Messy Epiphany

I was showing my granddaughter, who is an avid and prolific young artist of 5 years old, one of my more abstract expressionist landscape paintings, and she said "messy painting". I laughed and said, "yeah!" and we went on to other things. But later I realized that the whole world sees expressionism this way. As messy, and that painting that is "tight" is important to many people, perhaps because it shows evidence of proficiency. This explains the perennial desire for realism, and indeed the populace's fascination with photo-realism.

But messy has its place. For one thing, the look is a good foil to the rigid insistence of minimalism.

In fact "looseness with accuracy" is my goal.

The paintings of a few artists in history intrigue me. Let's take three of them as case studies. First up: Frans Hals. His absolute skill in wielding a "descriptive brush" is astounding to me. Fluidity, ease of stroke, and skill in selecting the perfect color and tone, influenced hordes of artists, John Singer Sargent among them.

Claude Monet used (invented?) the French Impressionist stroke called "touche" to place juxtaposing colors alongside each another, a discovery by scientists of the mid-nineteenth century that multiple colors vibrate to produce light when laid adjacently. Was he to be overly restrictive when placing these paints on the canvas? I think not. His looseness, indeed his joie de vivre, is a great part of the charm of his work.

Richard Diebenkorn, dubbed the last abstract expressionist, in fact was a dedicated realist who absorbed the lessons of the 1940's and 50's abstractionists, (least messy: Rothko, messiest: Hans Hoffman imho). Diebenkorn later dabbled in figurative painting with rooms in landscape environments, then returned with renewed conviction to abstraction to create a body of work that convincingly, albeit abstractly, portrays the oceanside views from his studio window. His line is skilled, with a sureness of hand that is evident everywhere, but not so constrained by tidiness that would prevent him from unselfconsciously correcting a color or shape. The connoisseurs call it "pentimento" meaning to change one's mind, defined formally as "the presence or emergence," in a painting, "of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over." The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent. It is his gentleness, his willingness to experiment, and his patience with the process to find the right color, stroke and depth for the particular painting in front of him that gives Diebenkorn's work its charm. Looseness with accuracy...messy messy.

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