Throwing Timidity Overboard

posted in: Painting | 7

The problem is twofold, timidity and courage. Georgia O’Keeffe said her talented sister  had been expected to be the successful artist in her family but, she lacked courage. J.M.W. Turner said  ” Of all the faults of an artist the most fatal is timidity”. Nothing angered and offended Turner more than looking at the timid work of timid artists.  How did he jettison timidity? How can we?

Turner’s approach was through relentless experimentation. O’Keeffe used relentless experimentation as her strategy as well. Stacks of paper were consumed by both artists as they tested ideas, watched the accidents and experiments unfolding in their paint. Turner’s bequest of almost 20,000 works on paper to what today is the Tate Museum demonstrates the scope of his persevering experiments. Below is a small 9×11 watercolor and gouache  on brown paper of a procession in Venice ( example 1). We feel the warm red lights of the city, the rectangular patterns suggesting buildings, the daubs of white suggesting the procession reflecting light.  I will borrow these ideas in my following examples.

example 1. Turner’s Venetian procession dec13,2 Turner,venice, A procession, 1835, gouache adnnwatercolor on brown paper,9x11

Many artists from Manet to Inness to Picasso used a strategy of purging old work by over-painting it. This process let them believe that no painting was safe from destruction. Every work could surrender itself to the process of discovery and experimentation. This liberated them from timidity. I use the same process of over-painting in my examples here. I also experiment with photography and Photoshop as methods of discovery, as pathways to paintings. They present a germ of an idea which I can twist, mutate and explore. Courage means letting go of expectation, of wanting a work to be good, of holding on to an expectation, letting go of  a piece of source material whether a plein air scene or a photo. Strip ambition from the painting process,  from your experiments to discover what is really happening before you.

My examples here share Boston’s landscape as a common theme especially, the interior of the South Boston Station.  I begin with a manipulated photo and an older painting. Example 1 presents a photo distortion of the interior of  South Boston’s station. Example 2 presents the substrate that I will be painting on. Example 3 shows the first step of the painting. Example 4 shows the last step.

example 2. the photo dec13,2 south station photo south station4_edited-1

example 3. the substrate(older painting to be painted over)dec13,2 south station prelim train board

example 4. step one dec13,2 south station train board step one

example 5. step two dec13,2 south station train board step two

The next painting proceeds from a different point of view. I am more used to the process above because of its similarities with painting the interior of Grand Central Station. So, I decided to try a less conventional subject by extracting just a part of a photograph (example 6). I use the blurry far right section of the photo. It reminded me of a bar scene but, abstracted and obscured. Example 7 shows the substrate, the older painting which I paint over. Example 8 shows the next step where I have begun to block in the image. I am just loosely smearing large areas of paint and almost immediately I see the possibilities of my image. I like this first step but, do not have the courage to stop here.  I am demonstrating timidity. I continue on with example 9 as the last step.

example 6. the photo dec13,2 south station bar photo

example 7. the substrate (older painting to be over-painted) dec13,2  south station bar prelim

example 8. Step one dec13,2 south station bar step one

example 9. Step two dec13,2 south station bar step two,final

Another method of jettisoning timidity involves destruction and rebirth. In this example I take an older painting and decide to re-invent it (example 10).  I cover the bottom with ultramarine blue and bathe the top in more light. I am indifferent to saving any aspect of the painting as I apply this new layer of paint. I discover a wider stream, new stages of depth and new atmospheres through this process of obliteration and invention (example 11)

example 10. step one, original painting dec13,2 forest light,oil on aluminum, 36x36a_edited-1

example 11. step two, after changes dec13,2 Forest Light, oil on aluminum,revised, 36x36_edited-1

In the next example I again begin with a manipulated photo (example 12). This photo has been multi-layered with another blurred version of itself. The design reminds me of aspects of the Turner watercolor in example 1.  Example 13  shows the first step. Example 14 shows the last step.

example 12. the photo dec13,2, south station boston, triangular designs,layers_edited-4

example 13. step one dec13,2 south station step one

example 14. step two dec13,2 south station step two



7 Responses

  1. Are there “phases” of timidity.?..As a new artist,i am 53 but painting a couple. years…timid at first,then as i learn what to do,what i can do,its out of my way timidity!..i try everything i think of or see…maybe when i havea few years or experience, i will slow down or get more timid,thinking there are certain things i should not do…or get in a rut of doing s0mething that works…i hope i will alwaysexperiment and try new techniques,etc…

  2. William Child

    Great blog episode David! Love the Turner quote on timidity which I had never heard before, and thank you for sharing that. I find it interesting the grad school professor I had, that while I was experimenting with washes in acrylic’s, no where near as prolific as Turners, the prof said “I needed to paint something he could grade.” I was amazed and wondered about my choice of the school for my MA.

    I find my greatest joy is in experimenting but for buyers of ones art they usually need to know what direction you are going in. This is why I am still a poor artist I believe. Also not being very prolific of the late decades for me. Though when that surge of inspiration for some new expression hits me like a tsunami, I surf into it heart first and take it as far as time and the energy of the wave will take me.

    I so wish I had more time and energy to persue some of my ideas.

    Timidity is such a reigning in of artistic creativity. NO wonder I love Turners works so.

  3. David,

    I loved this blog post and your art. Thank you for sharing with us.

    It reminds me somewhat of the quote attributed to Pablo Picasso: Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. I’ve never been able to find the source of this quote, so I don’t know if it is him or not.

    This blog resembles my artistic journey…

  4. Fredric Neuwirth

    #10 & #11 look like successful glazing and perhaps we should all do this. The big choice is what color should we glaze in. It would be interesting to see a group of similar images with different glazes. Perhaps this could be shown in photoshop?
    #12 looks like a wonderful photograph. #14 does not do it justice.

  5. David, these images are stunning, otherworldly. Are you demonstrating these techniques in a class?
    I have been wondering how painters can incorporate tools like Photoshop into our works. Also, I highly recommend the nice Chuck Close installation at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich. I believe his friend John was a model at Silvermine for a time, wasn’t he? I have a painting that I did of him some years ago that I’m proud of.

  6. Laura Hollister

    David the jist of this blog sums up the whole (some times frustrating, at other times magical ) process. Thank You !

  7. Ma. Aurora de Alban

    Thanks a lot Davit Dunlop, as I earlier mentioned in your articles I will be coming back and reading more. Your articles are materials for great painting. Be blessed with good health and well being as ever.

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