After much discussion, we both simultaneously realized we had stumbled upon a truth about much of my work. A common abstract thread that made sense of my varied subjects: it wasn’t so much the crisp white sail boats moving over dark blue water, big puffy clouds in turquoise skies, or white houses surrounded by greenery, but rather it was large white objects in a colorful settingthat I was painting over and over again. What an awakening! I thought I liked painting those different subjects and I do, but now I can see that they are all variations on a theme. It’s almost like looking through a kaleidoscope; different shapes and patterns emerge, but there are always large chunks of white and scattered backgrounds of saturated color.
That may not sound very revolutionary, but in the blink of an eye, I suddenly owned two new possessions:
1.) An answer for countless viewers who have remarked that I certainly painted a lot of different subjects. Now I had a way to tie many of them together.
2.) A better understanding of my artistic hard-wiring, which
a.) I can use on occasion to find what I want to paint faster and more easily
b.) In a purely narcissistic way—a fascinating (to me) fact about myself, of which, after all these decades I had been unaware.
Every piece I do does not feature white on a color field, but now when it happens, I smile to myself and recognize it as another chapter in my love affair with this combination.
Painters speak in the language of paint; it doesn’t seem fair that every artist should also be required to speak eloquently in the English language about painting. But language and thought are so intertwined that verbalizing and analyzing your artistic visions, as difficult as that may be, can actually illuminate them.
Maybe Henry David Thoreau had an experience similar to mine that caused him to say, “So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.” And who can resist the colorful image this conjures up—maybe a white horse in a grove of yellow cottonwoods?
If you feel there may be a hidden theme in your work, or some unrecognized essence, or you wonder how all your painting threads connect, I have a suggestion: block out some time for a lunch with a savvy artist friend and leisurely peruse each other’s portfolios. A fresh eye and a frank discussion may uncover a powerful current flowing just under the surface of your paintings.