Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Can the past have a future in the present?

Can the past have a future in the present?

By Tom Wachunas

    “Painting is by nature a luminous language.”  - Robert Delaunay

   Here’s a brief hiatus from writing about other people and their art. Now that I look at what I just wrote, I’m thinking that whenever I write about other people and their art, I’m basically saying as much about myself as I am about them. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together… and thank you John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But I digress… 

  I want to report an epiphany. A sort of resurrection. I’ve been infected by a polychromatic palette. Who knows…it may be terminal. Kindly let me explain.

   With the notable exception of my annual 8 ½” x 11” Christmas  paintings on heavy cardboard (reproduced as  limited-edition, signed digital prints serving as  Christmas cards), the vast majority of my studio output over the past seven or eight years  has been either monochromatic in nature, or built largely on a black-and-white dynamic. During much of 2017, I experienced increasingly debilitating fits of dissatisfaction with the trajectory of my work. I had only a terribly nagging feeling that it was time to somehow alter my aesthetic. Analysis paralysis was beginning to set in. While a big decision seemed to loom ever closer in the cluttered corners of my mind, I remained for the most part frustrated, lethargic, uninspired.

   Flashback. The last time I was haunted by such an impasse was in 1999 or so. By that point, though I had been writing reviews for a few regional magazines, I hadn’t made a single visual artwork for about eight years. Exasperated, I remember purchasing, of all things, and inexplicably enough,  a plastic model of a dinosaur skeleton at a hobby shop, which I assembled, painted in muddy enamel earth tones, and mounted on a raggedy-edged,  pockmarked foamcore panel. Maybe it was the textures, the smell of the paint, the act of gluing little 3D forms on to a surface…but that eerie relief image of a floating dinosaur skeleton was just the spark I needed to begin making new original work in earnest.

   Several months ago, in preparation for an upcoming exhibit of my work slated for this July at The Little Art Gallery (which will be something of a mini-retrospective combined with some new works), I rummaged through the layered contents a large trunk I hadn’t opened since 1992 (the year I returned to Ohio after living in NYC for 14 years). Therein was a series of small (9” x 11”) unframed gouaches from around 1982 (two of them posted here in the top photo). They took hold of me the moment I saw them. They haven’t let go since. These were originally studies for larger oil paintings that no longer exist. So now I gazed at modest remnants, almost totally forgotten memories, abstracted and translated into gouache, of traveling and camping in the enchanting landscapes of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.  Yet the structural simplicity of my painted picture planes, the implied narrative of the imagery, and those dreamlike colors…resonated, intrigued, spoke.

   I heard. Something - dormant too long, nearly extinct - woke up and beckoned me. So call it a nod, an affirmation, an homage, this new bas-relief mixed media painting, 18” x 18”, finished yesterday, and which I’m calling “Homecoming” (bottom photo). A bright inroad through the belly of the beast (I incorporated that hobby shop Tyrannosaurus Rex from 1999) to…where?

   Destination undetermined. Only, let there be color. More to come.

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