An exhibition of recent paintings by Joe Forkan and photography by Crystal Yachin Lee opens this Saturday at Bunny Gunner Gallery in Pomona, CA.
I managed to finish quite a few paintings in Ireland, and made many sketches to work from later, as well. County Mayo is a beautiful part of Ireland and a varied and dynamic landscape. The light and weather changes there so quickly that it helped to work smaller and try to complete paintings in one session.
Revisiting a painting on a second or third day usually meant a complete renegotiation of the palette, composition, and the general focus of the image. Often, the weather was extreme enough to preclude it entirely. That’s always a possibility of that with outdoor painting, but it seemed especially so in Ireland.
Ballycastle is a small village, about a mile from the edge of the North Atlantic, surrounded by working farms and pastures full of sheep and cows, many that edge up to or jut out above the ocean. The people were great, and the area was lush, even in a summer that lacked rain (to the degree that water rationing was suggested for parts of Mayo, until the rains returned in July).
The residency was quite an opportunity. Many artists came and went while I was there, as my stay was one of the longest this summer, and it was really interesting to see how other artists responded to the same environment. Una Forde and Christine Tighe from the Ballinglen Arts Foundation were very helpful and generous with their suggestions and information about County Mayo and places of potential interest for the artists.
The sea cliffs were stunning, often with drops of hundreds of feet to the ocean, and the bogs (where peat is cut for heating and bog cotton grows in the summer), reminded me of the tundra in Alaska. Viewed from a distance, the yellow/brown colors and low growth on the bogs gave a look closer to parts of the desert southwest in the US than I would have expected.
Many places I painted are on private land, but are open for hiking (or painting) as part of a system of Looped Walks throughout Ireland.
It is quite a transition to go from the population density of southern California to areas that I was able to explore in Mayo, where often I would not see another person on a three or four hour hike through areas of absolutely stunning beauty.
Many days while working near the Atlantic, where the wind is strongest, I made drawings or took notes. Other days I struggled against the wind with my easel on the cliff edges, beach rocks or bog. It’s a tough way to work, but a spectacular place to attempt it.
Here are a few of the paintings. I will be posting more later to my regular web site.
The demands of perceptual based painting are very different from the demands of more open-ended studio work. Large figurative paintings like those in The Lebowski Cycle can be in progress for years, and undergo significant revisions, but perceptually based paintings are more direct expressions, and the entire process of painting them is compressed into a very short period of time.
Trying to capture the specifics of an experience of a place, or of the presence of a person in one session forces you to really focus on what you want to capture in the painting, to make quick decisions and to jettison extraneous information.
Regardless of the quality of the finished work, I always remember a place that I have painted much more vividly having painted it than if I had just spent the day there as an onlooker. Interpretation demands engagement in a different way. Painting is a way of knowing.
Landscape painting also offers a counterpoint to the more solitary nature of studio painting. Yesterday, after spending all morning painting in the studio, the warm weather encouraged an afternoon run down to Newport Beach to paint at Crystal Cove. It seemed a shame to spend such an amazing day inside painting three figures in the interior of a bowling alley.
Here are a couple of new paintings from the Spurgeon series. These are views from my studio in downtown Santa Ana. I’m finishing up some work for an upcoming show of landscape and cityscape paintings.
I’ll post more information on that soon.
The Spurgeon Paintings are an ongoing series I began after moving to California in 2002 to begin teaching at California State University Fullerton. I had rented a studio in the Spurgeon building in downtown Santa Ana, and was continuing a series of large-scale figurative paintings that I had been working on previous to the move. I had been very absorbed in the study of color theory while earning my MFA at the University of Delaware, and was really pushing color in my figurative paintings, working from life as well as from photos.
My new studio had four large windows looking out over downtown Santa Ana, and I enjoyed the California light immensely, and its dynamics were very different from both Delaware and Arizona, where I had also lived. Throughout the day, the play of light across the buildings kept pulling my eyes away from my work, out the window to the shifting masses of color until I finally just turned my easel towards the windows and started a series of what were initially meant to be simple color studies.
The studies became a series of over 60 paintings and drawings of the same view, composed and negotiated according to formal considerations, the shapes of color, the play of light, time of day and time of year.
I hadn’t really meant to start painting landscapes or cityscapes. But I became very engaged in the process of seeing and painting as clearly as I could not so much what I was seeing, but how I was seeing it.
Painting from life presents opportunities and challenges that are much different than those of other approaches. Working from life, across time, is very different than the false clarity and exaggerated specifics of a single ‘photographic’ moment. It’s an attempt to more closely engage the constant, shifting nature of experience, the passage of time, and unpredictability of memory.
I tend to work with repeated themes and multiple images, making it easier to track variation, invention, and the arc of time within the painting process.
The recurring buildings in the Spurgeon paintings act like armatures upon which I can build images exploring the passage of time through the day and throughout the year, and the subtle, dynamics of light and color .
Paint is a particularly good medium to explore these ideas. How far must you take an image in order for it to gain coherence? How far can you push it and have the coherence hold, or expand? I’m always looking for that place in an image that can trigger a moment of recognition, of the experiential, of something seen and lived, made richer if not clearer, by having been run through the conflicted filters of experience, memory, and the imprecise language of painting.