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. VIII)

I was beginning to learn that some of the best times for surfing are when the sun has not been awake for long or when it’s not out at all. It was similar to the way I was beginning to learn that happiness is not a virtue. The waves are calmer in the morning, and they’re more smooth in a balmy winter fog, and they’re twice as magical as the climax of sunset is chased away by the moonlit twilight. 

This realization began when my dad and I were out in a sunless yet strangely warm tide. We were trying to feel alive while Grandpa John was dying in his bed back in the Beach House. A family of seals passed by, eyeing us, but not severely intrigued. Just swimming. We might have been trying to escape, but as we bobbed in the middle of a placid, engulfing mist, it seemed to wrap us up and tell us Stay, that the world had some peace in it worth living for. 

* *

We are not unlike ocean waves; each one is unique with varying tenacity, temperature, angle, and undertow. Each has a lifespan: a force beyond itself births its initial movement, it begins to swell, reaching its climax as it crests, turns to break in its fully-formed grandeur, closes upon itself, and finally disperses at the end of its course. Ultimately giving way for the next life cycle.

* *

Some days, I wondered if my balance and my arms would ever be strong enough. Willing, but weak. Willing, but a thorn ever in the flesh. 

A professor once told me that he believed he spent so many years in agonizing states of occupation to prepare himself for the handful of semesters he was finally able to teach the lessons he loved to students that he truly loved. 

* *

I had to keep This isn’t what it’ll look like, shutup until I’m finished clenched behind my teeth as passersby behind my back made their impressed remarks. I watched the sun and then the moon pass through the windows, favorite DVDs and mix CDs assisting the progression of time. When I stood up straight to wash my hands and brushes in the bathroom sink down the hall, blue tint saturated the water spiraling down the drain. I pumped the soap dispenser again.

 

Saline (pt. VII)

I went to Balboa Beach one time for a bonfire with some friends. I always felt so lonely and loved at the same time when I was in front of a bonfire. But when I stepped away to feel the cold lick of the sea, I could sense the way there was no fire left in me. I was more like the crescent ghost moon that punctured the inkiness of the night, reflecting in indigo silver over the waves that crashed in such a quietly chilling, chanting way. At that moment, I was sure that if I was alone I could just walk into them and never come back again, and I was only disturbed to realize I believed this was a moment of beauty.

* *

Jasper certainly came unannounced, but we were no where near the ocean. We went out on our first date to a fish taco joint in the city. I should have just been honest and told him that lately I had been feeling sleepy and was hoping he would wake me up, so he could have said No up front. Instead, I told him things I never should have said, like how I would take the ability to breathe underwater if he chose to have wings, so I could take him through the sea as long as he would fly me through the sky. Like how I told him the things that I had learned, namely how the Fourth of July was the most lonely holiday, how nice it would be to cuddle in a blanket on the beach with a tin of brownies. I eventually realized Jasper didn’t understand these things, the same way he did not understand the composition of the saltwater that would run out of my eyes from time to time.

I finally realized there was a practical joke going on that wasn’t funny. The ones I had wanted to call beloved were ubiquitously afraid of the ocean. Those that I knew that were not afraid had already fallen in love with sirens; one siren was Pride, another was Marijuana, the other was my roommate Robyn. 

* *

Never try to be a land mammal when you think you’re tired of feeling like just another fish in the sea. The body and spirit do not exist without each other, Aristotle mentioned. Neither does the dolphin without the wild ocean. 

* *

I put on my torn painter’s jeans again. Heaps of paint were squeezed out from a drawer-full of Liquitex tubes. Photographs on a laptop screen guided the way I mixed the paint with knives on my thrift store plate palettes. Three shades of blue, phthalo green, alizarin crimson, burnt umber, cadmium yellow & oxide, and massive amounts of titanium white.