Oil Paint over Pinhole Photos: Surreal Voyages

Nature Walk, 12″ x 12″, oil paint over pinhole photos, Suzanne Edminster

Painting can take you to strange places. I offer these older paintings as a travelogue of a surreal journey through spontaneous image.

Some years ago  I mounted blown-up, cut-out photocopied images of my own pinhole photos on Masonite. I had a photo series of a small, two-inch Mummy, an Invisible Man model,  a Barbie doll, and a plastic toy lizard.  Keep an eye out for them, as they pop up in various combinations in all four paintings.

I varnished the black and white photocopy mounts with clear acrylic varnish as a protectant, letting it dry. I then covered each panel completely with oil paint.  The images disappeared. That was scary!  We love our figurative images, and to cover them makes us feel like we have lost our way .  But it is important to completely cover the surface, so you can’t see the original images any more. Just choose a few analogous colors to start.

Oil paint stays open, or wet, for quite a while.  Using a soft rag, I would rub parts back to the original photo, then add more paint, and repeat this, over and over, until new images started to form.  It was like watching a mysterious image develop.  I had no plan for the original mounts.  The images just appeared.  The first one was Eye Boat, below.  You can see the guts of the Invisible Man, and the lizard became a sort of surfboard.  They are led by the Eye Boat–led by the eye, or vision–which tows three fish.  Maybe they’re the next three paintings.

Eye Boat, 12″ x 12″, photos under oil paint, Suzanne Edminster

Okay, I had a start: two figures in a sort of journey.  The second painting was Nature Walk, at the top of the blog.  A giant gorilla peered over the horizon at the two small figures enjoying a stroll, and the Mummy got a cigarette.  I loved the thick, greasy, slippery feel of the oil paint, and the sharp smell.  Shapes and images surfaced and submerged.  It was mesmerizing.  It took a long, long time.  Apply, rub away.  Add, subtract, change, cover, lose it, reclaim it: hide-and-seek with images.

The Sacrifice, 12: x 12″, oil paint over pinhole photos, Suzanne Edminster

The Sacrifice is the darkest of the series.  The couple becomes androgynous, with the partner becoming a sort of butler or servant.  A table appeared in a desert.  Hooves and feet were scratched into cartouche forms. A smiling cow head appears on a table with two glasses of red wine. This has a forsaken feeling; I thought of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. Motifs kept repeating: the high horizon, the pillars, the animal forms.  I was dreaming in paint.

Belly Thoughts came last.  A world of landscape appears inside a cow, and the Mummy has become a sort of householder or landlord, surveying his domain. There’s a snake in the garden, though…

Belly Thoughts, 12″ x 12″, oil paint over pinhole photos, Suzanne Edminster

These turned out to be important paintings to me. I think they may have actually foretold my future: a kind of before-sight rather than hindsight. Obliterating the image is very freeing, and moves the painter rapidly toward increased abstraction.  Meaning won’t be lost; it reasserts itself constantly .  You never have to worry about that.

Mythic notes: These were a bit like the Metaphorcards we construct at Wavy Gravy’s Camp Winnarainbow for adults. I’ll be teaching there this year, assisting Laura Foster Corben, and clowning  around with Susan Cornelis.  You might want to show up too.

Studio notes: This is my favorite method of painting with oils, because it fully exploits their oily quality and reluctance to dry. Oil paints have a mystery and resonance with film– all those chemicals!  (Black and white photos used to be colorized with oil paints.) I did these during the last class that Holly Roberts ever taught at UC Santa Cruz. The painting studios had a view of the Pacific, and I had a key to the studios to come early and stay late. She taught us how to paint in oils without turps, using linseed oil as a medium and baby oil as a brushcleaner.   Holly’s work is superb: mysterious, intelligent,  passionate, and completely expert. I am grateful for the series of classes I took with her.

Art Collage Box Cleanout

Spidermen Original Holga Photo, Suzanne Edminster. Pre-Instagram!

As I was going through my overcrowded art storage area, I came upon my nemesis– the art collage box.  It was full of things I collected at one time.  I was sure I would use them some day.

 I won’t tell you everything I found, but there was Monopoly money from a broken antique set,  German fortune-telling cards, a work on rice paper by an artist from Bangalore, India,  and Mexican loteria cards.  Out fell ancient notes and antique photos, a Virgin of Guadalupe print and a Holga photo of Spidermen, and a paranormal magazine I got in Prague in the 90’s.

Collage Box

I thought I might tell you what I kept and what  I discarded, but I found I was reluctant to list things I threw away.  Hey, it felt like a taboo.  Why?

