Artist’s Journal: NUMBER 75

What is a Painting and, What is Painting Really?


A painting – before being a warhorse,

a naked woman, or some story or other –

is essentially a flat surface covered with

colors assembled in a certain order.

Maurice Denis, French painter


I told a very good friend that I wanted to do a painting for her. This friend means the world to me! She already has a couple of my pieces in her collection. When she brought home those pieces, her roommate said, “That’s love – nobody just gives away their work!”

Khalil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”  In the same poem, On Work, he wrote, “When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?”

I had no idea what I was going to do. I don’t paint messages. I don’t paint things. And, even though I’ve been told my work is very emotional; I paint with no emotion. I’m simply trying to solve a visual mathematical problem. So, if my work is not a representation of anything then it’s just a decoration. Why do we decorate our homes with Art, antiques, found objects, souvenirs and items that represent memories?

PEB #1 - 8-2016
PEB #1-2016

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that, decoration is, “something that adorns, enriches, or beautifies.” An ornament – something that lends grace or beauty. [click on images twice to enlarge] This is PEB #1-2016 and it goes back to my landscape/field painting theme for lack of a better description.

The horizontal line is a very interesting thing. The moment you place it on your canvas or paper it begins to define a landscape. It’s the pull of the horizon. What is it about the horizon – tomorrow? A promise? Something better? According to  a horizontal line, “…represents the path from birth to death, beginning to end, and linear time. This axis represents life on earth as a binary, linear process – life to death, beginning to end…”

The horizon symbolizes dreams and aspirations. We all want things to be better and any possibility of change may hold the promise of improvement. According to this author writing about Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the horizon is mentioned in the opening paragraph. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”

PEB #2 - 8-2016
PEB #2-2016

I find that to me, at present, painting is about letting go. As a Jesuit instructor I had in college said, “I went into the seminary to become closer to God and he ended up further away from me than where I started. He only came back to me when I let go.”

This is the second and totally unintended painting (PEB #2-2016) I did, side-by-side with PEB #1-2016. Both these pieces were about surrendering to whatever the outcome was going to be with no preconceptions. They were gifts for a friend. I had never painted a piece specifically as a gift.

Now writing about it, it’s all starting to make sense! Bede Griffiths (1907-1993) was a British clergyman. He wrote, “I was being called to surrender the very citadel of my self. I was completely in the dark. I did not really know what repentance was or what I was required to repent of. It was indeed the turning point of my life.”

Repentance means to turn. Am I turning from? Am I turning to? Perhaps I’m looking towards the horizon and the possibilities it offers. Horizontal lines define the width of the painting. They stabilize the composition. They evoke both the elements of proximity (near/far) with alignment (depth – deep or shallow). They are reflective of the vistas the earth offers us and how they make us peaceful and relaxed. Then again, a painting is, “…is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order,” right?




Posted on: 05/09/2016, by :
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