It's funny how circumstances can conspire to point a person in a new direction. I have always liked abstract art, admired the ambiguity, the boldness, and the grand scale of paintings by people like Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, Franz Kline, or Helen Frankenthaler. Last winter and early spring I found myself reading books about Abstract Expressionists, and my fascination increased. So, I decided to take a chance and sign up for a class in abstract painting taught by Emmett Johns, at the Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, two hundred miles north of my home.
I had admired Johns' paintings for years, and over Memorial Day weekend I dropped in to his studio to look at his work again, chat with him, and get a feeling for what a class with him might be like. I felt optimistic after that, and went home to read, gather together materials and make arrangements for the four day class. It was last week, and I am recovering nicely, thank you.
Emmett Johns is a fine painter, and an amiable man. Peninsula Art School is a well appointed facility, conveniently located 10 minutes from my brother and sister-in-law's house, where I get to stay and socialize. The class was comprised of a good mix of men and women, a range of ages, and as far as I could tell, all people of good will. However, at the end of four days I had a pitifully small pile of pitifully small nonrepresentational abstract work - far less than anyone else. This is not me being self-deprecating. I speak truth.
What happened? I am still mulling it over, and have lots of questions. Am I just too timid? Are the physical movements too unfamiliar to me, working on a much larger scale? Am I too parsimonious, too cheap with my materials? Am I disoriented by an unfamiliar environment with people talking around me, my paints and brushes hiding in new places? Is it a combination of all these factors?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
I should know by now that I process and implement ideas incrementally, often over months and even years after a workshop. It has happened before, and probably will again. But still, I felt bad, like I made a bad showing. Gotta get over that, and gotta play more with working larger, even if it means working on the basement floor sometimes.
These are a few photos of Emmett going to work on a demonstration piece, painted with acrylic, on a large piece of rag board (mat board). The final piece looked nothing like what I thought it might, and was more attractive than my photo indicates.