Saturday, January 26, 2013

Simple truth miscalled simplicity

Fremont hills from Quarry lakes. 12"x12". Oil on canvas panel. 2012
My mind keeps returning to Henri Matisse's exhibition and my first thoughts about it

Why? Because it suddenly opened to me a new way to look at my own process. See, I knew that, quite often, the best (or, at least, the favorite) of my paintings emerge in several leaps, the first attempt being much more realistic and "complex" than the final result. 

Fremont hills from Quarry lakes (the first version)
This painting above is just one example. Here is how the first attempt looked like: a greener grass (to put it mildly), much more color complexities overall, more modeling of shape in the trees, more detail in the background. In many other works, the difference between their beginnings and the final result is even more drastic: in a sense, the whole "Nothingness" series is about my coming to terms with this process of elimination, this search for the essential.

I used to assume that this is a matter of my overall evolution, that it's the older works that need this kind of revamping, while now that I know the general direction of what I am trying to achieve, I might "skip" the first part of the process. What the Matisse exhibition has shown to me is that's not the case, and not something to try and achieve. If he began "from scratch" every single time, why should it be easier for me? There are, in the end, no shortcuts on this path. Or if there are, they would lead you to some sort of trivial simplicity, not to simple truth

In a sense, I felt something along these lines from the very beginning: every time I heard or read the common painting/drawing advice to start with simplified shapes and add complexity and detail later, I felt that the simplicity that can be laid out in the beginning is just not the same simplicity that makes a great painting and is worth striving for. The Matisse exhibition just made this understanding crystal-clear, brought it in the sharp focus of ultimate clarity.   

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