What It Took for “Upside Down”

Upside Down by Suzanne Edminster, 36" x 48"

Upside Down by Suzanne Edminster, 36″ x 48″

Artists are often asked how long it took to make a painting.  Less often are they asked about materials, techniques, theme, and concept.  I’ve decided to tell you what it took.  My story is not unique; every artist has hundreds of these stories.  Most artists are polite enough not to bore you with them.  Here goes!

Materials: Golden liquids.  Flourescent Nova colors.  White acrylic ink and gesso.  Huge to tiny brushes.  Canvas prepped in 2010-2011 with gesso, lightweight spackle, and hand-carved forms.  Masking tape to establish horizon consistent with previous series of 10 paintings. Then swaths of translucent red, then swipes of flourescent red-orange.  Allow canvas to sit for 14 months to mature, and because you don’t quite know what it wants to be. 5 books on Hindu motifs, 2 books on symbols, 2 hours of research to establish authentic Warli painting examples.  Notebook with notes.  Film called “Upside Down”, an Indian movie not yet released in the US. Brushes borrowed from Karina Nishi Marcus.  One glass of cognac drunk in her studio.

Techniques: pouring, stamping.  Gesso applied with gloved hand, no brushes, for smooth yet organic texture.  Mixing of whites to achieve varying translucencies for folk painting.  Wiping back with variety of materials. Acrylic inks applied with brush and pen, water-soluble wax crayon scribbles, and 2 different varnishes, one spray and one applied by brush.

Experiential and conceptual development: one marriage, 1991-1998, in which I lived in Bangalore, India for several years and collected both fine and folk art.  Conversation with Indian woman who decorated the threshold with gorgeous rice flour designs daily at 4 AM so that her husband could step through this blessing on his way to work at dawn, her paintings destroyed and rebuilt day after day.   Color vocabulary from photographs and memories of India.  Conscious decision to paint naively.  Memories of circus and thoughts of Ganesha,  a major presence in South India. Wanted to use a sort of ‘tumbling down the rabbit hole” theme used in previous paintings, where animals float and turn in a metaphorical world, Chagall-like.  Mythic theme for paintings and series size established in the Terra Incognita series, 2011. A sadness over a  recent death and a desire to use forms drifting up and away, or birds to symbolize soul in release and  in captivity.  Threw out color balance and let the colors blend randomly, as in India.Memories of elephant festivals and ecstatic dancing.

And luck.

Questions?

Studio Note:  You can see “Upside Down”, both my painting and the film, at the Santa Rosa International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 12-21.  Visit http://www.sriff.org/ for more information.

16 comments

  1. Suzanne,
    Your story was ANYthing but “boring”! I loved reading about your complex and intriguing process, which evolved over time as it percolated in your subconscious and the layers “aged” in your studio. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your process. Sometimes I forget that I just did not wake up & walk into the studio & paint a painting. Thanks for the reminder that it actually took my entire life to create.

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      1. Your masks of your mother are wonderful. What a gift to you both and also your family! My abstract painting project is finished and when I put it on the wall there were many symbolic images that have emerged. I enjoyed putting the time aside for this project. Did I read there is a certificate available for participating in this Residency? If so please contact my e-mail, Thanks you all.

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  3. Oh fountain of wisdom and humor! We painters love you. We all just heaved a great sigh of relief. You know I took your suggestion to read The War of Art and am now quoting it all over the place. This post is a great example of how to win the war.
    Will there be an opening to view the painting and video? I’ll definitely go see it.
    I guess I need a Nishi down the hall to serve me cognac when I need it!

    Like

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