I’ve always said that collage itself had some connection with destruction and death, the dark side.  Things are dismembered and removed from their original space, time and context, often by cutting  or tearing, actions that have an air of violence.  There’s an air of secrecy about them. That box felt like a  coffin for dead ideas combined with  a treaure box, a graveyard for things that had once compelled me.

Someone would be sure to ask, “Why did you throw that out?” Even worse, they might say, “You could have given that to me.  I would have liked that.”  I would be responsible for disappointing someone.  Another person would become implicated and entangled in my decision.  I’ve encountered this a lot.  People really do not like it when one simply disposes of things. A taboo has been broken.  Improper burial?  Disrespect for objects?  Then the discarded object comes back to haunt you through the remonstrations of others.  And now, with the advent of eBay, all junk has been acquired a false patina of consumer value.

I bought this in Bangalore when I was rich. Now I’ve lost the artist’s name. Perhaps Rashika Thakur?

Each item is really the representation of a certain dream, experience, or longing.  An object then has become a literalized metaphor, carrying meaning far beyond itself.  If I discard the object, do I discard the idea?  Or does the object become a substitute for fresh experience?  Each item becomes a love letter from a past idea-affair.

Nowadays I use only two kinds of collage: text and black and white non-copyright photocopies of drawings or my own photos.  Often the collage vanishes completely, or is torn to become an area of texture that may have figurative associations for me, but not for the viewer. I’ve never liked using “old” or “failed” paintings as collage parts.  It seems disrespectful to the original impulse, a Frankenstein construction that I am forcing to life.

I think I’m just as happy putting this flotsam on the floor and photographing them, and then letting them drift back to the strange ether of discarded objects, or the garbage.  But then, again…

There, I’ve revealed my collage underbelly. What’s in your boxes?

Saltworkstudio Large Painting Class: 5 Clues, and Cool Painting Titles

Cythia Heimowitz' s hands on her painting

What’s a large painting for you? 12  by 12 inches?  6 feet by 6 feet?  A mural? Anything on canvas? 

 What’s a large series?  Two paintings? A hundred?
 
In Sunday’s Saltworkstudio Paint Large class, our goal was to clarify our intentions for a series and begin to paint on larger surfaces.   For the purposes making headway in a four-hour class, I suggest students bring half to full sheets of watercolor paper, or three identical canvases up to 30 inches on a side.
 
I won’t share the entire process of the class, but it did result in the stunning headway on painting series you can see in the slideshow below.  All paintings shown were done in class on Sunday, and they are very fine starts. Some students came in with well-developed ideas, and some came in “blank.”
 
 I had to figure out how to model and convey my own process when working on a large series of big surfaces.    We used some of the  ideas below as guidelines.
 
  1. A large painting is not a small painting “blown up.”  Start fresh.  “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”  You are in a new, large, foriegn country.  Explore it.
  2. Composition is critical.  Plan a minimal, flexible composition format or idea.  It could be “Golden Mean” or “Diagonal.”  OR it could be quirkier: “Large X-Ray Animal in the Middle”  or “Floaty Fractal Bubble with Connectors” or “One Line High Horizon.”  Vary each painting in  your series, but stay within one compositional “meme.”
  3. Texture your surface first, then put on large swathes of color or paint BEFORE “starting” the painting.  Keep it very loose at first.   You’re getting hold of your surface, getting acquainted with it…developing a relationship.  The start is like a first date.
  4. You need big ideas for large paintings.  Work in your notebook. Catch the ideas and desires that hang at the periphery of your conciousness. We’re like Adam naming the animals of our imagination into existence… and some of them are very odd creatures! Don’t be afraid of titling your paintings right at the start.  You can always change them later.
  5. Remember, it’s only paint and canvas.  Sure, you might fail.  So what?

Enjoy the slideshow!  The Mythic News and Studio News are after the slides. Students, please leave some comments about your process and your series concepts and names.  I’m amazed by your work.

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Mythic News:  You can get great abstract painting titles from myths and legends.  I just bought the beautiful, witty book  American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.  Here are some titles I’d love to use for abstract paintings: The Origin of Curing Ceremonies. The Well-Baked Man.  Blood Clot. Jicarilla Genesis. Emerging Into the Upper World.  Great Medicine Makes a Beautiful Country.  The Theft of Light.  A Trick of Moon.  And more.  At the end of his life, my father told me that my great-grandmother was Native American.  It was the skeleton in the closet and a family secret.   At last I had a context for my resonance with ancient art.  Is there a DNA for visual desire, the passions of the eyes?
 
Saltworkstudio News:  All my classes are full through March!  I’ll be posting the next Spontaneous Construction date and time in the new year.   
 

5 Tips for Painting with Collage

What’s collage painting, mixed media painting, or combined media painting? How does it differ from collage? 

