Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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recent colourscape work

      It's always seemed best to follow a physical energy in painting: paint first, ask questions later. Different kinds of work get generated this way, but over time the differences seem to inform, or cross-fertilize one another. This process has been fascinating: it all comes from me in theory, but I often have no idea what is going on, am often puzzled, trying to catch up with where the process is going. Learning to wait and see has been a big lesson, patience a learned behavior. The process is willing to teach all kinds of things I had no idea even existed, but in discreet increments, not all at once. The key seems to be to let go of what I think, and work with what I feel. And this can be many things as well. There's a cycle, and there's a psycle as well. Over time this has led to a process to believe in, a relationship to trust as a guide. And it seems increasingly important to be able to trust the guide. This work is post-commercial, and post-style: I just do what wants to happen. These are in chronological order, generally around 11x13 inches, with the image 10x12 inches, some with the images 9x10. I'm interested in the way they explain something as a series that I probably couldn't put into words. But of course what they explain to me is probably not what they explain to anyone else.


      August #1: Began to make a new set of the colourscape paintings. Hadn't made these in over a decade, but it suddenly felt like there was a lot to do with it again.


      August #2: These ended up with pastoral references for a while. Having made landscape painting for several decades in Vermont, there was a lot of feeling there, and language to chose from, but I liked them better when they were more goofy than literal.


      September #1: They then began to incorporate elements from toys, the type of colours toys had when I grew up, a kind of construction set that was made of paint.


      September #2: These ideas cross-fertilized one another in interesting ways. This one is not that resolved, but is the first version of a way of developing these -- from big pieces to little pieces, from primaries to secondaries -- that has recurred.


      September #3: Sometimes new things would happen that I didn't know how to develop or complete in the alla prima time frame. It took many months to realize that simplifying an image at this stage was more effective than adding to it.


      September #4: More interaction between land and toys, a little more resolved.


      September #5: Have always been very attracted to the Japanese way of making an image from a collage of different patterns. It was interesting to invent these as the image developed, but eventually in 2021 this led to making separate drawings to expand the language of marks available.


      September #6: Now and then an image would happen that was similar to a previous one, but more resolved. It's always fun when there's a sense of humor in the shapes and colours.


      September #7: This composition intrigued me and I decided to stop here. In some ways it felt done, in some ways I wanted the usual: more paint. Versions of this one recur in May #1 of 2020 and January #1 of 2021 below.


      September #8: Sometimes the system departs from the previous one, in this case it seemed to respond.


      September #9: Another one that somehow has a Japanese influence. This crazy-quilt type of composition is really asking for it, several of these are on the bone pile. One of my favorites, still hard to believe I made this.


      September #10: Inverting the concept of a specific foreground and background, I'm very attracted to this but it seldom works.


      October #1: The energy of the year seemed to peak in September. This one returned to the feeling of September #6, less resolved colour but with some new elements. The composition became the basis for a new image in 2021.


      October #2: Shifting the land to the cosmos in slightly looser paint, letting some of the shapes be less defined. An approach I'd like to return to at some point, but have learned the process will tell me when it's time.


      January #1: Continued with somewhat looser paint, and more of it, in wintry colours.


      April #1: First version of this concept. Felt is was a little staid, or predictable.


      April #2: Second version that week. Emptied it, minimized one primary: things that are usually helpful.


      April #3: Third version that week. More painterly midpoint between the first two.


      May #1: Based on the composition of September #7, above. One that didn't quite become resolved, but established some new territory.


      May #2: A different version of the same issue, resolving the composition could take so long that not enough paint ended up on the painting in the alla prima time frame.


      December: Began to work with paint again after a long hiatus. This time off seemed to be about reversing my valuations of being and doing, and taught me about the ways I tended to judge the work that actually impeded its progress. Photo here of some tempera paint shards from a test study: a new beginning.


      January #1: Began to work with the idea of making these in layers, rather than alla prima. This meant starting in very lean and thin paint. Some of these beginnings worked out better than others; liked the energy of this one, another recasting of the first one from September #7 of 2019 above.


      January #2: Another type of beginning, more calm, a minimum number of shapes and colours.


      February #1: Became somewhat involved with first layers for a while. So it was fun when a second layer happened that I liked. Don't think this is quite done, but it made me feel this approach wasn't a snipe hunt. I mean, it can't be if the energy is there, but it's sometimes hard to be patient.


      February #2: Redo of the composition of October #1 of 2019, inverted it for the third layer here. Like the way this came together in a softer palette without too much in the way of references to anything in particular. Part of me thinks this is done, it is, at least, the most done of this layered series so far.


      February #3: Kind of an oddball, made based on a composition executed in watercolour. This direction could be developed, but moves away from focusing on the paint itself, so I'll probably pass.


      February #4: Another third layer, this one on an image from 2019. The paint is ground back each time to consolidate the surface and minimize the thickness of the layers. Not finished but close, I like the details that happen with this method.


      February #5: Another third layer, based on a few prior compositions blended together. Fun in these to search for new colour combinations that are also appropriate to the shapes. Feels pretty close to done!


      At this point began to explore lean and fat and their relationship to colour more systematically. It seemed like the only way to understand the various combinations of saturation, colour brightness, and the ability of the paint to remain bright, or not, over time; all of which are a function of how lean or fat the paint film is in relation to other factors like relative humidity and light levels. Coupling this with recently doing these in layers, instead of alla prima only, showed that, in the interest of having more charismatic or painterly paint handling, the system had drifted into being too saturated for the level of colour brightness it required. It would still be nice to get some of that handling back, and, given that the system a lot less fat as it used to be, this should be possible to an extent. Keeping track of the ratio of lean to fat putty in the medium allows this to be incremental and replicable. Each of these ratios creates a paint with a specific look and handling character. But without a system for exploring them, the number of increments in the system tends to be less, the changes larger. This is fun because the quality of the paint from week to week is often one I've never seen before.


