As part of my effort to transition into bigger paintings, I’ve got some bigger brushes. The one on the right is a rough old 100mm thing from the hardware store, well used. The one on the left is from an art store, much smoother, 200mm wide.
In another “scaling up” exercise, my source image was this small painting on paper that I made in March:
And this is the larger painting I’ve made using the same techniques:
The larger brushes and canvas enable a greater range of marks, from the 200mm brush (the large black areas at the bottom left of the picture) down to the smallest 1mm brush (the white marks on the right edge of the picture, half-way down). This is what I like about working larger: the extended vocabulary of large and small marks.
Another tool that I had to “scale up” was the ruler I use for painting straight lines. For the small painting, I used a 300mm ruler. For the larger painting I used a meter long piece of 2×1 timber.
This exercise has coincided with some interesting reading on brushstrokes. In David Salle’s book How to See, he writes about the brush-work of Alex Katz, Dana Schutz, and Francis Picabia, describing things that I also see and enjoy in their paintings. (I wrote about Katz’s brushwork here, and Schutz’s here)
(Salle on Schutz) “The scale of her brushstrokes is almost always right – the marks suit what they describe, and gesture is most often harnessed to the painting’s internal architecture, not just surface decoration.” p.58
(Salle on Katz) “… Katz uses the largest possible brush for each form, only switching to smaller, pointed brushes … for details like eyelashes or buttonholes,… Katz uses the least number of brushstrokes to set the scene…” p.135
(Salle on Picabia) “A cursive brush mark becomes an eyebrow, or a plump mouth, or any other part of a face. He had something of the sign painter’s way with a brush, attentive to the way an image could be simplified into a sign.” p.194
I also just started reading Rosalind Krauss’ book, Willem de Kooning Nonstop: Cherchez la femme. She quotes de Kooning on Chaim Soutine (a painter I’ve always liked):
(de Kooning on Soutine) “Maybe it’s the lushness of the paint. He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a substance.” p.12
Krauss says of de Kooning’s painting:
“In the new vocabulary he was developing, his earlier parallel penciled hatch marks were exchanged for the explosive smear of housepainter’s brushes. By the 1950s this brushstroke had become so seductive … that Jasper Johns, when he saw Bolton Landing (below), called it a “wonderful painting … [It] made me want to go out and buy a big brush”.” p.12
It’s funny how Bolton Landing looks similar to the paintings I made, because I’m not very familiar with de Kooning’s works, and if anything I would have seen my paintings in relation to Schutz or Oehlen or Kline. It’s fortunate that I started reading this book just after making my painting, otherwise I think the similarity to de Kooning would have put me off.