Monday, February 11, 2008


Once I made a drawing using the phrase, “Total and complete fucking failure”, which was repeated in neat lines, over and over, until the page was completely filled. Oddly, the drawing was a minor success since the combination of the self-negating phrase with the grim determination to fill the page was comic. But sometimes projects fail, without any hope of redemption.

The life of a failed painting begins like any other. In the case of this small catastrophe, a pristine panel was placed before beautiful Haulover Bay in St. John. A few tender blues and greens were picked from the morning waves, before the sun was high enough to fully penetrate to the white sand below and send back to the surface the intensely saturated aquamarine for which the Caribbean Sea is famous. The pale colors were applied with a small brush in concave strokes to make interconnecting, stretchy pentagons, which is a motif that describes the undulation of small waves. This cool color area was surrounded then with the yellow of an old sea grape leaf and tempered with small patches of white from the sun-bleached coral rubble. In the upper left a smudge of grey-green was added to represent the distant island of Tortola. The painting session was finished when a large, stretchy pentagon appeared on top of everything else as if to describe a large bubble rising from the floor of the ocean.

Back at the house, I returned to the picture. The bubble of space was the most engaging thing, so I set to work to litter the floor below the boil with interesting detritus like fragments of brain and fire coral. Next, I decided on an orientation for the image and placed a vignette of sky and shore in the upper third. And then the picture was put away.

After a few days of looking at the painting, I picked it up again. Although I still liked the bubble of space, the vignettes beneath were pedestrian and isolated from one another. Painting a discrete object is relatively easy, but painting the strong and weak forces that glue a diverse universe together is hard. To get deeper into the world of this picture, I re-entered with a disruptive attitude, intent on destroying the status quo. Large strokes of blue and red, saturated like the colors of the American flag, replaced the shoreline and set off an exciting collision of color. I turned the picture upside down and forced this new orientation into dominance by weighting the new bottom with large forms and intense pigments. By now the nuanced tints copied during the initial session at the beach were lost and replaced with coarser colors, which was a result of working from memory and impulse rather than direct observation. But there was still hope for a successful resolution, since a new visual drama appeared which seemed to benefit from the rawness of color. With the addition of fins, eyes, shiny skin, and slithery shape, three large brush strokes became a barracuda and two fat, fleeing fish. Satisfied with the visual invention that arose through insurrection, I put the picture away and went for a swim.

As more time passed the new spatial disruptions began to bother me, so I put the picture on the easel and once again turned it upside down, back to its original orientation. The crudeness of the scene would have been a virtue if balanced with a little finesse, so I worked with care to soften extraneous detail and strengthen the focus on the fish and the bubble of space. Several times the picture neared balance, but each time something was off and each time the correction led to new problems. The barracuda, disgusted with the lack decisiveness, left the picture. After so many corrections, the surface became overworked. So, in a last-ditch attempt to bestow grace, I rebelled once again by downing a rum and coke early in the day. Predictably, the alcohol improved my confidence but not my judgment and the picture failed.

All that was left was a fish, alone in a muddy sea of compound mistakes.

It’s time, now, is to get rid of everything. The shapes and colors and textures must be destroyed. History must be eradicated. Get the stripper and scrape the surface new. It’s time to annihilate this little failed world. There is a point when an environment can not sustain the mistakes of its inhabitants.

1 comment:

dsb said...

Thank you for this blog. Although the feelings of frustration and inadequacy are common to most of humanity, I had to laugh at myself for initially reading this post and "identifying" with the struggle. As if we shared something unique. But your honesty provides such relief. I think of other art blogs in which the artist describes the ease in creating a particular piece and realize I'd rather read your record of failure. Simply human nature, I guess. I do wish you'd gotten shots of the first iterations of the work. Curiosity. I find many of your paintings exquisite and am enjoying the discovery of your blog.