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Is it a 'smoosh' or a 'schmear'?

AFTERNOON AFTERTHOUGHTS: finding words to describe the non-verbal…


As my 4 improvised paintings progress, my vague, general ideas are slowly getting more specific and solid. The imagery(shapes, spaces, and other)undergo development in a process I would liken to a ping-pong game. I am on one side of the table conversing/struggling with my ball(coloured mud). I use varied tools(sometimes fingers) and rags as my paddle, and finally my marks, smooshes, and **schmears make up my slams.

The paint surface, sends me visual messages instead of balls. To understand the messages I must step back, far back - to look from a distance. I need separation from the surface to see and understand the relationship of individual parts to the whole. The physical distancing also ensures a more ‘disinterested' or objectified looking, absolutely necessary to my ongoing critical assessments. The non-verbal dialogue happens in seconds, or minutes, or ho hum, hours. And then, just when I hope the process is over, it begins all over again. Go to the surface and make a move, step far back to ‘see' where it landed, assess how it looks, make adjustments or not, step forward and repeat again, and again. Then let the whole thing simmer and look at it the next day.


If the ping-pong analogy doesn’t do it for you, another way to describe an improvised way of painting is “finding and losing”. As the evolution of the paint surface proceeds, elements appear to my eyes and may remain in place for lengthy periods of time. I might love some marks or passages, but, it is only later, during a distanced evaluation, that I realize an area or mark - love it as I might, has to go. Perhaps it weakens the whole, or maybe it’s no longer essential. It is the “losing” or giving up of a part that is difficult, especially because I made it, or because I like it in its individual reality, or it has been there a long time and I am used to seeing it. But often, for valid visual reasons, it has to go, and if necessary, I need to visualize the painting without it, and eliminate it. These decisions become easier with experience, since I now accept that no painting succeeds because of one element, but rather as a totality of its moving parts.


Self knowledge is helpful - am I too messy? Am I too meticulous ? Do I want to control to much? Am I waiting for magic to happen? What are my goals, illusions and visual habits, and are they a strength or a weakness to my enterprise? The more I know about myself, the more I can intervene and disrupt the obstacles and blocks to my desired end. An improvised or experimental method of painting, holds no guarantees. Frequently, I get lost and don’t know what I am doing, and it feels like stepping on un-solid ground. The whole enterprise can leave me feeling confused and fed up. Painting is not going off to fight a war, but rather a battle. The battlefield is the unknown or grey area of experimentation. Words like perseverance and courage come to mind. No wonder part of the painter’s discipline involves not running away from the canvas. Over and over again.


Ultimately, I like the unknowable aspect of the way I have chosen to work, because, as I invent my own path towards the unknown ‘look’ of my endgame, I make discoveries and surprises. A disciplined stubbornness is needed to persevere from the beginning to the end of a painting(and at what point is the painting ‘over’, or am I running away from it, again).


The endeavour comes with no guarantee of results, and is, in fact, a mirror of life, best to shed illusions and not expect redemption. So be it, my practice/my choice/my responsibility. Ultimately, it does keep painting exciting and provides unexpected outcomes that keep it vital and evolving.

I think my next musings will take me towards the meaning of “time”… for a painter, for paintings, for life.



** what is a fitting vocabulary for the non-verbal activity of painting? I find poetry best suited for painting, from titles to general commentaries, and Yiddish the richest language for describing specific manual/material actions.

- this is probably more a 'smoosh' of beige paint,

- while this is possibly more of a 'schmear'. Courage to those who want to speak paint.



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