Following Ideas Wherever They Lead

I’ve been working my way through frames and painting surfaces stockpiled over the years.   Odd-shaped boards can inspire a mental process of shuffling through ideas which have been stored away, just waiting for a chance to spring forth.  This is exactly what has occurred in the latest series.

"Red Woman With Blue Bird" by LYnda McClanahan

“Red Woman With Blue Bird” by Lynda McClanahan

I began with three 7″x7″ pieces of luan board cut to fit a trio of oak frames scavenged from the alley.  The small square size dictated simple, strong designs.

"Red Tree With Birds" by Lynda McClanahan

“Red Tree With Birds” by Lynda McClanahan

Next, I had to decide what the series would be about.  A trip to Rochester, England in Kent saw us touring many cathedrals, some of which sported strange, pre-christian imagery.  Rochester Cathedral had a lovely tree of life full of birds and leaves fairly close to the altar which I spent a lot of time with.  What loveliness and confidence in life!  My version is more complicated (no birds of prey, nests or arterial roots in Rochester) but the tone of rooting for life, just as it is, remains.

"Blue Man With Red Vines" by Lynda McClanahan

“Blue Man With Red Vines” by Lynda McClanahan

The last image is based on the various Green Man carvings sprinkled throughout the churches we visited.  Green Man figures are usually carved between the wall and the roof and peer down upon the faithful, often disgorging vegetation.  Making the figure blue nudges the entire series into a more interesting direction than I’d originally intended.  Taken together, the three pieces have become a fittingly strange contemplation of earth, sky and the violently beautiful realm of in between.

Sometimes an idea is so strange, it’s tempting to hestitate or edit it out.  The recent Puffin Foundation Grant has changed all that.  I follow ideas wherever they lead.

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Thoughts on Style

My work is generously supported by public institutions.   Prizes, grants and fellowships all continue to appear but gallery space remains elusive.   I’ve given a lot of thought to this and, frankly, fretted over it    I think it comes down to style.  The same qualities which make hard-to-categorize pieces captivating and absorbing can also make them invisible to the commercial world.   This latest painting, “Goat in Dress,” is an example.

"Goat in Dress," a mash up of sights seen during a recent trip to Varanasi, India.

“Goat in Dress” by Lynda McClanahan

“Goat in Dress” is a mash-up of sights seen during a recent trip to Varanasi, India.  The fact that so many animals sported such stylish outfits seemed perfectly natural in this strange and liminal place.  Everything is pressed together and mixed up there:  life/death, ancient/modern, animals/people, aristocratic manners/street harassment, land/water, beauty/filth.  The whole idea of what belongs where is frustrated and upended, yielding an irrational visual experience more akin to a Buddhist koan than a sight for the eyes.  What can’t be comprehended can still be contemplated, which is the whole point of this piece.  There is a nice circular path through the work for those who care about that sort of thing.  The eye starts with the goat, travels down the steps into the water before pausing at the water buffalo, sweeps back toward the boat, wafts up and to the right with the help of a furry ear, then drifts over the back where the tail points toward the orange building and the painting of Mother Ganga’s alligator before finally following the back stairs back down to where we started, which is, of course, that darned goat!  I added skulls and “OMs” to the dress as a reward to those who have taken the time to look.  The piece is irrational yet can be strung together in the mind to form a narrative.  Just as a poem uses words and sentences to take readers on a journey again and again, this painting uses visual objects to accomplish the same thing.  None of this would have been possible without using this style.

I can do purely decorative art and sometimes do.

"Birds With Dandelions" by Lynda McClanahan

“Birds With Dandelions” by Lynda McClanahan

But even in a little throw-away piece like this one there’s always a bit of thoughtful tension (those knowedgeable about birds know that the big guy at the top is contemplating dinner).    There’s all kinds of art in this world and I celebrate it all, but there’s a difference between art which has something to say and that which stops at “buy me.”   I’ve consciously chosen a style which supports holding a string of thoughts in the mind rather than just one.  The conclusion of those thoughts and the way they’re put together is the creative work of the viewer.

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