By Thom Wright August 2020
Who can say why or how, but in this COVID-age week I am continuing to make small paintings. My premise has changed, where my goal now is to make these miniatures sing with color as well as their earlier attributes. My motivation was suspect, because I had just made four wooden frames for four small 9” x 11” prints made by my deceased wife back in 2002-3. But for the life of me, I built 9” x 12” frames instead. Four of them in fact, and that led me to make more small paintings (6” x 9”) and then, with the matting and framing, get to this frame 9″ x 12″ frame size.
So what happened was I made three 6” x 9” paintings, and by the way made three more 9” x 9” mixed media works on paper. Somehow I have spent another week making small paintings like I have never made before.
Let’s begin with the first mixed media work, shown in the image above. No longer having that Japanese printed paper with circles, I had to make my own patterned paper. I have previously commented that small works do better with more complex designs, with more stuff in them. First, I made initial designs using a dark brown printing ink, and hand-printed many sizes and partial prints of circles, using any and all “circle” tool shapes I could find, including a tin can, a smaller plastic jar cap, and a few of my socket wrenches for the smallest sizes. Then, again, I went searching in my art storage cabinets for more source materials. I selected some altered, copied, NASA maps of the earth that were produced by one of their climate change prediction models in 1996, and made gesso transfers of small slices of these page size maps to begin my construction process.
A word about small size works. Pencil lines are to scale, they read like they are drawn. However, earth maps scaled down to one to two inches in size are overfilled in content, yet may be readable, and somehow work along side the simple drawn lines and flat painted triangles and other geometric shapes. On the computer screen, these small paintings are magnified and lose some of their charm and mystery, in that they combine the much larger and much smaller pieces together and make a small painting happen. It is a feeling like intimacy with this size of art that also becomes appreciated.
Referring back to my first image, it is apparent that the colors in the maps become the dominant color scheme. Browns and blues over the value range become pale yellow oranges to burnt umber browns. Knowing these colors led me to select the tan or dun colored watercolor paper. The lines in the map also suggest the pencil lines, not being strict navigational curves on the earth, but broken lines, arrowhead lines, and geological and political map lines. All these lines easily expand into the non-geometric matrix on the paper. Where ever the lines occur, they prompt more lines, and their intersections make these wonderful triangles happen over the paper. I did begin by boldly painting the translucent white central area, but after that it becomes intuitive, the construction of relationships of the triangles and other shapes that imply movement, rhythm and relationship. Thus, the piece of map at the beginning takes its own direction with the painter’s interpretation and makes a painting.
In my second image shown above, I have taken other pieces from the same NASA map and inserted them to begin this painting. There are certainly similarities recognized by comparison with the first image. And there are differences. The largest circular shape is more central and has expanding concentric curves extending over the paper. The distribution of blues, browns and oranges quickly become its own image with its own peculiarities. Both of these show my preference for combinations of orange/blue values and dark brown, blue and black shapes. The large central map emits lines and colors, and there are also very small red and blue arrowheads on lines to and from the central map. This composition looks nothing like science or geometry, even though it borrows so much from them. Our education imbues the design with meaning and mystery, and it may be unique for each viewer. That is one of the amazing aspects of abstract art, that what the painter created becomes something else to each viewer.
In my third small work image shown above, I change the format to a square, but then apply many of the same painting processes and colors used in the first rectangular format works. The square format has its challenges, especially in its requirement to offset elements and shapes from the many “static” locations, such as the center of the square. And yet, there has to be a dynamic stability to achieve its balance working with its asymmetry. The complex map segments initiate the continuation of lines and curves, and their intersections suggest the patterning of space with the oranges, blues and browns, made with transparent inks and with opaque gouache colors mixed with varying amounts of white. The central large white square made at the beginning lights the design and creates the play of shapes and colors of varying hues, and the tints and tones modulating them across the paper. In this case I mounted the work on a dark brown matt with the same outer white matt on the top, and it also shifts the intensity and importance of the different colors.
With these three descriptions of my “map” small paintings, I hope that those viewers who are attracted to them can better understand my intentions and meanings in these works. Perhaps in some future time they can be displayed and seen as they are to me. I personally have grown to appreciate small paintings as never before.