When I expect something it never comes, but when I wait for the thing I’m expecting that’s a whole other story.
As I moved through the decisions I made while making my painting—during an 8-week period of taking the painting off the wall, working on it, putting it back on the wall and taking it off again to be worked on yet once more etcetc.— I could see that some of the moves I was making worked and some of them didn’t: the ones that worked were more often the unexpected moves and the ones that didn’t had more often been carefully planned and were therefore overdetermined to the detriment of the painting that I knew existed somewhere in the pictorial universe and that I was determined to discover.
During this period several people asked me, “what are you up to?”, meaning “what are you writing?, thinking of me as a writer, not a painter. I’d say, “I’m making a painting,” and then, “I really like painting because I don’t know what I’m doing,” a conversation-stopper in the Thomas Fuller tradition. I hadn’t meant to stop a conversation, but only to hint that perhaps one did not need to occur on this particular subject since I really didn’t know what I meant by the words “I really like painting because I don’t know what I’m doing”, only that the words felt right to me in relationship to my painting activities.
Now that the painting is finished, I can see what I meant: having written for years I’d worn away, or thought I’d worn away, the mystery of words; I’d stopped thinking of them, especially their components, the individual letters that comprise a word, as the visual symbols they are, as images in and of themselves. I expected words to behave as I thought they should behave, not as the free independent beings they are. Paint clearly had a life of its own, well beyond my manipulative capabilities, and when I let it be, not knowing how to tame it, seeing that when I tried to force it into some space it didn’t want to be the painting suffered, and when I went along with it, with the idea I didn’t know what I was doing, the painting bloomed.
Waiting took time: the blue I used at the bottom of the painting, which I liked very much at the time I first painted it, was painted over, and over again: then a color labeled ‘transparent yellow’, of all things, came right out of the tube, having waited for the right time, battling the blue and winning by slowly overcoming it. From that point forward I’d stand over the painting, waiting and waiting, and as I waited the color, the shape, the language of the painting would come to me in the waiting, but only in the waiting. It was such a gift, it felt like I was actually climbing the stairs I’d hoped to paint, one stained glass step after another, and that the steps were strong enough to hold me and anyone who’d see the painting after it was made, and that the canvas, that is my painting, had to look like it was all one thing, and it finally did.
The painting’s finally finished. And I now have an idea for another painting, titled “Giotto”. Not knowing what I’m doing I’m going to try to draw a series of perfect circles by hand, in homage to Giotto, the only artist it’s said who could draw a perfect circle by hand.
I’ve put the painting “Stained Glass Stairs” on the landing between the 2nd and 3rd level of the house, leaning it against the wall, thinking that actually hanging it there would be like burying it alive.
PS: my friend and publisher Brooks Roddan has posted a picture of the painting “Stained Glass Steps” at brooksroddan.com