      March #1: Decided I'd learned enough about the process by making things in layers to do some alla prima work again. A little smaller, the system is leaner overall making the paint less goopy.


      March #2: Similar idea, also a little smaller, somehow more spacious and resolved.


      March #3:How they start. Or one way they can start. Began with lighter colours and more variety to get more layering and make the composition need balance beyond the initial larger shapes.


      March #3: First image of the new solar year, also the first with a new batch of the medium. Remade both the lean and fat components of the system, so there were some differences in the way it behaved. Will tighten the system a bit for the next image. Would not call this fully resolved, but indicative of the system expanding, on its way somewhere new.


      March #4: Ha-ha, happy Spring, the system is definitely on its way somewhere new. Tightened the medium, and made it a bit more fat. Wanted to try a different type of composition, and also let it the paint be relatively chaotic for as long as possible. Did not feel it was done after the morning, later in the afternoon was able to see some things to change that I couldn't at first, always great fun. More resolved than it was, but still more about the process being in motion. Which is very much how I feel right now, so it seems natural. In early painting, there's a system that has always intrigued me. It begins in fresco, where the lines are incised first, but carries over into oil for a while. What happens is that the lines, which are boundaries, without substance as entities, create a certain composition, but the colours within the lines create a composition of their own. So it's sort of like compositional contraposto.


      March #5: Logical to do something next that was more in control. And although this has some nice spots, it felt too in control.


      April #1: This led to some experiments with a new medium. The first was water-based, the second was tempera, and the third, here, was balanced between tempera and oil. Was able to work more spontaneously with this one, adding and removing paint, which began to address the issue of March #5.


      April #2: But the experiments all dried with a lot of paint film tension, which is fine on panels, but not so fine on paper. Considering this led to trying a new version of the original medium that was leaner and set more strongly. This allowed the more spontaneous application of the experiments, but without the strong film tension. Variation of the composition of September #1, 2019, but less tense, with different colours, a different medium, and a different system of paint application.


      April#3: Week of the new moon, the process wanted to go back to using pigments with tempera, so started there for layer one with this one. This was still equivocal with this style, but the second layer, adding an oil base putty to the tempera medium, and using oil paint, worked out better. This paint was a little stiff, but the overall approach seemed to be on it's way somewhere new.


      April#4: Started this one with the second layer medium of the one above, adjusted to set more and have more saturation. If anything this set too quickly, but this encouraged layering, adding and subtracting. It wasn't all successful, but this got pretty far along for layer one, and begins to resolve the everything is related to everything else direction of March#4 above.


      Comparison of the most recent system with the system I started the year with. The older painting, February#5, has three thin layers put on over a few months. It's one of several like this that are not done, but in the ballpark. February#5 also features the foreground-background way of organizing the shapes in space. It will be interesting to see to what extent I can retrofit aspects of the new system onto the paintings like this. They'll never be as bright as the new way, but they can be brighter. This particular painting would only want to go up be ten or twenty percent, which should be possible. And of course the new way will be less bright when it gets another layer or two to get finished. Colour brightness isn't everything, but it feels important to learn more about it.


      April#5: Another first layer, used the same system as April#4 but with a slightly different tempera formula. This still set very quickly but I like the way it looks. Given that it's the first layer, I'm not sure it's that big a deal. Worked with developing an overall balance, but also an overall unity, rather than a sense of some things being in front, some things being behind. Now the question is, what on earth will happen in layer two?


      Detail from the image above. The first layer paint is thick, but sets quickly and works very finely.


      April#6: For this one, decided to create the unity by variations of a dominant tone, then place the 'different' colour over that. As usual, this became more interesting once I made a 'mistake' that blew up my sense that things were going smoothly. This was the deep teal colour, a colour I've never used in one of these before. All colours are created equal, so it's interesting to explore ones that push a button somehow. In larger terms, the colour harmony situation is a lot like music. With fewer notes, such as a pentatonic scale, the notes emphasize harmony, and the timing or syncopation of the notes is ultimately where the interest lies. With more notes are involved, there's more potential for tension or dissonance, but also for a more evolved definition of harmony or unity. This one isn't exactly dissonant, but it isn't exactly cuddley either. Introducing more chromatic tension at this first stage seems like it might be a good alternative way to begin these.


      April#7: Began this in purple tones, had some issues that required wholesale removal, but got this far. Looking for a next step, asking questions I don't know how to answer yet. Made some fun details, but have to admit this one makes me like the more direct tension of April#6 better. Still, it's logical that a direct or confident approach is followed by a more nuanced or puzzled one. The one above was also made with starch in the tempera medium, which sets less strongly than hide glue; this one returned to hide glue, but a little less to give it more open time. Not sure starch isn't better for this, but we'll see. It's good to have a first layer that obviously needs significant changes: easier to sacrifice, and a fun case to solve. Ha-ha, how do I fix this one? Or does it really need to break out, become something new? It will be interesting to see how much more chromatic latitude the system actually has in layers as a result of a relatively lean beginning. About 10x12 inches, tempera grassa on gessoed paper.