How can you use collage elements in painting without being highjacked or overwhelmed by the collage image?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: A collage painting is more paint than collage elements.  The paint is 60% or more of the painting.  The collaged parts merge and meld seamlessly into the whole. 

 How to do it? Here are 5 tips. All paintings shown here are acrylic paint on paper or canvas.  I affix collage pieces to the surface with glossy acrylic gel medium.

1. Use only your own images whenever possible, including photographs, text, and your own sketches and handwriting.  You can also use copyright-free black and white images.  Copy and recopy the same  images in larger and smaller sizes at a copy store or using a laser printer.  Black and white is easier to incorporate, and leaves the color elements to the painter and paints.  I prefer to avoid colored magazine images, as tempting as they are.  The more you play with a single image by altering size, color, dimension, the more freedom you will gain  in painting.  You’ll own the image, rather than the image “owning” you.

2. Choose a theme. I used non-copyrighted Dover deer. Avoid themes that are intensely personal, like pictures of your dog, your mom, or your child.  You need to have a bit of distance to use images effectively, or to rip one up.  Eventually you’ll develop image banks of differing themes that become your private visual language.  

3. Paint first.  Put color on the surface, or paint a very sketchy painting, then affix images, then paint some more.  Painting first, before applying images, establishes that it is more a painting than a collage.  For all of these I chose a crucifix composition and applied paint first.  Then I put down ripped black and white collage images.  A warm background is good, as it can glow up through layers of paint.

4.Be willing to sacrifice the image.  Let go of the image you love and let it disappear, if the painting demands it. Show only a part of it.  If you want to keep it perfect, do regular collage, not collage painting.  This is one of the hardest parts of using collage elements in paintings.

5. Cover your images with glossy gel medium or UVLS varnish as you apply them.  Then you can pile on coats of paint and still wipe back to find them.

Toss the collage boxes and go back to only a few images.  Use them  thoughtfully in series of paintings. And have fun! 

Please use the comment section for questions on the collages or techniques.  I’m happy to share what I know.  If you’re one of my student who gets the blog, please share something about your experience with collage painting.

Mythic news:   Deer are symbols of sacrifice and purity, often used in Christian iconography.  It was said that deer gathered at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung.  I used them here  in these three works floating up and down through a penetrable horizon of birth and death, ancestor souls.  Collage itself belongs to the realm of Kali: dismembering  of paper , appropriation of image, rebirth of pieces into a new whole.  The goddess of Necessity wields the scissors and snips the thread of life– or the image.

Hade’s Choir: Mixed Media Collage Paintings in B/W

Collage is a natural for Halloween, the dark hinge in the year that creaks as something opens the door.  The bits and pieces of  paper are ghosts or forlorn spirits, no longer “alive” in their original context.   You cut them, dismember them, rip them up, seek underworld messages from scraps of text, and bury theme in paint.  You can “skin” them as well. Then, like good little ghosts, they march out and live again, speaking in paper whispers.

 Yesterday,  in the class I teach at Sebastopol Center for the Arts,  I was trying to model how to develop a series theme.  I shared to the class that in my notebook I had written that I wanted to do a series that was like “Edgar Allen Poe on acid.”  I like to read horror stories and murder mysteries;  husband Scott actually prescribes them for me as an antidote if I get too bound up in art books or my secret indulgence bonbons, preachy self-help books, which I love but invariably depress me with how much help I still need to add to Self.  I had been hanging on to scratchy black and white compositional studies for years; liked ’em but didn’t know how to take them further.    The Choirboys had been altered into a very damaged acrylic skin. I tore them up into two pieces and mounted them on two paintings, paired with a quote from a cave painting book,  and  my landscape transformed itself into the River Styx.  Mixed media included Utrecht Pro Gesso as my white paint… love the opaque chalkiness… and Derwent Inktense pencils for the purple automatic writing marks.   Payne’s Grey makes a gorgeous blue/black.  If this little group comes to your door tonight, I wouldn’t open it.

Mythic News:  Avernus, a crater lake of Italy near Naples, is supposed to be the entry to the Greco-Roman underworld.  Our own Crater Lake in Oregon is creepy enough… dead, because not fed by springs.  Dead, because the volcano crater goes down, down to the center of the earth, or near enough.  Birds and fish often avoid these lakes as well.  I’ll see Avernus around Christmas on our Italian trip.

Saltworkstudio events:  We have our annual Open Studios this weekend, November 5 and 6, 2012, at the old naval airbase , 3840 Finley Ave, Santa Rosa.  I have a new series of B/W paintings and you can see the top of a WWII bunker from my studio window.   Drop by Saltworkstudio.  I will be doing demos and would love to visit with you.