On Making Small Paintings

By Thom Wright August 2020

In general I have avoided making small paintings, but continue to make them as preparatory and exploratory works before going on to larger sizes.  My smallest work over that past ten years has been 16” x 16” paintings.  But this past week has been introspective for me.  Deep in the bottom corners of my prints storage I found a couple of 9” x 9” unfinished paper works from maybe 10-15 years ago, and decided to return to them.  This paper is probably Japanese made, is tan-colored and fibrous, hard to tear, slightly translucent, printed with randomly distributed little concentric circles in black ink, and I had started some pencil drawings on them.  I think my wife Linda bought these papers about 20 years ago at a Japanese arts paper store in the Bergamont Station Gallery area in Santa Monica.  She loved buying all kinds of art sheets and unusual papers that I have since inherited and now really enjoy using in my mixed media art work.  I also wanted to start working again with gouache paint, an opaque water-based paint that I have had for even more years without use.  After all these months of stay-in living with the corona-virus, I was probably in need of finding something new and different to do in my art.  Of course there has been political and cultural upheavals with the impact of the plague on the economy, the “Black Lives Matter” dealing with police brutality and racism, the broad political divide in national politics that has stagnated cooperation, and the growing divide of culture and politics in America.  By now all of us are feeling constrained and growing somewhat tired of our quarantine life-style.

“Work on Paper #1”, 9”x 9”, Mixed Media on paper, Thom Wright  2007 – 2020

In the first piece shown above, there also was a central area of translucent white acrylic paint applied, where the little circles are still visible.  I continued first with adding pencil lines to it according to the following rule:  “Lines may either pass between the circles, or continue beyond the circles if they go directly through the centers.”  Although the circles initially appeared to be randomly placed, my lines then developed into a strange array of triangles of many sizes and orientations.  Note that I have been painting triangles frequently in my abstract paintings for the past three years.  Next, I began to paint a few colors in inks and in qoauche, with the colors and values varying and located informally throughout.  I kept a “walnut” color, transparent ink mostly on the four sides of brown paper, because the darker walnut color would make the brown paper more radiant. 

The central white area began to intrigue me in that the thinner lighter colors and thicker darker colors also began to light up.  Having worked with mosaic grid paintings recently, I now added another rule to the composition, that the colored triangles be interspersed among the remaining white triangles in order to keep the 2D flatness of the design and to make the white triangles play as negative shapes as well as a background.  The simple blue/brown harmony of color has worked for me in earlier works.

To continue with my game, I expanded the variety of circle and triangle shapes to add quirky additions here and there, small collage pieces of those little black circles that were torn off at the beginning to square the paper.  Then I changed some of the light-blue triangles to medium and dark blues. I also added a few pieces of grey-colored collage.  I extended some of the white central area into the brown paper edges in places, always keeping in mind that the central white area remains flat and the dominant light.

At this point I decided to mount the paper work on a light blue-grey matt board, and include another inch of space on all four sides for an outer, white matt board too.  Having reached that point, I then began to make a hardwood frame, 1 1/2“  wide, bringing the total size to 12” x 12” (not shown).  Almost all of my handmade frames are stained dark “Early American” brown, and that would also enhance the dominant brown colors used here. 

“Work on Paper #2”, 12” x 12”, Mixed media on paper, Thom Wright  2007 – 2020

In my second piece, I pretty much followed the same game rules, yet made a different composition.  There are more small, dark triangles.  I mixed a little yellow ochre in with the light brown for a few shapes.  On the whole, the composition feels lighter, and all the quadrants have different kinds of interesting patterns.  I also added transparent blue-greys to the left and right sides, and extended the central white to the bottom edge to suggest an entry point.  Instead of mounting it on the blue-grey matt board, I used a warm light-brown colored matt board that would complement the blues. It still reads as a 2D flat composition, but different from the first one. Also, the photos of the paintings do not communicate the intimate nature of the raw paper in a small work.

After a few days of gazing at these pieces, I tried to understand where they came from.  All those triangles emanating from the sides and meeting and intersecting with the others, what is that about? In abstract shape terms, circles are complete, self-sufficient, static, and eternal, and here they are downplayed, somewhat covered with white and browns.  Triangles abstractly are force vectors that make energy, create movement in forward directions, and collide together at places.  All of this action happening along straight lines at many active diagonal angles, and all in a small and calm and static, square format.  These designs are new to me, and I have usually understood what the designs are doing and what they mean.  Are they somehow related to our current constraints on living?  Possibly.  I hereby leave it up to the viewers to make up their own minds.  As for me, I am not soliciting for psychological interpretations, but like that as abstracts, they can be provocative and mysterious.  Tempis Fugit. Thom

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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