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’ve added 15 paintings from Ireland to my main web site joeforkan.com.
Here are two more from the same series.
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.
In late October, I had the opportunity to take a painting trip to Big Sur with Andrew Dickson and Eric Merrell, two Southern California artists also interested in landscape painting. It was four solid days of painting, camped less than 50 yards from the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
It’s interesting to paint with other artists, seeing how they approach the same subject – technically, formally, and also in terms of how they see. Each of us was using the interpretation of the landscape to explore something different.
Film critic Roger Ebert once wrote, “it’s not what the film is about, it’s how it’s about what it’s about.” I think that is also a fairly concise way of speaking about the challenges of perceptually based painting. The subject can often be confused with the content, and the intent of the painting (the conversation one is having about the subject, about perception and process – the act of painting). I actually find painting in beautiful places to be more difficult, as the tension and balance between picture and painting (between what and how), can be more difficult to maintain.
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.