Up and Down

I am almost finished with my Breughel inspired painting. I like it. What a strange feeling to not loathe something I've made after it is finished. I could get used to it.

All that remains is the final fixing and fussing, which I have to be in a particular mood (both meticulous and ruthless) to do.

The small studies I made of the legs, comparing red and black underpaintings, turned into a piece of their own. It worked out well, actually; the community college where I teach has a faculty show every summer, and as the gallery is quite small the work submitted must be modestly sized. I finished these just in time to put them in the show. As for the red versus black question . . . it didn't make a huge amount of difference, but I'm glad I questioned my own orthodoxy. In the end, I found that the black underpainting made for more interesting layering, because you're putting warm tones over a cool underpainting, instead of warm over warm, so I will probably switch to using a gray underpainting from now on.


I realized if I turned one of them upside down, they made kind of palindromic bookends. (The gray underpainting is on the left throughout.)



I wanted the space to be a bit more interesting, and to maybe give a sense of movement, if possible. So I repainted the background white with a fairly thick impasto that you can't really see in the below photographs.


And I thought about stopping at this point. You know, I had spent all that time painstakingly rendering the legs, and there was something satisfying about them delineated against the crispness of the white background. But it just didn't seem that interesting, ultimately. So what if I can render. Lots of painters can, but unless they have something to say with it, no one is going to care except for those who will be impressed that it looks "like a photograph." So then I went all smeary on them, and for a day was depressed that I had ruined them.


And then I broke out the orbital sander, and was happy again. Finished!


"Up and Down," oil on canvas over panel, 9" x 12" and 9.5" x 12", 2011

Luckily for me, the opposing tug between slaving away over something to make it "perfect" and the corresponding, atavistic urge to destroy that same object of my affections worked out nicely this time. It doesn't always. I both want to be in control, and want something outside my control to swoop in and do something surprising and hopefully awesome to my paintings, without destroying the parts I like. Ha ha. I suppose that's what a lot of us would like for our lives, as well.

Dave helped me figure out a title for this diptych. I don't want to always cop out and have everything be "Untitled," but it's so hard to walk the line between overly descriptive/proscriptive titles that leave nothing to the imagination, and overly obscure vague ones that don't give your viewer anything to go on. I had been mulling over "Flying/Falling," but we decided that titles with slashes in them were pretty much always pretentious and terrible. I re-perused my inspiration, the Auden poem "Musee des Beaux Arts" to see if there were any snatches of it I could use, but there weren't, really. So when Dave proffered "Up and Down," it seemed like a good fit, and I took it.