After seeing the Alex Katz show at Serpentine, I’ve been thinking about overlapping brushstrokes. If a brush stroke goes over or through another, then you can usually see which came first and whether the first was dry or still wet when the second stroke went down. Sometimes a whole sequence of brushstrokes are evident. That’s one of the things I like about painting: A still image containing traces of a process that unfolded in time, or as Rudolf Arnheim put it1 (describing handwriting in relation to painting):
… a live diagram of psychophysical forces.
In this Katz painting, visually, the pink flowers come forward in space and the blackness sinks back. Judging by looking, I think this is opposite to the way the paint was applied. I think the pink paint went on first and sits underneath, the black was painted afterwards, around the flower shapes, and then the green leaves and stems went on last. This process is what I see when I look at the painting, along with the optical effect it creates and the image of flowers, with all the atmosphere and emotions it evokes.
In Lesley Vance paintings some of the brushstrokes are very clear, but the sequence of application is more difficult to deduce.
I tried painting a face with overlapping brushstrokes. It didn’t come out how I expected.
It looks much tidier and more controlled than I thought it would. Makes me think of Fernand Léger, Brian Calvin, and George Condo.
- Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (1954) University of California Press. p.417 ↩