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R. Colman

"Lines and Circles"

A lot of my abstract work involves line and movement. You marvel at the squiggles in  da Vinci’s sketch books, or Rembrandt’s etchings - simple lines capture energy, direction, balance. Oriental art has this prominence of line…  Not to devalue color or composition, or the other aspects of a painting - eventually it all has to work together. But for me color comes in later, sort of dancing with the line until the final form emerges. 

I was fortunate to meet an artist, Ruth Smith, in New York, who showed me how to look at things, not as subjects in themselves, but as subjects IN PAINT.  Big difference. What you paint should be more compelling than the subject itself. Waves breaking, fruit rotting, fire, eyeballs –  all the same idea.  She got me to sketch on the subway where you have to  draw very fast, between vibrations of the subway car. The floor is shaking, the sketch book bouncing, the subject  changing position, people  bumping into you.  This exercise was torture until I understood what Ruth was getting at. The whole point was  to be selective and  quick,  or the line ended up choppy or broken. There’s only time for essentials.  

The essential element or entry point to a work of art is not always obvious on a conscious level, but catching that unencumbered first impulse, whether it’s toward a real subject or an imagined one, is the key to a strong painting. The painting revolves around it. This is what Picasso  meant when he said that the beginning of the painting is everything.

I moved to Northern California in 1988  and the change shook something. Different space, different light, different characters. You see things fresh. I painted with a local artist and  teacher, Michael Lafredo, who was all about originality.  Find your own style, tap into the well that only belongs to you. Lafredo coaxed me toward expressionism and abstraction, to Diebenkorn, de Kooning, Pollock. Kline. Krasner, Gorky. These were the artists who had broken the mold.

My own style emerged.  I was getting somewhere - or so I thought. Then I took a trip to Rome and Florence. Art everywhere. artists, known and unknown. Donatello, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Titian, Raphael. And of course Michelangelo. The  pulsing veins under the skin of Michelangelo’s marble, more vital than live flesh. You see it up close and you can’t believe it. It wasn’t humanly possible to create that, but there it was. All that visual overload was like crashing into a wall of defeat. The wall was too high, impregnable. Why bother painting at all?

I recovered from the trip to Italy. The great artists Force you to take  measure of yourself. You push through it and then keep on going.  Making Art is like a carousel with a hundred seasons. 

 You need to  rediscover the world. Change is Essential, Travel helps, moving helps, meeting new artists and different people. I moved from the Empire State to the Golden State and now  I’m back again on the East Coast.  So I’m moving in circles, chasing lines, surrounded by too many ghosts.



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