Back to Painting: Prickly Pears Process

I ended a period of painting in the fall and winter of 2016/2017 with a number of unfinished panels. In this series, I began with these moribund half-images as the ground of new work.

The one beneath Pears I began its new life as an obliterated ground–an series of attempts at image that had been mostly re-gessoed. Beneath Pears II, an series of sessions had led to multiple erasures, ending as a purple haze (sic) atop remnants of sea-green memories. Pears III had been an image of a volcanic slope, then a rough portrait of Luce Irigaray, then a demented shamanic bird. 

Each of these panels had a different history, full of nuances. Yet my initial impulse–to stamp each with white or black prickly pear palms–helped me leap over those jumbled memories into a line of new life for each. 

And it worked! I cut “stamps” out of a packing-foam sheet, and slathered each with paint as if putting jam on toast. The peeling removal produced a texture reminiscent of the fibrous skeleton prickly pear palms have beneath their living skin–a series of irregular cells, in a way, or capillaries. 

This way of removing brushes from image-making, and thus of removing the possibility of a virtuosic hand from the basic composition, felt grounded and satisfying. I felt that though I wasn’t really representing the way prickly pears ARE as living beings, there was something in the simplicity of the compositions that was directly connected to the life I studied through sketchbook explorations. They feel alive. 

Today I completed Prickly Pears I. It is dense with contradictions, which gives me great pleasure. Each palm has its own logic–its own light, its own value scale, its own collection of hues, its own relationship to ground and texture–its own kind of harmony. And yet these moments are all family, one with another. 

I can’t wait to wrestle with Pears II and III.  And then, as those progress, I’m at last turning to some of the larger panels I bought from Bruce Loyd last January. Thank you to the Pears for showing me the way.

“A painter must think of everything he sees as there entirely for his own use and pleasure.”
–Lucian Freud

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