Baby Bok Choy, Scallions and Shell ©Victoria McCall
Talking about my paintings is awkward. Much of the painting process is intuitive. It’s like a homing device – seeking out the location of that essential non-verbal thing I’m aiming to express or create – a paintable thing, not a sayable thing. The painting is not rooted in words. Words are applied after the fact. Of course techniques are explainable, but when it comes to subtle presences, whether aesthetic, spiritual or conceptual, it is obvious that artists create unspeakable things.
But the art itself speaks to us – it stirs us up and we strain to explain in our own language. After the fact of creating, words used to describe certain elements are often vague expressions which circle around the outside of the target, never quite hitting it – never quite naming the thing. Even professional art critics are outside the mystery, looking in. I have read both wonderfully insightful, revealing art commentary as well as contorted “art-speak” where the critic seems to be inventing reality. (The Rape of the Masters by Roger Kimball is an informative and entertaining resource on that topic.) But ultimately a painting can’t be said.
So do I even want to talk about my art? Well, I do and I don’t. It may actually be a useful exercise for me to attempt to name something of where I’ve been in my work to perhaps inform my way forward. It can add a bit of conscious choice in the flow of creating rather than operating wholly on a subterranean intuitive plane. As long as it doesn’t foster distracting self-consciousness, that could be a good thing. In addition, I do sincerely appreciate those who are interested to hear some of what lies behind the creation of an image. After all, sharing with others is one of the greatest rewards of creating. But anything I say will likely be just a fragment of something wispy.
As an example, in a previous blog post in reference to the painting pictured above, I said this:
“I was recently trying to articulate a particular intention in some of my paintings, when a culinary term popped into my head: reduction. According to a cooking website, reduction is “The result of reducing by boiling down sauces to increase consistency, richness & flavor.” It seemed a good way to describe my efforts where I wanted a certain intensity as in this little painting titled “Baby Bok Choy, Scallions and Shell.” Perhaps the surrounding darkness and the depth of color provide the heat to reduce my visual sauce.”
Did that really clarify anything? Inspire further thought? Maybe, maybe not.
In the end, the painting is doing the speaking and it is up to me to listen along with everyone else. We will continue to discuss, compare notes and conclude this or that. But all paintings – mine or anyone else’s – don’t care what we say. They are what they are. Pulsing outward like a heartbeat, they reveal themselves in all their nuance of glory, boldness, stupidity, timidity, triteness, beauty, ugliness, love, elegance, pain, intelligence, joy, arrogance, wisdom, hate, humility, complexity, simplicity and everything else – whether in limping failure or sublime perfection – without any help at all from words.