      April#8: Went back to stronger colour and composition for this one. Made the medium with methyl cellulose, it was denser, but didn't set as strongly as the mediums with glue, but that wasn't that big a deal once I realized it. It also made me do it now, instead of after a few more layers of development, putting the painting more in the moment. Photo from the day it was made, the two areas that are overpainted with white will probably dry with a little more influence of what's beneath them, warm yellow on top, dark ultramarine blue on the bottom. About 11x12.5 inches, tempera grassa on gessoed paper.


      April#9: Stuck with the strong colour and slightly larger scale of April#8. Made this one on a day where lots of other happened first, so it ran well into the afternoon, which I could tell was not the best idea. Still, learned some new things, some things about it that will reappear. About 11x12.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      April#10: This one had a smoother development, and also has some fun details, but I still felt a little bit at sixes and sevens about it as a whole. Last week, as the moon headed towards full, there was more blam available for April#8. I may be too interested in blam right now, perhaps because of the Grand Uncertainty if 2021 so far. At the same time, this one is asking the next set of questions. Which the process, at some point, will answer with more blam.


      May#1: Decided not to contest blam any more during a waning moon, and returned to one of the earliest underpaintings, this was a larger version of August#1, 2019. Did this one with a somewhat richer or fatter version of the medium, but still nowhere near what was used in that year. This was different, could be thin or thick, and set relatively fast. This one got to a certain point based on the original, but didn't want to go further. So, ended up making several sets of wholesale changes to this and like where it went. It's quirky, but not sad, a place these often go in layers but with more resolution. I was a big fan of the early Tim Story album, Glass Green. Learned a lot about just letting it go where it wanted to, and this paint was very good at that. Which bodes well for the other starts in this series, since they too just may want to be completely different than their original design. 10.25x12.25 inches, oil over tempera grassa on gessoed paper.


      May#2: First one this week, made this one with whole egg instead of egg yolk in the tempera medium. Was surprised by how tight it still was. Like the colour, but this feels a little blocky to me, or static. Looking for what comes next, but nothing was really new enough. About 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      May#3: Same palette and medium as the one above, but shifted towards a blue emphasis and some colour harmony from realism. Somewhat smaller scale, did more addition and subtraction, let it be looser, the most fun of them all to make. But, surprise surprise, something newer still wants to happen. Sort of unsettling, but then again, what isn't at this point? Unsettling is my co-pilot. About 9.25x10.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      May#4: Used a more limited palette for this one, and it was more fun to make. After the one above, set out to make a calmer one, some passages that I really like, will return to this concept, related to an earlier approach I called Japanese Miniature Golf. But in larger terms -- oh those pesky larger terms, would you like some I seem to have plenty! -- it still kind of feels like the third version of the same issue. About 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      May#5: This paint layered more cleanly, but could also be carved or removed more cleanly. It was a little surprising that a very small amount of sandarac varnish had such an influence on the way the paint operated. Slightly smaller scale, messier, some elements of colour use from realism. Most resolved image of this week, before things then began to change more. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      May#6: Used the same medium for this one, did more addition of layers, but more removal as well. Ran into basic issues with the composition, and worked with this until I couldn't see it anymore: always an interesting moment, and a logical time to stop. The next morning, ended up changing it by first removing paint wholesale in sections. This process can produce a variety of visual effects both in terms of how the paint is removed, and how paint is applied over this, and the vocabulary of these is expanding. Would still not say this is fully resolved, and I'm not comfortable working with this rectangle, but it is less determinedly bipolar than the previous one. The components of the style are changing, but are being requested to change more. Each of the gestalts or ensembles that lead to a finished image seem to then lead to a battle to the death between the old way holding on, and the new way wanting its opportunity. So, will regroup and see what the next few days leading into the full moon bring. 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      May#7: Went to a really limited palette for this one, the paint was more thixotropic and layered in a thicker or more rubbery way than last week's paint. Sometimes I know what done is, but sometimes it seems like I've clearly used up my nine lives so it might be a good time to stop. The paint did some interesting things technically but this was more about exploring them than using them. Still, that's what a smaller scale is about, and it's more interesting to learn more than execute a stylistic formula. When things get too perfect, it makes me nervous, even if it just sort of happens. So, when things get a little quirky or warty, that's okay; the pendulum going the other way, the vocabulary of the style growing. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      May#8: Began this one as a development of the one above, not quite as limited a palette, and used a more dilute white first. In life I like it better, the colour especially has a nice balance. But, a few days on, can also see more things that might change. This is typical of work done in the waning moon, a sense that the Platonic ideal of the waxing moon is not really available anymore. But it's also typical of a relatively new composition. These are constructed from a 3D matrix of if-then statements: one axis is the colour, another is the shapes, the third is the sgraffito into the colour to reveal what's beneath. Because any change in any axis changes the relationship of everything to everything else, it's fun, and lots of interesting things can happen. But this also means it can be a fine line between creativity and chaos. This one solved something from the last one, but also made me more aware of things the last one solved, and asked its own set of questions. This moon began quietly, but has become pretty type A overall. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June: The work in May began to explore paint that had more saturation. There were things about this that I liked, and things I didn't. Detail here of April#8, a painting made using a medium that dried matte. Decided to see what happened if I saturated it with a thin final coat of a polymerized oil. This is a technique that is actually detailed in the DeMayerne Manuscript, where he writes that Ruben's preferred final varnish is oil thickened on litharge. No litharge here, and a little early to do this, but the paint was pretty lean, and I needed to know! Did this final oil coat with a variety of oils last year, and it worked out better than I thought it would. The key is to keep the layer of oil thin regardless of it's natural thickness. This made the point I felt it would make: that if the colour needs to be really bright, saturating the paint after the fact works better -- for me -- because it feels visually cleaner than saturation in the paint. Well, it only took thirty-six years to figure this out. There are other considerations, such as the increased facility of a richer medium, and the way this type of medium can layer more transparently, and more easily. So, after getting involved with a more saturated medium and even some of the sandarac varnish from 2007 in May, this experiment started the medium back towards being more lean again, in order to dry matte.


