I always begin a painting abstractly. In my past work, human or animal forms would often emerge from abstract shapes to dominate a composition. Recently, however, I have been ignoring overtures from birds, women, and three-legged dogs and have been keeping the forms abstract instead. I am intrigued by the possibilities that emerge when I decline to allow a painting to take on a literal meaning or storyline. My current painting process is based on working with abstract forms, separating, merging, and layering them until they have gained some substance. As one dominant shape begins to emerge, its composite elements continue to flow freely throughout, binding that shape to its surroundings and diagramming their correspondences.
I began working this way during a painting residency in Butte, Montana. Butte is a beaten town sitting against, but not separate from, a landscape of vast beauty. Walking down streets in Butte, I constantly felt pulled by an interplay of deep oppositions: light and shadow, expansion and fear, industry and exhaustion, vibrant energy and sullen abandonment. Working abstractly allowed me to examine the mingling of these oppositions and the states of being that their interplay creates. This examination feels important: it feels like a way to observe and understand the forces shaping our lives.
In the Rock Homes series I’ve been experimenting with creating form through negation. I identify the most active convergence of line, color, and shape in an abstract painting on paper and cover up the rest with a single color—sometimes opaquely, sometimes diaphanously. The remaining form is actually a hole in the newly flattened surface but also appears to project forward as an object. It is a window into the abstract, energetic underpinning of the painting, but at the same time claims its own space, structure, and identity against the surrounding scrim of color. These rounded forms look, to me, like homes made out of rock.
I further examine the question of the permeable/impermeable natures of these rock homes by adding small, paper doors or windows, or drawing in recognizable objects like water towers or telephone lines. The three-dimensional collage elements are decidedly more solid than the painted form. They are points of entry that, similarly to the homes themselves, recede and project forward, invite and refuse. This interplay between the solid and the permeable fascinates me. The rock homes in all their various environments and guises illustrate an essentially human mystery: they are both particular and the same. Each one is simultaneously a stylized object in the world and an empty window into something undifferentiated, vast, and ineffable.