Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Divide and Conquer: Cutting up the Canvas

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I can't make a composition work. Usually it will hang around for a long time, nagging at me to do something, until, to rid myself of the frustration, I'll gesso over the canvas and re-use it. Occasionally though, I like parts of the work enough to want to keep them, and I have had some success with cutting up the canvas and making several smaller paintings out of it. I've yet to try this with a representational painting--now that would be a challenge!--but I've done it several times with abstract work. 

The first time I tried it was with a painting in which I tried to incorporate "windows" into an abstract composition. I never took a photo of it, so I can't show it here. I still like the idea of creating the illusion of looking through the painting at images underneath, and will return to it sometime; but in the case I'm describing the "windows" were the only parts that worked, so I cut all seven of them out, matted and framed them, and called them "Little Paint Poems." I still have three of them, having sold two and given two away as gifts. They are about 3" x 4" in size.

In this case the parent painting never got finished. I tinkered away at it but gave up. The next time I took scissors to canvas was rather different: I felt the painting was finished, and I put a frame on it and hung it on my wall. But somehow I wasn't satisfied with it.

From the Floor
I called it "From the Floor" because it was a more or less accurate rendering of paint spatters on the studio floor. This was the assignment set on the first evening of a course on abstract painting at Langara College. It wasn't until later that I noticed that the shapes suggested sea creatures, an idea that influenced my selection of bits to cut out and keep, and the titles I gave them.

Marine Abstraction 2 - 14" x 10" - 2010
Marine Abstraction 1 - 14" x 10" - 2010

I found a pair of rich-looking gold-painted frames that set off my marine fantasies very nicely, and I sold them soon afterwards.

And so to this year, when I participated in a two-day workshop on intuitive painting with artist Eri Ishii. We were asked to use various non-traditional tools (not brushes) and just two or three colours to make marks on unstretched canvas. This is my rather messy effort:

Perhaps because of the sombre colours I chose, or else because of the dreary weather that day, I felt almost immediately that my painting represented a battlefield. These were melancholy images of war. They didn't form a composition, but they were powerful. So again I selected bits, and produced four small paintings. I wanted rough edges, so instead of using scissors I tore the canvas, and glued the pieces on to 8" square white panels.

The course of editing, however, did not run smooth. I bought two of the panels from a craft shop, to see if my idea would work. Pleased with the first two paintings, I went back to buy more panels--but of course, I'd had the last two, and they were now discontinued. I tried all the Lower Mainland branches of the store, but with no success. I did track down two more at an art supplies store, but they weren't an exact match, and were quite different on the back, which made framing tricky. Ah, framing . . . I had one suitable black frame, but needed three more. I was delighted to find them all on the same shelf--no chasing around the region this time--but when I'd solved the problem of how to get the frames on to the two different kinds of panel, and hung the four paintings on the wall to admire them, they didn't seem quite right together.  I stared at them in bewilderment, and then measured the frames. One of the new purchases was an exact match for the one I had, but the other two were slightly larger and deeper. I haven't yet had the heart to go shopping again.
Four Images of War - 2013