      June#1: Tried what seemed to make the most sense for the next lean medium, but it was a little loose, and didn't layer well, and this determined when to stop. It always seems good to come back to one or two that are as simple as possible, though this one seems to show both the strengths and limitations of that approach. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#2: Went back to a little sandarac in the medium for this, and it layered and carved well, but was still lean enough to dry matte. This had some fun moments in terms of both colour and form, but at first there seemed to be too much above-below separation between stronger and softer colour. Now I'm not sure, this one's growing on me. Still, as is often the case, it feels like the answer is somewhere in the middle: less bright, more detail and layering than the medium above, but more bright, and not as much set or hold, as this medium created. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#3: Went back to a leaner medium again, it felt nice and tight but was in fact still a little loose. Went back to simpler colour, a little quirky but blue-dominant is always unpredictable. Still, like how these limitations in combination help solve the composition, and it feels honest, exactly how I felt that day. So, the definition of finished is another thing that is changing quickly. I used to struggle with this during the time I sold paintings: the more a painting looked like a new car, the faster it sold, but this was hardly what always what wanted to happen. While this isn't part of the equation any longer, there are still specific expectations left over that are being challenged now. It feels like this process will inevitably end with a larger definition of creativity altogether, the dreaded being, not doing, but I'm being given an opportunity to explore paint more personally for the time being. I'm grateful for this. For finally not having any idea what's going to happen next, for making things that are a surprise again. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#4: The new moon kind of called a halt to things, then decided to make some slightly smaller ones with more freedom, fewer patterns or rules. Just play around, see what happens. Sometimes the plan has to be less plan. Changed a few colours on the palette and decided not to do a drawing: a large change for these. Like parts of what happened, but didn't have a clear sense of how to go further at this point and stopped. These can get into a zugzwang situation where a lot would have to be undone in order to get to the next step. It felt like it was more important to break up the pattern so something new could begin. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#5: Wanted the next one to be less red dominant, and less chaotic; was surprised that this much organization happened without a drawing. Got into something new with colour, but sometimes I can't help but try the most high-wire solution, when, in the overall context, something simpler might work better overall. Keep wanting to do something different to the bottom right corner, the recurring bête noire with these. On the other hand, it's fun to look at this and ask where else the general concept could go. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#6: Went back to the blam concept, keeping the colours and shapes simpler. This was fun, felt clear about what wanted to happen. At the same time, looking at it now, it kind of feels like two different paintings, top and bottom. But that's okay, just interested in this stage to explore what wants to happen next. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#7: Decided to develop the June#5 concept larger and with a shifted secondary emphasis. The medium for this was a little thin but thixotropic. The ground is absorbent so the first layer or two sticks. The stick then becomes progressively less but doesn't go away. Paint that has set for a while is firmer than paint that is new, although nowhere near dry. But the fact that the medium was relatively thin means the paint layers were mobile but could also be relatively detailed as the layers grew. This was made on the day before the full moon, a very high energy day, so it kind of made itself. There wasn't a lot of consideration, I just watched it happen. June has really demanded something new, and this one feels relatively resolved in terms of integrating more motion with an organized structure, and some evolutions in the way forms are made and altered. But it also feels like there's lots more that could happen there. There's always more, but I don't necessarily have any idea what it is until it starts butting in and causing problems. Like that the colour took another step, have not done something like this before, but still feel like the lower right needs to be simplified, rather than going bonkers. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#8: Used the same paint for this as June#7, but it had been in the fridge for two days, so it was tighter. This meant it could be layered more, or be more detailed, which, as usual, became a double-edged sword. Then there were errors of weariness: the upper vertical echoed the lower one too much, fixed this the next morning to some extent. Lots of interesting colours and details, I especially like the light yellow over dark blue thingy on the right edge. But is there final resolution or unity, or is the chromatic separation too relentless? Seems like both might be true at once. Am intrigued by this one in life because it is related to, but different than, everything else. At this point, that has to be good. There are several general approaches to these that have produced officially finished images, but going back isn't going forward. The process is still demanding more in the way of change. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      June#9: The same medium as last week, but with a little more marble dust. The way the paint worked in this one was really nice, fine with a strong but still elastic set. Liked the way the composition keeps developing, and like the motion in the central column. It's good to diminish the sense of quadrants. Enjoyed working with these colours, but there's lots more to learn, it feels a little too nutty or ungrounded. Though this is often the case on a very hot day. If the bottom right corner were violet, and the middle violet area on the bottom were green, would this give a more resolved composition, or a more predictable one? The large yellow green area could be more integrated, feels too separate and empty now. Need to back off more during this process to see things like that. Faced with this, part of me still thinks the solution is to plan more. Now, not to cast aspersions on anybody else's well-laid plans, but my plans only lead to paintings that look planned. So, it seems best to just accept that what this moon wants is finally beginning to make more sense: find the next level of integration or organization for more shapes, more colours, more motion in the paint. Which means letting go of the old type of composition. Before, I would have said this was hard and been only too willing to explain why. But now it feels like it will happen because it wants to, not because it has been thought out, worked for, or understood. And that would definitely be new. