Sonata in Blue
I find myself drawn to extremely simple compositions. This composition is bare bones simple. I think of it as a straight line. One less line and there would be no composition. I continue to do many preparatory sketches for this series. There is a set of drawings that consists of a single line that rises and falls, each marking a different set of proportions. Those same proportions are used in pastels where two colors are paired: often the same color but varying in tone, sometimes two colors made from the same underlying color, sometimes two very different colors. I’m particularly attracted to color unity, colors that are similar or share a common foundation. Small shifts in color can produce large shifts in emotion. For me this is the visual equivalent of searching for musical chords. I keep some of the first preliminary studies on my piano where sheet music ordinarily rests. These images are visual sheet music. The series is musically titled: Sonatas, Nocturnes, Preludes, Etudes, Variations, Impromptus. I use the exercise and the pieces it generated to watch my emotional response to these basic elements. I can’t say what they mean. I wouldn’t care to pin one meaning on them. Like music, blue is an experience, a state of being. So too is a set of proportions. I believe that if a group of people were to share their associations, a set of unique and highly personal descriptionstha would result but, many correspondences would nevertheless be found.
I experimented with many sets of proportions. How much sky with how much water? How wide, how tall? I experimented with traditional proportions — 1 to 1, 1 to 2, 1 to 3, the proportions of the Golden Section — then I let my intuition guide me. I placed all the variations side by side and looked for the one image that had the right ring to it. When an image works I often feel a vibration inside — the stronger the image, the stronger and clearer the vibration. Finally I settled on this combination. I’m sure that without the presence of the streams of water and cloud I would have chosen a different set of proportions. They would change if the color or the combination of colors were different. The addition of each element modifies the total effect. Everything has its effect on the whole. Nothing is without significance.
It is, perhaps, not coincidental that these images are so much about proportion. A proportion will hold no matter how large or small it is reproduced. On a monitor (17” diagonally, 9.5” high, and 12.5” wide, representing the image at 72 ppi as a guide for a much larger 20” x 24” print at 300 ppi ), I can directly experience proportion but I can’t directly experience the scale of the final piece. I have to make an educated guess as to what its effect will be. Sometimes I will have to change the scale of an image upon seeing the first proof.
There’s an impulse to strip things down to their bare essentials, to fundamentals, in much of my work. I’ve always been attracted to images that were at once literal and abstract. Any image is both. We “believe” in its depth (this is a knowing, if at times unconscious, suspension of disbelief), but we know it’s flat. These surfaces are literal and abstract. The image would be even more abstract without pattern. I was attracted to the echo in the patterns between the heavenly and the oceanic. They’re so close in color they could almost be made of the same substance. I’ve seen many seascapes where the boundary between the two is imperceptible. The ambiguity is tantalizing.
Fixing the horizon line in an image is an interesting phenomenon. The horizon line is a virtual image like a rainbow. It moves as the viewer moves. It’s never fixed. Consequently we have a difficult time proving it exists. But we experience it; we know our experience exists. We can’t say for certain how real the world we perceive is, but we can say with certainty that our experience of it is real to us.
Is this image one photograph or two? Which set of proportions are the “real” ones? I think the questions are more important than the answers. They lead us to other questions. How do we know what we know? If the searching process continues, it helps the life of the image to continue. Once the question has been answered the searching often stops. Then the image has a tendency to become a solved equation rather than a living thing. I think it’s important to make visible our assumptions, our questions, our interpretative processes. This fosters consciousness, a greater awareness of ourselves and the world around us. Knowing how the image was produced, I have an even greater challenge than the viewer to keep that process of searching alive. The process of communicating, sharing, the conversations I have with viewers, helps me do this.
Both the passage of cloud and water speak to me of the presence of the unseen. These are the residues of unseen forces. I continue to ask questions. What moved to create them? Did one force create them both? How separate are they? What’s beneath the surface of the water? What’s behind the blue veil of the sky? What’s outside the frame? Are these all the visible traces of the breath of heaven? Reading the image is important for me. The psychologist James Hillman uses the phrase “animating the image.” I think this is an extremely important process. Looking is a process for me and today’s insights are enriched by tommorrow’s. My vision evolves as an artist and so does my ability to see the world and my own work. I would not want to fix a single interpretation. I hope the viewer will continue the process of reading the image.