In Search of Meaning

I’m sure you’re wondering what you’re looking at here. To be frank about it, so am I.

Schilderij Zoekt Betekenis

For now, I’ve taken to calling it een schilderij zoekt betekenis — that is, a painting in search of meaning. It’s akin to a child that doesn’t quite yet know what it wants to be when it grows up.

It’s not even sure yet of its orientation. Maybe that could be compared to having a gender identity crisis. Should it stand tall and upright? Or should it be viewed from a horizontal perspective?

When I began painting this scene — and, yes, there was an actual landscape scene planned — it was horizontal. Now, though, I have it standing vertically on my easel, and I like it that way as a bit of abstract expression.

So what’s the story behind this uncertain bit of kunst?

It began with a very, very ambitious desire to paint a winter scene. From time to time I browse free reference photo sites, and I “collect” images that inspire me. Since I spend so much time doing simple practice works, I feel it’s good for me to occasionally do what I call an inspiration painting — not one where I’m following an assignment or tutorial, but one where I can just be an artist and do what I think is right. I knew from the start that the scene I chose required much more technical skill and painting know-how than I have at this point, but mostly I wanted to play around with mood and colors.

My next decision was choosing a huge canvas for this painting — the largest I’ve ever put on my easel. It measures 20″ x 24″, and for what it’s worth, it’s a stretched canvas, not a canvas panel.

So, from the start, I was making this project difficult, but that was part of it. I wanted to push myself, wanted to get so far out of the box that I would have to figure things out for myself. I deliberately wanted to get lost just to see if I could possibly find my way back home again.

The first steps went fairly well. If you tilt your head to the right as you look at the canvas, you can see the faint shape of a large, dark ice-covered pond. You might even be able to imagine some of the snowy, tree-covered hills in the distance. For a time, the general lay-out was looking… well, not good, but recognizable, at least.

But then I started playing, tweaking, blending, doing this and that, and soon I’d made a big mess of it all. What now? I have a strict rule this year, you see, that says I can’t give up, wipe away what I’ve done, and walk away from a painting. I have to see it through to the end.

And so I will.

I could still do this painting. I just needed to do it a bit differently. I’m not wiping away what was there, I’m just using that as a starting point and moving on to create something else, something I hadn’t even imagined at the beginning.

Schilder de Winter (2)With a deep breath, I took a big brush and began glazing over the original scene I’d laid-out on the canvas. Here’s a quick look at the initial elements I’d painted.

Mostly I wanted to express the ideas of winter’s bitter cold through the colors I was using. Blues, grays, black, and white.

So I glazed first with a pale blue gray, and then decided to add in a bit of a pink glaze. What I’ve done is to create a new canvas, one that will serve as a starting point — or, perhaps I should say a finishing point —  for a winter-inspired scene.

Or maybe it will become something very, very different. I say this because each time I walk past the easel and see these vague, indistinct shapes, I don’t see any sense of a failed painting or a mess I’ve made. Instead, I see possibilities. I see something that is part of a process, a work that — though very uncertain now — is definitely in progress.

I see that this painting, and this experience, has a lot to teach me. I don’t know, though, what direction it’s going to lead. Maybe I want to play with colors more and just give voice to my thoughts about our cold winter weather with an abstract sort of expression. Or maybe I want to go back and re-paint the original scene, albeit in my own rather primitive fashion.

And maybe I’ll end up painting and repainting this canvas many times. Perhaps it is because it’s so big, so bold in its presence. I’m beginning to see it as a bit of a playground, a place where I can run and shout, have fun, and maybe fall down and skin my knees a time or two.

Yes, that’s exactly what it is! My painting has found meaning and purpose now. Oh, how much fun this painting and I will have together!




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