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      July#1: Used 1 part of the medium to 2 parts paint for this small study. This was interesting to make, no drawing, the paint layered reasonably well and could also be removed reasonably well. Something different began to happen with both the shapes and the composition, but this quickly reached a situation where I liked what had happened but wasn't sure what to do next. Spent about an hour or so pushing against this in small ways, but could not really transform it further. Which is fine, it feels new enough. Looks sort of like a print in some ways, not sure about that, but it won't happen with the older system in any case. Okay, you want to know about circles. Ha-ha, so do I. Circles are tricky, they are inherently joyous and tend to take over. Maybe because they are so basically focal, one of them instantly needs to be balanced with more of them. I don't know how to balance the combination of squares, triangles, and circles, though it seems a lot like juggling feathers, small dogs, and bowling balls, but since it's on offer there must be a way. Liked the way this paint worked, but, surprisingly, did not like how it ended up looking. The increased translucence is a plus, but I see wax, which I don't want to see. So, wasn't sure if that would happen or not with all the wax involved having been refined in some way. But, even though the system is new, and can be tweaked, endlessly in fact, that's probably not going to go away, which seems like a deal-breaker for this approach. All fine, there's nothing I didn't like about the old approach, just wondered about this one. The American can't help but want a brand new car. Still, may try a little of the new wax medium in the old approach to see if I can get a little more translucence without seeing wax. Possibly one of those inscrutable points of balance that seem to occur when going halfway to the wall forever. Once again, I get hung up in the lower right corner, want half a yellow-green circle there. But the pluses of this for me are the different type of composition, the way this feels like it would translate well to a larger scale, and a slightly different type of red, a mixture of two different pigments. 8.75x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      July#2: Worked with elements from the two most recent paintings for this, but no drawing. Got involved in solving the puzzle of the colour, but didn't really solve the puzzle of the composition. Could say that the empty upper left section just needs to be more filled, or could say that the other sections are too full, or some combination of both. Could also divide it in half horizontally, and say there's one idea above, and one below, both of which need something. But really, it's about the rhythm of the initial pieces, which wasn't dynamic enough on the one hand, or cohesive enough on the other. A little extra wax in the medium allowed some interesting things to happen in terms of layering the colour, but in a way this became an end in itself. Some of the pieces really work, lots of progress with animating them in more interesting ways, but the whole doesn't resolve itself into a simple statement. So, for now I see this as half empty, but in a few weeks I'll see it as half full, because, even if it didn't work out, it pointed the way to something that did. 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      July#3: After I got the painting above to the point where letting go of it seemed best, the paint wasn't done. It wanted to do more. This was interesting, so I did a few very small sketches that were really loose and different. I keep all the gessoed paper odds and ends but rarely do this, so it was fun. They seemed to be explaining what to do, so made this somewhat larger sketch based on what had happened in the smaller ones. This is the I can't take my own stylistic b.s. anymore painting, which seems to occur now and then around here. The exact same paint and ground, but a different way of working with it. This was interesting because I felt in it wholly, always, just doing exactly what it wanted to do, in a way I had never been in the painting above. So, this approach solves the oomph issue in a sketch, but what happens in practice? About 7x8 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      July#4: Yikes, what indeed. Not exactly what I had in mind, but can't say it's not enthused. This type of crazy quilt happens now and then. It's because I start something without a strong graphic quality, then have to somehow find a composition, which typically means cutting everything into smaller and smaller pieces. This is where planning and drawing help the process by generating a strong set of initial shapes. I get crabby about this because it easily leads to the predictability of the paint going within the lines. But if that strong initial conception doesn't happen, this is the result. On the other hand, it feels like I should be able to get out of anything I get myself into, and it's happened enough that solving it is getting more familiar. There's no such thing as too much resourcefulness, which seems to be about graciously recasting the obvious. The revealed ground being white, rather than stained challenges unity, but it also makes the everything brighter and airier. Like the assortment of details, lots of variety and less predictability, crucial in a case like this. So, more rescued than anything like this yet. But the overall message is to start strong, with plenty of graphic oomph. 11x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      July#5: Continued to look for graphic oomph in colour beyond the pinwheel, the known composition format of, for example, June#1-9 above. Went to a long format, but kept the ability to lift applied paint back to the ground. Very little white in this one. Not sure this format lends itself to too much more, but like the way the paint and ground are interacting in this. The revealed white helps establish order, as opposed to July#4 above, where it acts as another level of randomness. I'd say the ideal is somewhere between these two poles. This balance is perhaps the trickiest technical-energetic aspect of oil painting because it is constantly in flux, and constantly being redefined. This told me exactly what to do from beginning to end. The next day, wanted more connection or linkage between the left and right, or more resolution from the right element, but now like the way these interact. This serves to confirm that the process knows what it is doing: stop when it says to stop. 4x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#1: In August continued to look for something new. Had become obsessed with a more textured ground for these, had no idea why but it needed to happen. Needed to gesso some paper anyway and went, with some misgiving since it had caused issues before in realism, to a little bit of fine aquarium sand. This is more physically adhesive and angular than marble dust and makes things very different very quickly. When it was dry though, seemed like it was too much. Tried burnishing it, using a bone folder on a piece of parchment paper. This submerged the sharp silica somewhat, which was good because it still changed everything radically. Removal was possible but had to abandon clean or strongly graphic removal because the ground didn't allow it. This led to more lumpy geometry and softer colour layers. So, the only thing that's technically different about the next three is the ground itself. About 5.625x6.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#2: Was excited by the way the technique layered in a fuzzy, less specific way. This allowed a more incremental development, one with less pressure on the shape and colour of a given transformation. This created a different type of image, yet also one that's related to the first compositions in this series, from 2018-19. About 5.625x6.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#3: I like aspects of #1 and #2 but this one seems the strongest overall. Still, it's interesting that the one change I think about is in the lower right corner: as usual! After looking for the next step pretty much for the whole moon, am excited about the potential of this. Making these felt really natural, meditative, like the elements were finally in the right key again. From the perspective of the process having a life of its own, the most interesting thing is that it all came from the ground, which happened purely as a free-form intuition. That is, just an imperative to do it, not any clue about why. And, on top of this, it felt wrong at first, needed to be burnished. More to learn about this approach but for it to happen at all at the tail end of the moon, and in August to boot, is unique and a little amazing. This month and I have a history. About 5.625x6.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

