Image v. Symbol

Real painting is partly a matter of figuring things out as you go along. Sometimes I’m not sure if what I am reaching for in my work even exists. In the series of paintings based on the times of day, for instance, I think I am operating in a form language that falls somewhere between recognizable imagery and strict abstraction, but there may not be any such language. If I’m not careful, I could fall between two stools. I’m trying to figure out something that functions as image and symbol at the same time, but I’m not sure I can.

"Dawn Patrol", "Morning Star", "The Afternoon Inn", and "Last Wave"

"Dawn Patrol", "Morning Star", "The Afternoon Inn", and "Last Wave"

There’s a rising sun in ‘Dawn Patrol’. It is simplified, sure, but it reads pretty clearly as a rising sun. In ‘Morning Star’, though, the sun is completely symbolized (i.e. made over as a symbol). It does not look anything like the sun. It is only starlike in the way that familiar star symbols are: it radiates from the center, and it is pointy like a Star of David or an American flag star. In addition to the star symbol, though, there is also an image. A window is framed by the painted border around the edges of the canvas. In a sense, ‘Morning Star’ and ‘The Afternoon Inn’–the two most abstract paintings of the group–contain fairly clear nods to ‘realistic imagery’ in that they each have windows that appear to break clear through the surface of the paintings and into the blue sky beyond.

‘Last Wave’ has a surface that has been painted over many times, and then sanded back to reveal layers and forms buried underneath. There is a little of this in the other paintings, but this surface treatment is a major theme in Last Wave. It tends to emphasize the physicality of the painting-object. The painting is a thing, not merely a representational image (like the window) or a symbolic form (like the articulated black wave). ’Last Wave’ is all three things: image, object, and symbol. Maybe they all are. Maybe all of the paintings in this group function on all three levels. I guess maybe I am still figuring it out.

"Last Wave", Acrylic on canvas, 30 by 30 inches, 2016

"Last Wave", Acrylic on canvas, 30 by 30 inches, 2016