Today I completed the finish work on the bench. After cladding the form with the reclaimed oak flooring, I used oil paint to fine-tune the color. It is topcoated with shellac and finished with paste wax. The curved top makes for a very comfortable seat. As you can see from this angle, the boards “fold” across the top and down each side. All edge joints are mitered. Where the top folds over each end they are compound miters, which allow for the curve. The only tricky joints are the upper corners at the front and back, where the top overlays the facing. I cut these by hand, and have included a detail below.
This piece is important to me as an opportunity to find a creative application for the more literal “floor” work that I have been doing in my home. I was also looking for an opportunity to add value to what were otherwise reclaimed, left-over, or scrap materials in my shop. It is an elaboration on the theme of landscape being something that rises up from beneath our feet, the point being the immersive experience rather than the distant view. I hope to install a related work in my next show, coming up at Fontbonne University in March. In the mean time, I am slugging away at a number of related paintings. I may post a sneak preview of the works in progress, so stay tuned.
I’ve spent the last week or so building stretchers, stretching the canvases, and priming the new surfaces. It is a process that I now enjoy, but that was not the case when I was first learning how to do the work. It seemed like a waste of time when I wanted to get on with the activity of painting. Then one of my professors, Barbara Duval, explained to me that the time spent preparing the surface was valuable time for giving thought to what might happen on that surface. I put that into practice. These days the plot has thickened– my impulse for making the painting comes first, and I determine the dimensions/proportions to suit that vision. As I begin making the stock for the stretcher bars, I am already, in effect, making the painting.
Ten years ago my wife Christine was good enough to buy The Mooring of Starting Out, The First Five Books of Poetry by John Ashbery for me as a Christmas present. As I was scraping the ground across a large canvas this week, I found myself pondering the contradiction built into that title. I often find myself at odds with Ashbery’s work, but it is only because he refuses to do what I want him to do. I enjoy his work for the same reason. Our points of agreement are more often individual lines than complete poems. And so it was with this title, The Mooring of Starting Out. It felt appropriate to the work at hand, that I would stop painting in order to start painting. It is strange, and suitable.
Last week I repaired and repainted the walls in our first floor sitting room. The main wall is lit with a raking southern light and this caused the sandy, grooved texture to leap out insistently. I ended up building a scraping tool to knock off the peaks, then skim coated and sanded the walls towards a relative smoothness. We chose a color of green that had a bit of life to it. It quiets down in the natural light, but maintains some intensity in artificial or reflected light. The photos above show both scenarios.
I suspect that most people think of walls as surfaces, but I like to treat them as spaces. Walls, like paintings, are best understood by their edges. The center is a more mysterious space with a disorienting habit of falling away– especially when color gets involved. I love that center, where a wall can act like a window.