Origins Of Discovery

posted in: Painting | 5

Discovery requires constructing a situation where discovery can happen.  Attitudinally this means relinquishing expectations for your novel, song, sculpture or painting. Materially this means aggregating enough material to stimulate the possibility of looking into uncertainty; assembling a pregnant mess. Chiaroscuro painters looked into wet paint and selectively removed the darkness to reveal characters, moods,  narratives, and dramatic situations. Other methods of discovery are on display by two extraordinary contemporary museum-collected  artists today,  Kristin Baker and Julie Mehretu. These artists assemble and discover. Their process is revealed in their imagery. Baker appears to repeatedly stack layers of masked shapes with acrylics on PVC panel (detail in example 11, full image in example 12). Julie Mehretu, who is currently enjoying global success,  also adds layers as a part of her process of discovery ( example 14).

In my own examples today I  demonstrate how images are directed through a combination of intention and discovery. I begin with three paintings in their present state, examples 1, 2 and 3.

example 1. “Stonebridge Autumn”, oil on anodized aluminum, 36×36 jan14,6,,step 4,stonebridge autumn,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-4

example 2.”Infinite Estuary” oil on anodized aluminum 36×36 water,Infinite Estuary, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-4

example 3. “Estuary Meditation” oil on anodized aluminum 36×36 jan14,6,Estuary Meditation, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36


All three paintings began with  more abstract substrates, an Apriori condition which  encouraged and enabled later discovery after I covered the substrates (older paintings) with new layers of obscuring color.  Let’s begin with example 1, “Stonebridge Autumn”.  First, I found an older city scene in which I had lost interest (example 4). I turned that image on its side (example 5) to  correlate the color patterns with my intentions for  my new subject, “Stonebridge Autumn”. Next, I covered over example 5 with paint and created example 6.  Then, I  discovered  (deleted and revealed)  colors and shapes with  squeegees creating the final example 1.”Stonebridge Autumn”.

example 4. older city painting. jan14,6,downtown traffic, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

example 5. rotated city painting for substrate jan14,6,downtown traffic, step one oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

example 6. initial laying over of new paint jan14,6, stepthree, stonebridge autumn, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

example 1. final image to date of  “Stonebridge Autumn”(see above)

I pursued a similar strategy with next  examples 2 and 3.  I began example 2, “Infinite Estuary” by inverting an older abstraction (example 7). In a previous blogpost I showed you my next step, example 8. The present state is seen in the final example 2,  “Infinite Estuary”.

example 7, Inverted Abstraction used as substrate jan14,6,infinite marsh substrate_edited-1

example 8. First state of “Infinite Estuary” jan14,6,Water, Infinite Estuary1, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-2

example 2. Current  final state of  “Infinite Estuary” ( see above)

With example 3, “Estuary Meditation” I again began with an earlier painting serving as the substrate for later discoveries ( squeegee revelations).  Example 9 shows the initial  substrate which I obscured with paint and then began my squeegee discoveries.  I have circled in black the elements that were revealed by my squeegeeing. I end up with example 3, “Estuary Meditation”.

example 9. substrate to be covered up. jan14,6,water, circles of Light, oil anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-4

example 10. Note the circled areas indicate where parts of example 9 erupt through the surface. jan14,6,water,Estuary Meditation1,GTM Reserve oil on aluminum, 36x36_edited-2

example 3.  current state of  “Estuary Meditation” (see above).

Here are the works I initially referred to by Kristin Baker and Julie Mehretu. Example 11. is a detail of Kristin Baker’s  image, “Revolving Control”  in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. Example 12 is a view of the full image of the painting. Example 13 shows how Kristin Baker was influenced by Claudian design traditions particularly as seen in Thomas Cole’s “Oxbow” painting from the earlier 19th Century.  Thomas Cole like all the Hudson River School painters reconstituted  traditional Claudian designs. Pictorial lineage is always present and infinite.

example 11. detail of Baker’s “Revolving Control” jan14,6,contemporary, baker, kristin, revolving control yale mfa 2002,acyrlic on pvc_edited-1

example 12. Full Image of “Revolving Control”. jan14,6,contemporary, baker, kristin, revolving control yale mfa 2002,acyrlic on pvc, full image_edited-1

example 13. Thomas Cole’s Oxbow painting jan14,6, Thonmas Cole, the oxbow, 19th cent Met Museum,NYC,jpg

example 14. Julie Mehretu’s contemplative painting made with acrylic and ink can be seen in the new contemporary wing of the St. Louis Museum of Art. jan14,6,contemporary, julie mehretu,2006, acrylic and ink on canvas_edited-1

Of course there are other alternatives to generating a territory pregnant with discovery. In my final example (example 15, “Water Circles, Concentric Rhythms”) I exploit the reflective nature of the substrate, a brushed silver anodized aluminum. Like Julie Mehretu I rely upon the attractive power of  a vortex and like  Kristin Baker I rely upon the centrifugal power of  rhythmic turning.

example 15. ” Water Circles, Concentric Rhythms”.jan14,6,water circles, concentric rhythms, oil on anodized brush silver aluminum, 48x48_edited-1


5 Responses

  1. David, I am anxious to try the Anodized Aluminum process. Can you give me some of the ideas you use and where you purchase this material.
    Thank you, Barbara

    • Yes, I will blog more on the subject of using alternate materials especially, aluminum, anodized aluminum, gold leaf, steel, and copper. You can buy bare aluminum, copper and galvanized steel from any sheet metal supplier or often a local hardware store. Where you can buy anodized aluminum depends upon where you live…then you must find a local distributor for Alcan products ( the manufacturer of Dibond aluminum products). I found my local distributor through an internet search. Best, David Dunlop

  2. Kay Halcrow

    Very provocative / stimulating post – gracias

  3. Dave:
    Would love to see another SHOW of your work.
    Saw the small show over at Watershed. Love them. One really work close and from the other side of the gallery.
    Great Blog.

  4. Fredric Neuwirth

    There was a wonderful show of Julie Mehretu paintings at the Guggenheim several years ago. Very large canvases, mostly done in tones of gray, very spacial and very detailed. It was obvious that she orchestrated the work by others.

    It is difficult to render a comment on the two artists. I find it a stretch between Thomas Cole and Kristin Baker. But, that is only because of the lack of familiarity and not seeing Bakers work. I will go again to the Yale Gallery and see.
    Examples #1, 2 & 3 are wonderful in themselves and I am not sure what value the overpainting achieved that would not have been done initially on fresh aluminum.
    Example #8 “Water Circles ” is excellent. It is a great improvement
    over your previous work in spirals. It does look great!
    Thanks for the unexpected blog. These are so generous on your part.

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