On Figurative Painting

For years I studied the figure, in many life drawing classes especially. While I did learn proportion, I could not transfer that experience to painting the figure. Painting is different from drawing, where it’s brushes, not charcoal or pencil, and color versus greys. My better drawings tend to be expressionistic, and that’s the direction that now appeals to me. My goal is to reach a “resemblance” and a graphic composition with energy and meaning. The farther away from the photograph and realistic representation, the better.

“Seated Man”, 24″ x 30″, Acrylic on paper, Thom Wright, 1989 – 2016

My best painting class back in 1989 was Abstract Figurative Painting, taken at OCC. Not that it was easy, but that my instructor, Clark Walding, knew how to do it, and very effectively teach it. We all were in different directions, but his tips, discussions of contemporary American abstract figurative painters proved to be invaluable. In the “Seated Man” shown above, I have probably repainted it five times over the last 20 years. The figure has not changed much, but the chair and background and that strange “torch” on the left side kept changing, until it finally came together. All the parts play together, the space is defined by the figure, yet it stands as a structured grouping of rhythms and relationships. Keeping parts of the black background and mixing in the blue shapes came as a way to make those parts play together with the seated figure. Letting color happen too adds to the relationships and the aura of the man with the broken arm.

“On Stage”, 22″ x 29″, Acrylic on Arches rag paper, Thom Wright, 1989

Another of my paintings from this class shown above went through two more re-paintings, with the female figure kept intact. A simple division with changes and similarities of color and mark making, add up to another story of “the whole determines the relationship of the parts”, to quote Wassily Kandinsky speaking about abstract art. The two performers/dancers share the stage, immersed in the lower shapes and the red/green complementary colors. Even the bordering edges play as part of the whole. The values in the colors in the figures do not relate to lighting or direction, but to the play of colors and marks.

“Self-Portrait with Guitar”, 28″ x 22″, Acrylic on canvas, Thom Wright, 2015

When painting the figure, always start with, and return to the self-portrait, artists have said. It is well recognized material and no modelling cost. In my self-portrait done in 2015, I wanted to capture my love of jazz guitar. I still continue to practice and try to play occasionally. At this time I was in to Cubist paintings, and I did a few still-life with guitar pieces. So it borrows its composition from those earlier works, having a still life setting on a table with tablecloth and chair. The parts kept growing as I went, adding the extra guitar necks, hands and arms to emphasize the movement and the syncopated rhythms. And as I have done in many other paintings and monotypes, I added the outer wavy circles taken from nasturtium leaves that seem to creep into my work. Here they signify the emanating jazz visually.

What really brought this painting together was in the repetition of black shapes in the center. They move from the table base to the table top to the guitar sound hole to my black and grey shirt, and finally to the black guitar necks. Who knew that a bouquet pattern could make a self-portrait?

Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

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