My mom once commented that my art was so dark/ without color. “Why always black?” she would ask. That, was in fact, a long time ago and besides my art she was referring to, I wore black - All The Time. But the point of this little story is that she was right and the reason I’m writing this now is somewhat of a revelation I had recently… I still make a lot of dark work- “colorless” if that’s all you see, but monochromatic is better.
The moment of revelation took place as I was listening to a conversation I was in, but in the end I was like a Diptera on the wall and seemed to be listening in on it while it was happening. Like a fly, I was soon listening to the words being exchanged and looking for my halteres for balance. The conversation was quick, something like this:
Person 1: hows you doing?
Me: OK, I guess.
Person 1: Well you look busy as usual.
Me: Not really.
Person 1: Well, looks like you’re making a lot of work.
Me: (I didn’t say anything, interrupted by…)
Person 2: They are sketches.
That was it.
They are sketches (mom). That was the revelation. It was not a noun, it was a verb. But that wasn’t the revelation either, it was that what I was doing (what people saw as art) was me thinking, doing, doing something/ anything, sketching ideas. In a lot of day to day instances what most people may see (note: what they are commenting on is always what they are seeing images of online) as art is really images of what I’ve made that day to think out an idea or to see what that idea looks like. I’m doing this so I have something to react to , learn from, experiment with or just visualize. Sure you can call it Art - da Vinci’s sketches have become this elusive art object, but in reality these were just ideas I was working out.
To give a little more detailed background of the many ideas that make up any one thing I may be doing at any time, I’ll try to explain a small part of my art practice and these elusive art objects/ aka: sketches.
- I’ve always believed sketches had an inherent/ ephemeral life about them. They could appear unfinished or still in progress, so they had this feeling they could change - they were full of potential; ie: they were alive.
- Sketches were traditionally loosely drawn and monochromatic- like an idea being worked out, but not ment for formal presentation. In most cases they were made with graphite or charcoal. It’s the monochromatic aspect of sketches that I found appealing. They are simple to see and understand. Color (not always) I felt complicated the subject.
- It is also my opinion that most people are poor colorists. Color theory is a complicated subject (I took two years of it in Art school) but knowing what to do with that color is the difference of making a perfectly rendered sketch into one bad piece of “art”. Somehow, I've typically migrated to the minimal use of color and a monochromatic palette because I wanted the complexity of all the elements in my work to still be legible and not be over burdened by too many colors. It's not that I'm not good with colors, I think I'm a really great colorist, but in some ways the work seemed to identify with and was simply constructed out of the idea of a limited pallet so I could focus on more formal aspects of the art like composition, structure, balance and subject. The irony with this is that if you look really close at what I do (in person, not online) and if your eyes have really developed cones you will see that what at first appears to be a monochromatic palette is actually made of af many colors in the field of range with a specific patina. That color or surface you see is a very complex chemistry to present a rather modest visual effect - the closer you can get to the surface, the more complexity you can see in its surface.
Then there was the first art show I was ever asked to be in… I was a sophomore in college and it wasn't the art I had finished for the final piece of the year that was asked to be in the exhibition (a large 48”x48” pastel) , but rather the sketch I made for the final piece. The final art piece was color and it was well received (I got an A), but the sketch, also 48”x48”, was what they wanted in the exhibition. That was it, the defining moment when what I did and how I made art and to this day what my art practice focuses on- the sketch, the idea, the process. From that moment on my art became more about note taking than about some final conclusion to achieve some image or object.
So in conclusion, they are just sketches- things I do to keep challenging and seeing the ideas. The challenge is to make what I consider the formal art pieces for exhibitions just as fresh and lively as the “sketches”. But that's why keep sketching, practicing, experimenting; in the end, they are all sketches, but some will always be seen as (just) art.