Painting concrete on SOLO: Express to Nowhere

This is one of the studies I made for my piece “Express to Nowhere” that is part of my SOLO project.

Color Study for Express to Nowhere

I am happy that I managed to find a solution to painting the pattern of the concrete slabs that doesn’t involve gimmicks.

I decided not to use gimmicks on SOLO. Gimmicks are all those things that aren’t exactly painting: pouring, sponging, throwing salt onto wet paint, mixing in additives, and other fun things you can do to a wet canvas. (This sounded sexy.)

There is nothing wrong with using gimmicks. In fact, some people do incredible art based on gimmicks. I, myself, like to indulge in gimmicks from time to time. I call them techniques then.

The problem with these – ok, let’s call them – techniques… is that they are fairly unpredictable and if you go that way, you are subordinating your art to the whims of the elements.  When it comes to control over your art, a brush is a brush is a brush. A sponge, on the other hand,  is a frog in a pond of crimson red.

I went to a watercolor workshop once, where the instructor filled up time demonstrating all the weird stuff you can do to your painting, to get the watercolor to do things by itself, so that you – the artist – don’t have to bother learning how to do them. He brought out all kind of spatulas and knives and at some point he was waving a salt shaker over a wet watercolor, causing the paint to retreat in despair. He prodded at the salt with a silicone brush,  applied some heat on the painting  to make it dry faster and then collected the grains that spilled onto the table with the spatula. I felt I was in a cooking class.

The pattern that emerged  did look gorgeous, but the lights and darks settled themselves wherever the salt landed. If he had to repeat that pattern, with any level of control, he wouldn’t be able to.  Gimmick-aided painting takes advantage of physics and leaves a great chunk of decisions to the gods that run the universe. And you know how the universe operates, right? Sometimes you get butterflies, sometimes you get tornadoes. It depends on the mood of the particles involved.

The other problem of using indirect painting techniques (the fancy name for gimmicks) is that, if you are working on a series, and you use a gimmick on one painting, you have to incorporate the same gimmick in other paintings of the series that show the same material or theme. For instance, if I were to use splattering or sponging to achieve a concrete effect on this painting, I would have to figure out a way of incorporating sponging in all paintings of this series that showed concrete, otherwise this one painting would just seem wrong and out of place among the others.
A series calls for coherence.

Since I have no intention of suffering under the tyranny of gimmicks throughout the whole project, I decided to go without, as I generally do. If I have to deal with the chaos of paint and water and uneven surfaces, I prefer to have at least some familiar element I can exert control over. And that would be my trusted brush.

Imagine sending a knight to slay a dragon with a tiny fork, a hot plate, a couple of hammers, a shovel, a pickax and a tuba.

Despite that ridiculous equipment the knight goes out to battle.

He approaches the dragon from behind. He blows the tuba with all his might and pokes the dragon’s business with the tiny fork. The dragon jumps up, startled and appalled. The hero quickly shoves the hot plate under the beast’s left paw. The dragon lands on it, burns itself and screams like a little witch. The knight proceeds to play xylophone on the toes of the dragon’s right paw with the two hammers . The beast looses its balance and falls over, clutching its paw “à la mode” and whimpering. Our hero then hops on the dragon’s chest, hits it over the head with the shovel and in a stroke of incredible luck heroism, cuts its head off with the pickax, killing it.

As you can see it can be done, but if you ask the knight, I bet he prefers to go out to battle with his old and reliable shield and sword.

And so do I.


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