The Grid Project – Part 3 – Translating into Paint

The Grid Project – Part 3 – Translating into Paint

From the start, I knew that I wanted to make paintings from the broken television “grid” photographs, but they posed a lot of technical difficulties. To begin with,  I paint in oils. Making a clean stripe in oil is more difficult that with acrylic paint. With acrylics you can mask out your stripes with tape and then seal it with a clear acrylic layer, then add your color and it won’t bleed. That pretty much insures that you will have a sharp edge.

"Gate", 18.5 inches x 34 inches, photograph, archival inkjet print, ©Leslie Parke 2018

“Gate”, 18.5 inches x 34 inches, photograph, archival inkjet print, ©Leslie Parke 2018

It was the atmospheric look of the background that most held my interest in the photographs. How to achieve that? I thought a spay gun might work, but having once tried to spray paint chair in my living room, I know that the paint, suspended on air goes everywhere. In very short order I could destroy all the work in my studio, as well as, stacks of paper, rolls of canvas and other materials. I would need a spray booth.

A person in my building, Keith Davitt from Thirsty Cat Fountains, suggested a spray painter that achieved its effect through vibration. He used it to glaze his fountains. It was much less likely to permeate the air in the studio. I still haven’t settled on a solution, but I am leaning toward an airbrush, like a spray gun, but much more refined and allegedly easier to control.

I wasn’t going to let a need for new equipment stop me. I thought of other ways I might achieve a similar effect.

Rothko mixed pigment with rabbit skin glue in an effort to achieve both depth and luminence. (The glue is what artist’s used to size their canvases. First layer was usually the glue by itself, followed by pigmented glue called gesso.) Agnes Martin worked with very thin acylic paint.

I thought of all the ways I might get the atmospheric background. Spray painting was one way, glazing (using thin layers of transparent pigments suspended in medium), coloring rabbit skin glue, all seemed possible. But as I was set up to do some pouring in my studio I thought I would try that first.

poured background

Once I poured in the background I started adding large areas of color.

I knew that I don’t really have the personality to make absolutely perfect stripes. With oil paint I was anticipating that some of the color would seep under the tape. Like Barnett Newman, I was going to live with it. You wouldn’t think choosing the right tape to make your stripes would be that great of an issue, but it turned out to be. There is the issue of the stickiness of the tape. Will it pull off the painted surface below it? Will it block out the layers of paint over it?  Will it stick to the canvas and not pull off at all? And then there was the issue of the width of the tape. You can usually find half inch tape at the harware store, but any smaller than that you need to scour the internet.  The main issue for me was to get the tape to stick.

popping off

While I fololowed the photograph in a general way, I was not entirely sticking to the color scheme. I wanted a little more vibrant color in the final piece.

process

What followed next was not what I expected. I would lay in the colors and then see that this passage was working, but that one wasn’t. I felt as though it was like playing music. Passages would work, but then how did it work with the whole piece. And other parts were just plain wrong, but why? The painting was tutoring me in what it needed. Here is what it needed: the “ground” needed to be organic, the poured surface relating the the quality of the atmosphere in the original photograph, as well as, being a signifier that this was made by hand and not machine. Colors next to each other had to work together, but there were also passages across the surface of the whole painting that needed to work together. Unlike the “flat surface” that painting has been emulating since the begining of the last century, this painting sat not on the surface of the canvas, but in space. For the whole painting to work, certain stripes cleved to an imaginary plane, while other moved in and out of that plane.

Here are some of the versions it went through. I hadn’t expected the process to be so specific. That is, only certain colors of certain values and certain instensities worked in certain places. Change one, you had to change many of the other ones until it all worked together again. Here is the final version:

"Gate", 40 inches x 72 inches, oil on canvas, ©Leslie Parke 2018

“Gate”, 40 inches x 72 inches, oil on canvas, ©Leslie Parke 2018

 

You may notice that the original photograph also had horizontal stripes. This canvas was not the right proportion to add those stripes, but there was also the consideration that if I attempted to add them and failed I would have ruined weeks of work. I am now in search of a way to also incorporate those stripes.