      p align="justify">      August#4: Went to a somewhat bigger scale, this is the second one this week. With the first one, I tried to pick up with the last one from last week, but that didn't work. As usual! Still, I learned a lot from it about how much can be removed, and for how long. And to just abandon any form of reference. No looking back. This was a very rare one where I knew what to do from beginning to end, it was almost like taking dictation. I like it because it is both simple and not so simple. That is, it started out simply, then got just complex enough. This is also very rare. And, of course, looks simple. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#5: With this one, was hotter and more in a hurry than I realized, and forgot to put the couch on. This made it a lot more solid. Mistakes like this always have a message, generally that there are no mistakes, just changes, and in some ways I do like this look better. It does make the colour less forgiving, but helped me realize this is an area where there could be more than two choices, something between, or besides, couch and no couch. Became hung up in this one with that piece of light blue. Does that happen to you? There's one thing that's just way more important than anything else, for no apparent reason? But couldn't get more of it, it would only happen over the pure white of the gesso. So, will now consider how to begin these smaller steps and more of them. Less resolved as a composition, the right half vertically is further along for once. The whole might be solved by one piece in that empty light orange area. But too many other things need to change, better just to make a new one. On the other hand, I'm happy about the colour, the scale of the shapes, and about the way the paint looks. That feels like a lot to be happy about in August. The one above references the older type of pattern, which is fine, but I like how this one is asking for a set of shapes and colours that develop more organically or extemporaneously. So, some relatively big changes in progress, which I always like. The issue to solve now is the relatively unforgiving nature of the method. Too many things about it work to just let it go, want to see what happens by doing a few more. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#6: Liked how this one began but it ended up illustrating the danger of the strong beginning in strong colour. It got to a certain point and then sort of froze, didn't know what to do next, and couldn't bear guessing. So, accidentally ran into perfectionism in the technique and that was that. Can see some options now, either animate the large warm yellow area more with curves and diagonals, or echo it more in the bottom right corner. But it also seems like the key is a more organic, less architectural set of shapes to begin with, that this became too organized, too quickly. Some nice lyrical colour, but perhaps too lyrical. The layers were mostly smooth and additive, an approach that's also conducive to shrinking the options. At this scale, best to just learn what went awry and do the next one. As the week went on, began removing more, and making things more textural or distressed as I went along. Learning how to use the ins and outs of the technique instead of being used by them. Don't dislike this, grateful to do anything in August, but it does seem kind of like the cover of a fantasy novel. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#7: On this August morning I was feeling sort of crabby. This is relatively rare, but definitely something I associate with August in Philadelphia growing up; periods of thick humidity day after day would produce energy that was intrinsically aggravated. And, no surprise, we've had just this type of weather recently. So, just started working with this energy in the painting, and first found it made it better, there was definitely a sense of freedom in just working with energy I considered negative, rather than rejecting it. As things proceeded, they became more comical. So, this redeemed it fully, which was fun, and has never happened to that energy before. I like it when the next image is a response to the preceding one but didn't expected a shift this complete. I like that it's sort of edgy, but playful about that as well. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#8: This one was also a surprise. Wanted to try mixing the entire egg yolk with an equal amount of hide glue when the hide glue was liquid, then refrigerate that, but didn't really like the way it set as well as mixing them separately. So, kept waiting for this to set more, something it didn't do until much later in the process. This was also a surprise because it started out similar to the one above, but them morphed into a version of the pinwheel with curves and triangles. This one seems to be in compartments that are too separate, though figuring out how to connect them more may be an approach to develop as well. Some parts I like, but decided to just remove things I didn't with the idea of putting a second layer on it at some point. About 8.85x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#9: Started here this week. Sometimes just after the full moon, it's still possible to make one that feels, well, full. The most complete or realized one made without white so far, and good example of the kind of simplicity that seems easy when it happens. Like following the treasure map, it all seems laid out, one thing just follows another. This is always a positive experience, but have learned not to try to emulate one like this right away. Do a different type of image next, study something like this until the next step in its evolution is ready to occur in a similar way. About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      August#10: Decided to make something simpler next, based this on August#1 from a few weeks ago. And it's always interesting what happens when a small study is expanded. Added a little white in a thin adjustment layer the next day, some of these places dried to the original value, but some of them dried up. So, still some issues there, though they're small. Learned a great deal from this, one of those paintings that claw their way bit by bit through to another dimension. Am really interested in developing this approach further, but the process is kind of on a tear, who knows what's up next? About 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      September#1: Ran into something a little tricky with the system this week. If a painting doesn't use too many thin layers, the colour dries true to the wet colour. But if a painting uses lots of thin layers that have lots of medium, the colour dries up, and not quite consistently since the number of layers isn't consistent. The major downside of this is having to guess about final value relationships. Haven't had only minor issues with this so far, but decided to try making the whole system a little fatter. Not much, just a little. The paint's behavior was pretty similar, the colour did have more saturation but didn't dry with a gloss. It still set quickly, and the uneven ground meant that edges and areas of removal were less precise. Still, this painting ended up being a more civilized or developed version of August#10. Similar elements, more colour, organization, and extemporaneous changes. I like the overall softer colour and edges of this, and the blue diagonal at the bottom. It was sort of peaceful or meditative to make, it felt like I'd just continue to change it until I liked it, then stop. This feeling is not always the case, but I could get used to it. So both an evolution of last week's painting, and a way to appreciate the more casual cohesion of first one more. The process wants to use organization, and subvert it at the same time. A pretty basic paradox in terms of generating creative tension. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      September#2: This one had its moments, some closer colour shifts, and ike the sense of syncopation, of a composition of small pieces over the larger ones underneath. Would like to take this further. At the same time, not enough basic movement in the larger pieces, and it got busy from the smaller pieces trying to fix this. Too much vertical emphasis in the top half, too much horizontal emphasis in the bottom half. And still got waylaid by the grid in spite of consciously working to subvert it. I think I don't have plans, but I do, secret plans to over-organize all the chaos. Which is understandable, but doesn't lead to what the process wants, which is a dialogue between chaos and organization. It's not that secret planning doesn't work, it semi-works, which is actually worse, since it makes me think it might work next time. Used to get grouchy about this, like, I should have known. But each definition of what works is like the top of the pyramid. Oops, what now? There might be a few variations on a given definition, but it's a fine line between development and mannerism or imitation. At this point the process just wants to start over and build another one, a different one. The new way will be based on what has come before, but turn the old way inside out more than agreeing with it. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      September#3: Made some varnish with gum animé, hymenaea courbaril, a South American resin that began to be imported from Brazil into Europe early in the 16th century, but never became mainstream. Had been wanting to do this for a while, and used a small amount of it in the medium for this. So, that's the only difference between this one and the previous dozen or so of these. It didn't look that different, but it was more mobile for the same density, and it set in a different way. It was still layerable, but the set was slower and less strong, and the paint was also easier to remove. It must be much more saturated when wet as well, as it felt like this had too much colour very quickly, but this will diminish somewhat when it's dry. New territory is always fun but full of surprises: Oh, it will do that, but uh-oh, not this, etc. The strength of this so far is how it artifacts. It removes cleanly, but because the animé makes the whole system finer and more tender, there's much more refined evidence of what was there before. The corresponding weakness is that the edges are now much more literal by default, and it's more difficult to smear them. So, a fork in the road: whether to proceed this way, or to shift the formula so that it resembles the former system more. There's more freedom in this approach, which felt really positive, but it's version of everything -- shape, colour, edges, set, removal, saturation, layering -- is more different than I thought it would be. This may be a bug, but is more probably a feature. Something new wanted to happen, I just don't know what to do with it yet. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      September #4: Decided that, though the courbaril varnish was really interesting, it supplied too much motion for the current system. So left it out of the medium for this one, and the paint returned to setting quickly. Which was a relief, allowed the edges to be adjusted in micro-increments, my favorite. Kept the pieces bigger, askew, and the palette a little softer, or older. This is where it was after the first day. Thought about changing it the second day, had a to-do list going, but decided to wait, consider further. In general, it seems like moving on to the next one is better -- that is, happier, more energetic -- at this point; just start over with a new concept. There may come a time when this one has explained itself fully at the next level, then I'd do another layer. But it seems best overall to listen to what wants to happen. Which makes me realize how much I've actually ignored this is the past, creating work that wasn't real, progress that was actually going backwards. Impetus or oomph is helpful, but it's easy for this to become impatience, or pushing. It seems like the only thing that works is an active or expectant version of patience that allows the process to pull me into the next step. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


