THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN IDEA IN PAINTING
Marlene Morelock, 1965
By examining the thoughts and paintings which occurred in the discovery of windows as subject matter, this thesis traces the development of an idea and conception of form which happened within me during a two-year period (1963-1965). It traces the exploration and presentation of the window as it developed through various media and forms.
The first phase was concerned with recreating the window on canvas in an assemblage technique which combined paint and actual window parts (venetian blinds, curtains, screens). From this conception a more formal consideration began to take place. The three-dimensional space of the assemblage was rejected for a two-dimensional surface because of a more rigid search for form. This transformation was also aided by the use of the camera as a creative medium to explore and record the various unanticipated juxtapositions of the visual environment. The camera freed my thinking of those juxtapositions and initiated a re-evaluation of the two-dimensional surface.
The geometric shapes within a window itself and the window's placement on a wall inspired a new concept of design. These shapes (squares, rectangles, stripes) gradually became independent of the actual window. They became the obvious subject instead of the underlying one. In the last phase the shapes are suggested by color and penciled boundaries, but are not overly emphatic. The shapes, then, become like a muffled or whispered sentence in which only the key words are clear, and the rest must be surmised.
Pages 13 - 17
In May, l964, a new concept began appearing. Instead of painting in complete stripes, paint was only partially applied to the area-- especially when the composition was based on a succession of stripes. This manner allowed the stripe pattern to underlie the area but not become visually redundant, because each stripe was handled differently within its boundaries. In several of these paintings the unprimed canvas was green. White lines were penciled in to show the size and boundaries of the stripes and allowed to remain as part of the idea. By not filling in each stripe completely, a visual surprise occurred within the preconceived pattern. Several things happened within each stripe: the bare canvas, a partially painted stripe, a white penciled line.
At first glance the shapes appear to have a somewhat hard edge to them, that is, as shapes easily defined by the eye. A certain order is suggested by a definite, recognizable area. But there are contradictions to this order caused by the somewhat loose handling of paint: the splashes, drips and uneven edges. This in an intended addition to offset and contrast the defined areas. An additional visual purpose of these drips is the manner in which they create and control spatial depth. Small green drips coming over a large area of red can act as a restraint and can hold the red within the spatial boundary.
In November, 1964, a few paintings and many ideas carried the square and stripes one step further. These paintings are interesting to me as acts of thinking as I am working on a canvas. In my mind the image was developed and painted completely. But as I began to work on the preconceived design, I allowed another process to interrupt the 'copying' process. I became definitely aware of this happening. In fact, I desired this overtaking and indeterminable act. Precise lines and shapes were first penciled on the white primed canvas in a certain order with the idea that these were to be painted in with color. In other words, the canvas was marked off in a predetermined manner; and yet, a moment afterwards, I allowed thoughts and emotions and transitory impressions to obliterate the preconception completely. In my mind the 'finished' composition vividly existed: I painted towards it, but did not 'complete' the composition. This is not to say that the resulting painting is an incomplete work, but that it becomes a finished transition. It is an undefined but suggestive state before the final state, which was originally conceived in the mind, has been reached. Rodin speaks of this when explaining movement within his sculpture by stating it as the transition from one attitude to another. 'We see a part of what was and we discover a part of what is to be.'
The imagination becomes an important part of the situation--in fact, the imagination explains the situation. The guiding lines to the shapes are evidenced by the color. The color goes almost all the way to the finish but it stops just before it. This forces the eye in the right direction but does not push it. It hints and stings until the mind completes the passage, until it finishes the suggestion. The space between the penciled lines are touched with color but not saturated or filled. They are open surfaces which defy and define the direction which the color begins. They contradict the space, allowing the background to share their area. The shapes, then, become like a muffled or whispered sentence in which only the key words are clear, and the rest is surmised.
This might be equated with the Oriental poems, haiku, 'wordless' poetry of just 'seventeen syllables which drops the subject almost as it takes it up.'* It 'is a pebble thrown into the pool of the listener's mind, evoking associations out of the richness of his own memory.'*
This becomes an exciting form of thinking, of challenging one's sense of harmony and balance within a short length of time in a 'hit or miss' method. It becomes a matter of knowing when enough is stated, of knowing how much can be left unsaid, of knowing when to stop activating the surface with unnecessary strokes and completed or complicated areas. These is a danger also in being too aware of the image in the memory and being tricked into thinking that more is stated that is actually present, or the opposite, thinking the idea is too incomplete because of such a vivid awareness of the original idea. There is a possibility that this form of thinking could develop into a form of drawing (on a large scale) when one remembers Max Liebermann's statement that 'Drawing in the art of leaving out.'
There is a certain inexpressible charm and mystery (to me) in seeing a relatively large surface which has only a few strokes or color notations on it. Its simplicity is the major part of its richness--as in the late watercolors of Cezanne, the line drawings of Matisse, and the Sung landscapes. In the Oriental Zen poetry:
'The empty space is the surrounding silence which a two-line poem requires--a silence of the mind in which one does not 'think about' the poem but actually feels the sensation which it evokes--all the more strongly for having said so little.'*
*Alan W. Watts, THE WAY OF ZEN, Pantheon Books, Inc., 1957.
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