculptor.
I have the thought that these small paintings by the abstract painter were ‘portraits.’ Portraits of a woman, of the elemental nature of rock and stone, and I believe portraits of himself and his struggle to and not to represent. The trouble that I sensed in them I think he put there, out of his own struggle. I went quiet when I first saw these paintings in his studio, and I hushed again in the gallery. Every painting should reflect this much struggle.
I avoid universal statements and I don’t make declarations regarding art history or present or future. I find myself (Geoff – not art in general) more challenged now by representation, and as I’ve written on this blog before, in the local – the region where I live.
Speaking for my own work, perhaps my abstractions served to communicate without saying. Lately when I begin a drawing I think also in words – a story comes out. I want to find a way to put these stories on paper, maybe with text but certainly in pictures.
Geoff Tuck, May 18-19, 2011
Earlier and related thoughts:
Untitled, May 2011, May 20, 2011
Bay Area Figurative Art – Joan and the boys, May 9, 2011
Bay Area Figurative Art, April 13, 2011
About: Again. Plus, a note about non-Non-objective Painting, April 4, 2011
And for Lockwood de Forest images and information:
Santa Barbara: From Mike Davis to Louis Comfort Tiffany in one fell swoop, March 21 and April 9, 2011