If vision is interpretive rather than absolute then any tool that can suggest an interpretation, no matter how vague, how blurred, or how ambiguous will be a persuasive tool. Fingers have been a fundamental part of our tool set since we made our first image on a cave’s wall. Fingers leave their trace, the evidence of fingers in the paint. We have always relished a free and expressive gesture and, no tool is more immediately and finely tuned than our fingers for making nuanced gestures.
Fingers can of course guide and inhabit all kinds of extensions such as rags, brushes, knives. They can tickle a trail in paint with a single hair as subtly as water-spider skating on a pond. What follows are illustrations of how we employ fingers directly and with some technical extensions. Here are illustrations of how we use are fingers to conjure an interpretation (an image) while sustaining and not hiding the evidence of the fingers at work.
We can’t interpret without previous experience, without a mental preset. In art that experience comes from our own encounters with art history. They guide us as we make new art whether we realize this or not. There is more freedom and creativity if we do realize the sources of our experience which guide our visual interpretations, our interpretations of everything we encounter. Here are a couple of examples. Example 1 presents an Andrew Wyeth egg tempera painting of conifers reflected in a pool with an undulating shoreline. As I scouted painting locations in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend I snapped this image ( example 2 ). I realized I had discovered a visual idea (the Wyeth) I knew before but, was now reconfigured in my new view. I further recognized another image lay dormant in my photo, a painting by Gustav Klimt (example 3). You can see how these were sources for my photograph.
Wandering along clear White Mountain streams I found other influences for my camera and later paintings. Along a rocky stream I was reminded of other paintings which awakened my imagination, my desire to re-interpret. Example 4 shows a stream painting from 1810 by Simon Denis. My step by step examples will take you through my experience of re-interpretation as stimulated by my encounter with a mountain stream. Example 5 presents step one as I lay in ultramarine blue on brushed gold anodized aluminum. Even in this vague and blurred image I see I can interpret the sensation of stream with a dark forest alongside. Example 6 presents step two. Here I use Gamboge yellow for a warm and shallow foreground. I blend it into the ultramarine blue in the back. Example 7 reveals my use of finger painting with paper towels. Example 8 demonstrates a scene which is less accessible to multiple-interpretive viewing. There is less ambiguity. I now think examples 6 and 7 were more evocative, more capable of varied and sustained interpretations.
Let me further demonstrate the suggestive power of finger painting. Here in two steps ( examples 9 and 10) I want to illustrate the gestural pleasure and the suggestive potency of loose finger painting. Example 10′s trees and foliage were almost completely painted with bare fingers and, with a paper towel wrapped around fingers. The range of variety in the marks is broad because, our fingertip touch offers great variety. We exhibit more dexterity and variety with our fingers because, our experience with them is the greatest of all the tools at our disposal.