We finished this painting on July, 4th, 2006. The painting was included in the group exhibition, "Best of Me" at Fountain Gallery, which opened September 15th and closed October 31, 2006.
The painting started in late October, 2005, when we prepared studies of our downtown view. We shot several hundred photos from our window, both in early morning and at sunset, making them into a photo collage panorama of morning photos of the buildings and sunset photos of the sky.
We next grided the panorama and printed it in sections we could refer to while painting. We then stretched and gridded a long, rectangular canvas, randomly chose which grid squares we'd be responsible for and painted each Sunday.
Back in the studio, with the music and the paint, again, finally, after all these years. We managed to find the brushes, not always right, but good enough to get the paint where it goes and the rags and thinner. Managed some daylight too, though it's November and it's running out early.
We're fifteen years older than when we began painting like this and remarkably more comfortable. We've figured out all those sharing infractions that made our painting together in the beginning both a thrilling and nerve-wracking adventure. We were about five years into our collaborative painting before I could actually paint on the same canvas at the same time as Steve. Time's great isn't it?
Don't get me wrong, when we first started out this session, I was still a little unsure, intimidated even, by all the years he has on me as a painter. I have always loved the way he handles his brush and his paint. I look over at his pallet, same glass as mine, but his is flowing with pools of compounded paint. You may or may not notice that his painting is well underway as I'm still mixing my paint. My pallet shows stingy little piles, all the colors I think I will use, mixed before I'll give the canvas any. Steve gets to getting, laying on the paint. When he needs a new color he grabs the can, has it mixed into the mass in a flash and is laying those clouds in there. The certainty is lovely. That fella, he's pressing the image right in there, knocking the studies off the top edge of the canvas, they're falling over dragging the paint he's just placed with them, splattering on the floor, the canvas is whipping with the strokes, vivacity incarnate. I'm all furrowed brow over the colors, study in my face, knowing that I'll be getting mixed up any minute now, because there is still something about looking at a picture and putting the image in front of me that just doesn't come naturally. And heaven forbid I'd paint too hard and waggle the canvas at my boyfriend.
Still, with all the tightness I bring to painting, my how I love it! When I've got my colors all set I lay some Liquin to the parsimonious dabs on my pallet and the paint gets to flowing. In the midst of painting I'll find myself mixing something unexpected, something I didn't know I'd need, something that might in fact not even work. It's like starting with the sheet music and getting carried away into some wild improvisation, no matter the result, satisfying and so much fun.
We haven't painted collaboratively in seven years. Last time we were immersed in portraiture, just finishing Jenn in the winter, following the big summer project, Skyler. The end of our last round of collaborations coincided with getting back to jobs after a settling in across the country hiatus. Watching this first little movie of our emergence I am taken aback by our seriousness, diligence. Steve didn't cut out the fooling around parts. We really are this studious about our painting work. Having just three hours on Sunday for any painting we might do, the time is precious and we use it like we mean business. We surely do.
We first made paintings together in a converted livery stable in Bodega and now redress our collaborative painting in this Houston Street studio. I'm thinking about time and space. Back then I worked part time and Steve managed his time like he had lots of it. We worked our jobs, traveled between San Francisco and Bodega to spend days on end either alone or together painting, sculpting, movie making. Amazingly prolific time those first few years together. There was an excitement and an alchemy that propelled us into artmaking.
Steve has, all his life, had a serious and steady approach to producing art which was new to me and thrilling. When we moved to San Francisco, out of the giant studio into the Geary living room sized space, Steve took the algorithm he had designed for himself, a gridded canvas, each square being its own painting, allowing for short bursts of completed work that fit so well into a little bit of time wrapped around a job and applied it to our collaborative work.
The first painting we made with this design was a portrait of Pat and Rhea. We made casual photographs with a polaroid, picked one for the study and gridded the image. We coin-tossed for position on the gridded canvas and started painting. I'm thinking this boy of mine is a genius. It's a collaborative method that allows the differences in approach to color mixing and brush work to create a dynamic image and harmonizes the tension between those differences.
Our studio now is just the work room side of a two-room apartment overlooking downtown from the lower east side. Our work space and time call for the gridded canvas again. Our painting wall just allows us to work side by side.
So, we're on this road together again. Don't even want to go into what took us so long. I watch the painting in the changing light, first thing in the mornings and just before we head out to work. I watch our sky as the evening light settles and take a last look in the city dark of night. Noting that every day of the week is bringing us closer to another Sunday. It's just a few hours away now and I'm feeling that expectant thrill, here comes the mixing, the brush changing and growing the white grids into our best thoughts on what we see when we look out our studio window. Now, this is fun, deep and true.
We've painted. Finishing early, the winter light failing about 4pm. Ruth can kick my butt in figurative painting and she did.
I keep telling myself, what we're doing ain't figurative, it's just reacting to the grid squares on the study. Just colors and shapes. Hey, paint what you feel today. Don't worry about the other grid squares. Don't look at what you painted last week, paint what's real this week.
What's real is... Ruth kicks my butt.
Like many painters before us, we work from a study which is divided into equal squares. Our job is to transfer the information on the study, one grid square at a time, to the much larger painting with its proportionally larger grid divisions.
On some paintings, where the grid is small and the subject is large, you can put the subject on the canvas by painting a series of small abstract paintings. Each painted square a composition of color and shapes. Each faithfully transferred to their corresponding larger squares on the canvas. Do 'em all, stand back, viola! You have a perfectly proportioned figurative image.
But, this painting is of city buildings at a distance and our grid squares are not that small, so we have to paint quite a few whole buildings, light, shadow, windows, architectural details -- hey! it's real figurative painting and I never was any good at it, I'm worse now.
But, I chug along, doin' my squares the best I can.
Through random tosses, we've divided up all the squares so each of ours will be scattered throughout the whole painting. At it best, this method of collaborative painting is a demonstration of strength in diversity. One of my lame-ass attempts between two of her gorgeous ones, doesn't look that bad. Sort of fun because of the differences, lively, more so than if either of us did the whole thing.
Olden day painters smoothed out the differences in their squares, matching colors and brush strokes. Hell, they smoothed out their paint with sable brushes -- they didn't even have visible brush strokes.
But, we don't do it like that. First off, we like brush strokes. Since Pizzarro, Cezzanne and Van Gogh, brush strokes have been very visible -- not in all modern painting, but, in all the good ones.
Brush marks show that a human was attending. A real person with real tools, real gorgeous paint, sticking it on the canvas with gestures, with emotion.
So, with us, brush strokes are a badge of courage. Also, we're not about to match colors between squares, hey, that's no fun!
The job is to react honestly to the subject and the subject is the study, the square we're looking at now.
An honest reaction to that square will not use the same colors as the square painted two weeks ago, an hour or even a few minutes ago.
We're different each second, being honest to that, making a sincere effort to put what we see in the study on the canvas, that's what we expect from ourselves. After several weeks and all the squares are finished, then we step back take a look at what we caused. And accept. We followed our process with good heart, we manifested our idea, it's now a painting, with it's own life, what it is, yo. Who ever wants to can declare it good or bad, each can decide if they like it or don't. Not our job, our job's been done.