I start with a canvas tinted a few days before, the ground being somewhere between grey, and mildly earth toned. Onto this, I work with very lean paint, with bristle brushes. By lean, that is to say, paint that is mixed with turpentine, not with medium. At this stage, my brushes are bristle, mostly large.
I focus entirely on the shadows, using Old Holland Light Red, and Zecchi Roman Ochre, mixed with Old Holland Ivory Black. I don’t put any of the lights in, at all- just the shadows that I see. I push the painting as far as I feel necessary in this range of shadows, to try and figure out what the canvas is saying.
“And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” Flake white. That is- lead white. I slam it on, thick lead paint slightly tinted with color, with a big bristle brush, to show myself just how much the painting needs to adjust, in order for that light to make sense. I was playing the violin once, attempting Bartok, timidly trying to eke out the complex notes, and producing a rather tepid tune. In short, it sounded wimpy. My violin teacher, Sue Forseth, grabbed the violin, placed it beneath her chin, and slammed the bow against the strings, producing a screaming declaration of the passage of music, with a ferocious vibrato. Then she handed the violin back to me, and quietly said “Catch up.” She showed me that dynamics are everything. Placing that thick, lead white rich paint on the canvas is my way of saying “Catch up” to myself.
Caught up. Or at least getting there. I’m excited to develop the painting with his hands- for now, it looks like he is sleeping, but with the context of his hands, he is going to be looking at something up close, squinting, one eyebrow raised, as an older man will sometimes do.
You are never painting the thing, you are painting the light falling on the thing. That is the miracle of light: the most beautiful, red sunrise can turn the horrific, oil refinery shoreline of New Jersey into some kind of bizarre Celestial City. (Though I’m not saying his face is like the New Jersey Turnpike.)