Late-Night Studio Session

Wrapping up a late night studio session working on "The Prodigal Son", one of the seven pieces in the God's Trombones series.  I haven't written a blog post in nearly a month but it was necessary for me to fully immerse myself in the process of getting inspired.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in routines which ultimately defeat the purpose of the activity itself.  I didn't want to write simply to write.  I spent the majority of August clearing my head, sourcing inspiration from music, museums, books, conversations, and my environment - building my vision for the pieces in the series.

The pressure to produce is ever-present, but allowing yourself time to receive and develop the vision is imperative - especially with art.   I will sometimes do 15 sketches before I land on something that inspires me to paint.  As i've reflected on key lessons learned in the first month of my sabbatical, this is a big one.  You can't rush creativity - it is a function of inspiration, which you can promote, but cannot predict.

While in Jamaica visiting family, I read James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.  In reading the fictional account of a bi-racial man exploring matters of race, I was able to draw inspiration from imagery used to describe speakeasy-like bars of early 1900s New York City.  I believe the images Johnson used in 1912 to set the scene in Autobiography are the same ones which filled his mind while describing 'Babylon' in his poem "The Prodigal Son".   "The Prodigal Son," written in 1927, re-imagines the well-known biblical parable where a young man squanders his inheritance to go do 'wordly' things.  Johnson names this place of sin 'Babylon' (a nod to Caribbean culture) though the imagery suggests a more modern context with brass bands, gambling dens, and women in yellow, purple, and scarlet dresses.

For each piece in the series, I intend to re-tell Johnson's poems through mainly color and texture.  Though I could take a literal interpretation and paint the scenes which he describes in a realist manner, I feel that would be too cliche and rob the viewer of the beauty in Johnson's poetry.  Poetry is a montage of images, colors, words, and feelings that are left open to the interpretation and unique perspective of the reader.  I want to maintain this same degree of abstraction in my paintings.  For instance, instead of a woman in a scarlet dress - I might paint a rich, satiny, scarlet block of color with a feminine curve.

 Wood-grain study for "The Prodigal Son" and "Noah Built The Ark" painting from  God's Trombones  series.

Wood-grain study for "The Prodigal Son" and "Noah Built The Ark" painting from God's Trombones series.

I've painted several studies for the series and have been experimenting with different effects and textures.  One that I am most excited about is creating a wood grain texture using just acrylic paint on canvas (see image above).  I'm constantly learning and studying how to use a paintbrush to make the eye see what you want it to see.  While painting, I often mentally and emotionally detach myself from the piece in order to view it as an objective viewer.  I like to get lost in the colors and stare at the canvas (sometimes for hours) to see what I may not have seen before.  This helps me make sure that I am fully appreciating all dimensions of the painting and not compromising the natural depth that is often created subconsciously.