Visual language. Expression. Artist. Authenticity. Statement. Creating. Creativity. Original. Style or technique. Mix up those words to form different sentences. If you can think about your art-making in these terms, the doors of possibility will be more open. There is a skill set that can be practiced and the more that happens, the likelihood you will find fluidity in your expression. But the more important elements can be described with the words above.

Rick Bartow, one of our great Oregon artists, died this week. Coincidently I had finally tracked down a video about him I had seen years ago. I wanted to show it in class specifically because of our latest focus on visual imagery as language. And I finally found where to buy one. (Salem Art Association.)

Here is his artist’s statement from 1990:

          “Marc Chagall once said ‘let us try to discover what is authentic in our lives’. I think the next step is to attempt an expression of that authenticity.

         I have recently begun to employ more than one figure in the work, a conscious effort to remove the figurative element from a psychological to a more physically involved state. It also stems from a desire to see people not alone.

        At times I understand where an image originates, but more often than not it is the initial result of an unconscious use of line and form.

       The energy of the work sometimes becomes too active for a small format. The gestures can now utilize a larger area.

       As life becomes richer and more dear, the drawings become larger, more involved, the imagery more complex and the color more intense, in an effort to express what I feel is authentic.” R.E. Bartow 1990

He talks about what is on his mind and how the size, format, color and gesture of his work varies in response to those concerns. Response. It implies dialogue. Simply reproducing an image without it is likely less engaging to the viewer—and to the maker for that matter.

So think in terms of dialogue. One thing changes the next in response to what has gone before. There is no way to solve all the problems of a piece at one time. Paint the whole surface as a reaction to the way things are developing, don’t try to pre-think to the end result. Examine your thoughts and feelings of each element you add or change. How does it visually affect the whole?  What does it say?  (DO NOT insert anything negative here.)

This takes LOOKING. As I’ve said ad nauseam—Time and looking is as important as moving the color, line, etc. etc. around. It’s as important as drawing and color theory, among other things.  And you don’t have to learn it.  You just have to do it and then pay attention to what you see.  Until you can allow yourself that, you will only add to any frustration you find in the process.

I’ll be showing the video of Rick Bartow in action this week. You will see his engagement in the process and perhaps get a hint of how his concerns manifest themselves on paper. (It is not available online.)

An absolutely beautifully written article by Oregonian writer, Bob Hicks, about Rick Bartow can be found here:

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