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Variations on a Theme; Painting Quasi Triptychs

Cool Sky, Warm Earth, variations 1, 2, 3, each 22.5"  x 30 " Acrylic on waterford 300lb paper, 2003.

(There are  larger versions of these pantings at this gallery)

Sometimes when I paint, I'll set up three easels with surfaces the same size and then use the same pallet to paint the same basic composition. I started doing this because of acrylic paint. I would load up the pallet with lots of wonderful paint and then have to throw so much out because acrylics just dry to fast to make saving them overnight practical.  Tired of wasting so much paint, I figured why not paint three at once! It was just a whim at first, but I soon became fascinated with the process.

This strategy caused me to hesitate because I feared  I would end up repeating myself. How wrong I was. Even if I tried really hard to repeat myself, it seemed almost impossible. What I did find was that I was able to get wonderful variations on a theme. This process generates results that  remind me of musical variations in jazz or Bach.  Essentially you lock down some of the  elements of the art and let the other vary.  With these paintings, I have locked down the size and aspect ratio of the surface;  the colors being used; and the subject matter.  That leaves  the placement and shape of the objects in the composition.


I should back up here and discuss the way I  work in this type  of painting. I actuality have a fairly improvisational style. I sometimes do not know what I'm going to paint until I put the first mark down. I then let that stroke inform the next, and so on, until the basic subject matter and treatment emerges. At some point I shift to a refining stage where I try to improve the expression of what's emerged, and this is largely technical exercise. I usually do the first phase in one day and then the  refinement over another day or two.  Now given this improvisational style,  and the variation strategy described above, we have a situation where the 'first stroke' on each piece will be different even if I try to make it the same, which I do not. This means that for each painting  the  sequence of  strokes will immediately begin to head in different directions.  The final pieces, though following essentially the same 'road map', end up looking pleasingly different.

Also consider that these are water media, Acrylics being water based . My use of water here is heavy, more like watercolor than oil painting. When working wet into wet the water behaves randomly in an almost mystical way. The chaotic way the pigments drip and blend  in the ground of the sky for instance, could not possibly be repeatable. So in some way, the vibrations of the cosmos dictate the direction each painting will go. I know that  sounds pretty Woo Woo, but it does cause one to think. When I  sit down to paint just one painting, instead of three, what small seed in the environment will change the course of  the work, a gust of wind or the bark of a dog could end up changing the size of the sun. 

I don't consider these to be a formal triptych. For me a triptych would probably mean having a single composition run across three separate surfaces. In case your wondering, I don't have favorites. I suppose its like your children, you love them equally, flaws and all, they're just different. If I was asked to put just one in a show? I would hope someone would have curatorial input for me. On that note, why not make a comment below and tell me if you have a favorite and why?

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow. I am really impressed. This really interests me to make one.

abstract painting

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMylvin

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