       September #5: Made this with a somewhat fatter version of the medium. Having concluded that the courbaril varnish produces too much movement, tried a little sandarac varnish I made years ago, this tends to make things tighter. It also interfered with the overall set of the paint, causing irregularity in the layering, but I got used to that and it ended up being part of the overall look of this one. Did a lot with muted colour and simple compositions in realism, and have been wondering when and how that approach would resurface. It's typically the mind that doesn't know what to do next, not the hands, and this was one of those pleasant surprise paintings that make themselves, the mind is just watching the hands do what they know comes next. 9x10 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      October #1: A small medium test, a good waning moon activity, fun to goof around on the one hand, but when I look at this type of thing, I always learn more than I thought I would. This system uses a lot of a lean putty mix, had to make more of it, and decided to make a new version of it because I was always making it denser. So this is made with a relatively simple medium compared to the paintings above. Then made a small study using the second putty medium in the system, which is richer or fatter, and has a little fused damar and beeswax in it. Thought I'd like the behavior of the second system better, fat is flavor! But ended up liking this one more. Simple is always better if possible, but I'm not sure the other ingredients can be left out entirely without inviting some darkening over long periods in this relatively humid climate. This is hard to figure out without really long tests, years. Right now I've tested the current system long enough to feel it won't dry down, it remains incredibly bright. There are three ingredients in small amounts that help this: the fused damar, the beeswax, and egg yolk. At the same time, I like this simpler look. Though this is the type of simplicity that emerges from the crucible of complexity, it's not the simplicity of innocence, it's the simplicity of what survived experience. So, this may mean reconsidering the role of the fused damar and beeswax putty. The proportion in the system could be smaller, the medium itself could be made less fat, or both. Checked the recipe, always a good idea since I don't necessarily remember it exactly, how many lifetimes between now and last July? Discovered it could definitely be made leaner, so that will be fun to test next. Is there always more? Why yes! Is this a bug, or a feature? A feature, the best feature imaginable. About 5.5x6.25 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

