Today tried to address my problems with composition. Among other things, I muddle “composition” with mimetic accuracy, symmetry, and balance (as rigid stability). “Composition” becomes a process of “correcting” parts of the picture that appear to lean or pull the image (or the eye) in an unwanted wrong direction. The result is usually to stiffen out all the movement, while failing to achieve the “balance” I’m seeking.
99.9% of the time I completely forget about shaping the negative space.
I decided to take a single object and paint it several times, starting with a simple composition and gradually making them more complicated to find where the problems come in. The object I chose is an inverted cruciform candle. Originally this object was a sculpture I made in the late 90s.
I painted 170307a Inverted Cruciform Candle (above) upside-down, then uprighted it (as it’s shown here). It was painted over an old colour painting which can be seen around the edges. The result reminds me of Kapoor’s Adam (below).
I masked up another old painting and painted the candle again, in a more complicated composition. Spent a long time adjusting the patches of grey swirling behind the candle, trying to create balance with the tilted angle of the cross bar, while keeping movement in the picture.
I think the composition is more stable with the wick pointing up (above), but I also like it the other way up, with the wick pointing down (below). The object is interesting to me either way: as a floating candle with the wick pointing up, or with the wick pointing down (like a pen, writing in fire) and the wax making the form of a burning cross.The ambivalence of the object reminds me of Derrida’s writing on undecidables and reversibility. The same applies to Pinocchio’s axe/penis.
I got bored of painting the candle. Decided to experiment composing an abstract picture. I painted over 1605 Colonial Woman (below), because I never liked it. For me, it’s too closely copied from a photograph.
170307c Composition (below) is the painting I made on top. I made a conscious effort to do three things I never usually do: Abandon my ideas of “correct” or “balanced” composition and create a composition based on what I like; Erase and overpaint anything that isn’t creating a composition I like (there were many instances); and concentrate on the shape of negative spaces (sometimes I forgot this, but whenever I remembered things began to look up).
The result reminds me very much of Guston, and a little of Maria Lassnig, but that doesn’t worry me. More important is that I enjoyed the process and for once I actually like the composition, not because it’s “correct” or balanced but because it’s more interesting to me than almost any of my previous compositions. I couldn’t resist aiming to create a strikingly unbalanced, leaning, twisted composition, but it turns out that doesn’t look “incorrect”, it just looks different, and although I don’t understand how it’s working, I like it.
In future I hope I’ll be able to apply and develop what I’ve learnt here: that composition is something to be creative with and enjoy, not a fixed corrective criteria; and that negative space is as much fun to paint (and as important) as objects.