Impasto experiments

Last summer, I taught some private painting lessons for young adults. One of the skills I demonstrated was impasto, which is a technique that uses larger amounts of paint to create texture with its thickness. Van Gogh often used this technique.

These are a some acrylic experiment paintings I used to show examples of impasto to my students:

IMG_1088Geryon, inspired by Anne Carson’s story Autobiography of Red. Created with palette knife and brush.

IMG_5722Noontide. Memory landscape finger-painting.

IMG_1092Bunny Fantasia, created using a palette knife and brush.

Painting: Rosalyn

Rosalyn

This landscape was painted from memory with acrylic paint. My professor had challenged us to abstain from using paintbrushes, so I used my fingers and a palette knife.

Saline (pt. X)

The first time I dropped in on a wave, really dropped in, I finally knew what it felt like to be in my rightful place in the world. The timing, paddling, pop-up, and steering had culminated into that ever-desired perfect glide. For a few seconds, I spread royal wings and flew. For a few seconds, the sky rolled back to show how it was made of something as beautiful as an abalone shell.

* *

The painting is titled “Theology,” I said. One hundred eyes passed over the piece, consuming its wild blue spilling and plunging. Now they awaited my defense and explanation. 

The correlation is simple, this idea of Sublimity in the character of God; One experienced as powerful, infinite, mighty, and ultimate. Yet when we experience this, we are somehow allowed to live, often leaving full of something like love or respect. The same experience is manifest when I am in the ocean, delighting in its power without it killing me–hence the “theology” of the crashing wave.

* *

It is an important moment in life when you realize that the calmest part of the ocean is the water directly beneath the wave. It is like finally realizing that to dance in the arms of another person, you have to stop struggling to lead your way. It is a moment of enlightenment in which you realize to keep from drowning, you must go underwater. No matter how the white water roars, if you duck below the plummets of the break, there you will find peace. Finally, you must learn to listen to the sea, for it will tell you when it’s safe to return to breathing again.

* *

Noah arrived by my side and with his classic bemused half-grin and complimentary fist-pound. Kick-ass were his first words. Others had offered similar congratulations. But he followed to say something more striking in clarity. Good job capturing the calm water right under the wave. A lot of people forget that part, he said. I looked back at the painting. The effect had been unintentional, but now that he pointed it out, I saw it. And I realized it was something I had known about all along. 

Saline (pt. IX)

There was a lull in the swell.

Look! Dolphins. I lifted my hand dripping with saltwater to point out the dorsal fin tips peeking out of the watery blanket, not many yards from where Jordan and I drifted.

My brother is an extrovert. He laid belly-down on his surfboard and started paddling toward the grey-skinned mammals. I began to follow. There was an exciting fearful tension of wanting to get close and stay far away at the same time. I am an introvert. 

We paddled close enough to hear the sputtering sound of blowhole exhalations. I wondered if they could sense us, what they regarded of Jordan and I. wondered what their underwater world looked like. I regarded them as creature cousins, physically categorized as cetaceans, yet connected to us by a mix of sibling DNA and spirit capacity. 

The scene made me think of a book I had read when I was young, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I barely remember much about it except that there was a tribal girl left to fend for herself on an island, and a lot of imagery of sun-bleached whale bones. 

The dolphin brothers seemed unthreatened by our presence. Their smooth grey backs passed by us calmly, the same way the humpback whale swam by my uncle’s boat when we were giving my grandpa’s dust back to the sea. The way he said goodbye with his whale tail waving in the sky, slowly, nonchalantly.

* *

Is coming up for air by works or by faith? I was baptized by my own volition in the ocean. An overcast day off of Santa Cruz. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They said getting baptized was like dying and coming back to life. I wonder if it is regarded as literal by some people, similar to the Catholic Transubstantiation. It makes me wish Pastor Chad would have held me under longer so I could remember what dying felt like. Seems that I have been baptized many times since then, with the countless times of getting tossed by rough close-outs, under and back up again, like a soggy ragdoll. That’s when I really knew what resurrection felt like, when I could come back up to breathe again. But maybe that’s by works, not faith, so it wasn’t supposed to count?

Is coming up for air by works or by faith? Someone had asked the same question to Dr. Culp during his lecture. 

Well, technically, breathing itself is αργος, so what do you think? he said, smiling.

* *

Tonight was the night, and the painting was dry just in time. It was carried by four arms and four legs into the meeting hall, to the back wall, in preparation for the exhibition.

Saline (pt. IV)

If I could find you now, things would get better, we could leave this town and run foreverI know somewhere somehow we’ll be together, let your waves crash down and take me away-ee-ay-ee-yeah–

Everyone needs a pop-punk romance like Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue.” Whenever I listen to the song now, it reminds me of this one time I was out surfing with my family a few weeks before I turned 15. Two blond boys my age showed up in the water near us. The cute one was making splashes as he back-flipped off his board when he finished a ride. We started talking as we waited for a swell. His name was Sean, the other guy was called Joey. They were from Springfield. Before I left to go home, Sean and I caught a wave at the same time and he tried to jump on my board. I had starfish and quicksilver in my head for the next three months. 

I started listening to Mae about this time, too, the band that swooned me with their song “The Ocean,”singing You come over unannounced, silence broken by your voice in the dark, I need you here tonight just like the ocean needs the waves. It would make me feel soft and nostalgic for a time I hadn’t breathed in yet; it was my dream serenade.

The next time I came back to Cayucos, I watched the break from the Beach House window, checking every hour to see if I would catch sight of someone back-flipping off their board to signal when I could suit up and dive into my daydream again. 

* *

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling….When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and [yet] with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience.

Edmund Burke distinguishes the Sublime from the Beautiful. The Beautiful is small, delicate, smooth, pleasurable, finite, and controllable by the viewer. Conversely, the Sublime is vast, rigid, infinite, powerful, inspires a sense of pain and/or danger, has the ability to control the viewer, and a produces a terror delightfully felt when beheld at a safe distance. Burke argued that the human ability to find delight in something terrible is actually what allows us to have sympathy for each other or be inspired by awe instead of wanting to throw up and run for the hills. It keeps us tending to others’ wounds and solving murder mysteries, the same as it keeps us watching thunderstorms and drawing lions. 

* *

I made a map. Utilization of hands, fingers, narrow palette knives, and bristle brushes were chosen for a thick, impasto rendering. Paying attention to rules of physics, light, and color would agree with Formalism; I would deviate slightly by emphasizing saturation to evoke an emotional vibration.