older work overview

      The first work was relatively literal, isolating various objects of interest on a numinous stage. These taught me a lot about the basic narrative language of painting. For example, something could be implied -- in this case, the flower -- without being stated. It turned out that, within realism, there were lots of ways that less could be turned into more. Alla prima painting of an amaryllis bulb from 1993, 20x28 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


       Morandi's work became a lifeline for me, solving the issue of a meaningful path within realism. I worked with many permutations of a similar -- at times very similar -- style for over as decade beginning in 1988. Often this work seemed to also be somewhat Japanese, aided in this case by an antique raku tea bowl that came my way. It soon became apparent that the search for simplicity was complex. More importantly, I realized that exploring this paradox was immensely fulfilling. Alla prima, from 1997, 10x12 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      It was also possible to find this Japanese quality in work done outside. Alla prima study from 1997, 10.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Still life work continued, and it sometimes seemed that even less was more. Alla prima study from 1999, 10.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      By 2003 I'd found a way of working with the Morandi model that I liked, but also realized that it was time to go my own way. The evanescence might have to be sacrificed, but this would lead somewhere new. Alla prima still life, 2003, 12x16, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The paint then slowly began to get more solid. I worked more from life, with more paint, and slowly began to see things more my own way. This was, in its own way, very traditional: learn the teacher's way first, becomes yourself second. Another alla prima still life from 2004, 12x16, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The cans eventually became a series of their own, with many variations on the theme. The tension between their mechanical and human nature was really interesting: how to animate objects whose geometry was so formal? Alla prima still life from 2005, 12x16, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


       I also made work which was more closely observed, more about color, paint, and the mystery of the object on stage. From 2003, 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      It's also interesting to revisit images sometimes and see how their execution changes. From 2016, still in progress, 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Corot is another painter I was really interested in. Small copy of his Crecy-en-Brie Road10.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Constable's outdoor work has also been important. One of several copies made after his first small study for The Hay Wain, an extraordinary painting. 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      Living in Vermont, working outside was important, most often I make small studies on gessoed paper simply working with what is there. The outdoor work involves a lot of heat of the moment, and seems to anticipate elements that will be coming into the studio work. The intensity of the blue and green element in summer has proved to be a perennial challenge.


      Study from summer, 2008, a front moving into Farr Cross Road early on a summer morning, I was almost blown off the road. A place I painted for a decade, always interesting to see the changes there.


      Sometimes a certain location proves to have many possibilities over time, such as this overlook of Lake Champlain at Button Bay.


      The medium and palette are set up to respond to the time of year. Button Bay, 2008.


      Sometimes the focus is more on observation. Button Bay, 2008.


      While a second study on the same day usually produces something more essential or abstract. Button Bay, 2008.


      Quick studies from life are also more abstract, as in this early morning storm clearing over Button Bay in 2008.


      Studies from life can also generate studio work.


      Usually I work small, but sometimes I work bigger, detail below.


      Some of the work has it's origin in two trips to Tuscany, a place that felt oddly like coming home. From the first trip, a villa in Pieve di Brancoli outside Lucca.


      A more recent alla prima version of the same image.


      From the second trip, a farm in the Mugello region above Florence at the beginning of a thunderstorm. Painters from other countries began arriving in Italy in the late 17th Century, there is a sense of something nurturing in the land that has been understood and interpreted in many different ways.


      I still return to these images as a portal into a calmer world. Study of the same farm, 8x13 inches inches, oil on paper over panel, 2016.


      I usually paint realistically, but ever since the 80's I've worked off and on on color-oriented work. This took over full time for a while in 2006. Image here from June, 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Close-up showing the additive-subtractive puns that go on in these. Very fun when the style arrives, but impossible to manufacture otherwise.


      A favorite from the interlude of these in 2007. I think a lot about the early use of color in Italy, these paintings often seem to be a way to use that interest.


      The more closely observed work continues, these can take a long time to complete but the closer it is, the more fun it gets. However, these do become difficult to photograph accurately. I still think there's something basically comical about painting cheese.


      Working quickly alla prima is a good balance to many layers over time. These images are also good ways to try out more visceral or rococo mediums.


      For many years I drew everything in red chalk first.


      But I've always liked the focus of fine line drawing too.


      The chalk style can be expanded to include pastel.


      But careful drawing is more reliable in determining whether composition is correct.


      At one point I made lots of small monoprints. The interplay of realism and abstraction in these was very fun.


      And sometimes drawings happen in reed pen. These are more like paintings.


      Sometimes I'll make small watercolors to explore an idea. A step closer to oil painting, but simpler to explore.


      This process in turn helps paintings to begin in a more essential way.


      Hopefully this quality makes it all the way through the process.


      I make a lot of the materials I use. For a while it was a fine line between inspiration and chaos.


      But it led to greater understanding of how to refine the oil.


      The oil I refine makes somewhat different paint. It has more boing, contains only pigment and oil. This makes it more thixotropically reactive to other traditional medium ingredients than commercial paint.


      It mostly happens at the easel.


      But no horizontal surface is really safe.


      When I lived in Vermont there was a show every few years, both harrowing and fun.


      But the most important thing is what happens next. So it all leads back to making things.


      Fixing what went wrong.


      Trying the next new thing.


      And starting over with a slightly better plan.


      Even starting over again with a slightly better plan.


      You can also use what I learned over the last 15 years to start a plan of your own.

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
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