When I started my Patina project on weathered auto paint and rock surfaces, I originally had in mind flat surfaces with intriguing designs and colors. But rocks aren’t smooth, so I soon began photographing rocks with some three-dimensionality, playing with the ambiguity between tone and color as surface properties or caused by orientation to the light.


Last week, just back from photographing a favorite rock face, a number of ideas relating to that work seemed to be coming together. Unfortunately, working with the images (just a little) since then, the ideas have muddled themselves rather than resolving. Despite some enticing ingredients, the fine soup is still mostly in my imagination. Here’s what’s stirring in the pot:


1) An intriguing series of essays/posts on figuration and abstraction by Mark Stone on his Henri Art Magazine blog. I’m still digesting these and won’t try to write about them now, other than to say they’re concerned with feeling out a new relationship of abstraction and figuration. I take figuration to mean representation not only of the human figure, but of a discernable subject more generally. Of course, being human, that figure is especially important to us, no doubt at a deep neural level. Certainly that’s why I picked out the formation above and the variation of it I showed last week.

Mark Stone: Fashionable Monarch and Fashion Victim

2) Mark’s paintings (more here and elsewhere). I was struck by a resemblance to…

Robert Pepperell: Paradox 1

3) the tantalizing paintings of Robert Pepperell, mentioned in a previous post on Pepperell’s notion of visual indeterminacy. Most of Pepperell’s paintings appear, at first glance, more detailed and realistic, but can never be resolved to actual figures as Mark’s do.

Willem de Kooning: Excavation

Willem de Kooning: Attic

4) 1949-50 paintings of Willem de Kooning that I’m reviewing while plodding through Jed Perl’s New Art City. With or without color, they bear a resemblance to my rock face. There’s a Pepperell-like hint at figures, but they’re not figurative like the Women on the horizon.

Untitled (PH-382)

5) Clyfford Still, who, despite my past comparisons (here and here) of his paintings with my landscape photographs, has said that his work is “always about the figure” (I may have that slightly wrong–can’t find my notes at the moment–but that’s close). I confess I don’t understand this yet, but I keep trying. I may have to wait till 2010, when the Clyfford Still Museum opens in Denver.

This might be sounding like a recipe for paralysis or worse. But I hope it’s clear that I do not at all want my images to look like any of the examples given. It’s just that the idea of figure has come to the fore recently, along with my continuing interest in abstraction. I’m very curious about how other artists have grappled with similar questions. And I suspect each will end up adding some detectable flavor to my stone soup.


What impact, if any, has art history had on your own work? Alternatively, have you any spices to recommend to me?