The Grid Project – Part Deux – Inspiration

The Grid Project – Part Deux – Inspiration

Inspiration in my work often comes from the most mundane things. Before visiting my brother in Maryland, I received a text from him with this picture:

My brother moved this television from  Florida to his new home and it was damaged on the way. He could still turn it on and off, but all he got were pixilated lines and roving colors across the screen. I told him not to throw it out until I saw it.

For three nights I photographed this screen using my Sony Mirrorless R7 camera, my iphone and my brother’s Canon.  I didn’t have a tripod with me, so my brother lent me his ancient one — the sort where you let eveything flop into place and then you don’t touch it for fear that it will fall over.

The screen was, in deed, crushed. You can see the damage in the upper part of the TV. Since the television was flashing and lines of color were moving across the screen, I wasn’t sure quite what I would capture in a photograph. I expected halos of light, blurry areas due to unstable tripod and shooting free hand. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would get anything.

I took hundreds of photos. Eight hundred, in fact. Each night I would go through them to see what might work and then used that as a guide as to what to photograph the next night.

As I looked at the photographs their connection to mid-Century Modernist painters of lines and grids was obvious. But as I have written elsewhere, each artist used the stripe differently. The subject, application, meaning and outcome were different in each case. You have Noland’s horizontal formalist stripes, Riley’s black and white op-art stripes, Barnett Newman’s “zips”, Gene Davis, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly, But I sensed something different in these photographs of the television screen, here the grid seems like a cross between Agnes Martin and Rothko.  The modulated light in the background appears to be like atmosphere or weather. It was moody and the stripes punctuate that mood. The photos felt spiritual to me, as though we could walk thorugh them into another world. I think that that feeling came, in part, because the light eminated from the television.

"Breath", 19 inches x 34 inches, archival inkjet print, © Leslie Parke 2018

“Breath”, 19 inches x 34 inches, archival inkjet print, © Leslie Parke 2018

When deciding which photographs to print, I always consider how the ink works. To me, the printer is another painting tool. There are things it can do well, such as creating a super dense black, and other things that do not work well in this medium. For example, today, while printing with Michael Williams, artist, former assistant to Ken Noland and my printer, I wanted to do a print that was predonimantly dark values on one side and white on the other. Printers don’t actually print white, White is created by the absense of ink — as in watercolors, white is the paper showing through. With so much white in this photo, it would just look like there was nothing there.

What felt like a thing is the original photograph, is nothing in the printed version. But other things, like an infinitely modulated gray background with precisely rendered colored lines looks great.

"Fields in Fog", 25 inches x 34 inches, archival inkjet print, © Leslie Parke 2018

“Fields in Fog”, 25 inches x 34 inches, archival inkjet print, © Leslie Parke 2018

The Start of “The Grid Project”

The Start of “The Grid Project”

All projects have their precedents, and The Grid Project is no exception. For many years I used photography as an aid to my painting. I kept looking for subjects that were more and more abstract. I want the image to take on a new meaning as an abstract construct that has nothing to do with the subject.  But I also want to retain in the image some of the things I explored in my painitngs: transparencies, translucencies, reflections,  and qualities of light.

Here are some samples:

Blue Column, 34 inches x 25.5 inches, archival ink-jet print, photograph, © Leslie Parke 2015

Blue Column, 34 inches x 25.5 inches, archival ink-jet print, photograph, © Leslie Parke 2015

 

"Tutti Fruiti", 34 inches x 24.5 inches, archival ink-jet print, photograph, © Leslie Parke 2015

“Tutti Fruiti”, 34 inches x 24.5 inches, archival ink-jet print, photograph, © Leslie Parke 2015

 

"Taut", 27.5 inches x 34 inches, archival ink-jet print of photograph, edition of 6, © Leslie Parke 2016

“Taut”, 27.5 inches x 34 inches, archival ink-jet print of photograph, edition of 6, © Leslie Parke 2016

I am also interested in structure:

Particle Wave, 25.5 inches x 34 inches, archival ink-jet print, photograph, © Leslie Parke 2016

Particle Wave, 25.5 inches x 34 inches, archival ink-jet print, photograph, © Leslie Parke 2016

 

"Green Fence", 25.5 inches x 34 inches, photograph, archival inkjet print, ©Leslie Parke 2017

“Green Fence”, 25.5 inches x 34 inches, photograph, archival inkjet print, ©Leslie Parke 2017

The question is, “Where do I go from here?” [to be continued]