Recently I began working in video as an art form, something I really haven't done. I've been using After Effects for many years to create client work--marketing videos, video backdrops for events, even television commercials. But to think of it as a narrative format for my own images and storytelling was new--just not something I've taken the time to do and try out. I'm grateful to my collaborator, Desi, in Dorian's Shadow, who really pushed me to step into the frame as a character, something I've done often in my paintings, but never on video. We had written a song together entitled "Reflections," and as I closed my eyes and really listened to it, my head filled with imagery. (…story continues below images…)
… I took notes on what the scenes should include, and then I got up the nerve to point the video camera at myself. I sent the videos to Desi for her feedback, and she sent me videos of herself, shot in a similar way. I could see in my mind's eye that there was a man receding into the shadows in this story. I needed to find him. I searched through noir films and found the 1948 movie "He Walked By Night." Scrubbing through the entire film, I found a few scenes that exactly depicted what I had pictured in my mind, and brought those into After Effects, combining those (plus some scenes from two other films of that time, "Oliver Twist" and "Panic in the Streets") with the footage of Desi and myself. It was a laborious process to build the unfolding narrative, and more than I had originally considered. But that is the nature of video--mere seconds can take hours to create. And I got completely lost in it and immersed in the process.
This gets me to painting. I've so often thought of my paintings as stills from films. And when I work in video, I think of each moment of the moving image as something that could be frozen and would make a pleasing and compelling composition as a painting. So I suppose it was natural to eventually bring these worlds together. That's what happened here.
I was working on the video and arrived at what I consider the pivotal point in the story line. A man walks through a space and out a doorway. A woman looks in the mirror and sees him walking away while also seeing herself. She turns to the camera with a disheartened expression. As I created that scene, it became burned in my mind. I knew I needed to paint that exact moment and the feeling it stirred in me. I grabbed some stills of the video and used them as references as I started to draw on the canvas with thinned oil paint. I didn't sketch or use pencil--just went directly into the canvas and placed the characters where it seemed necessary to put them. The painting is large--30" x 40"--and to paint it was to immerse myself in the scene and its shadowy imagery. The process of building the layers, often thick with paint and oil, brought up some deep emotions I needed to exorcise from my psyche. That was the purpose of this painting for me, and after I completed it, I knew I could move on in my life in many important ways. I believe art does this for us. It allows us to revisit emotions we need to dwell within for a time, whether we are the creator of a work or someone who steps into it for a moment.
To see the video I created for Dorian's Shadow--"Reflections"--the inspiration for the painting of the same name, click here. (The video is a shortened version of the full song, which can be heard here.). Dorian's Shadow is on FB at this link and on Instagram at this link.
It was October of 2019. I was living in a small bedroom out of which I also worked. I started to dream of travel and of entering a different life, a different world. I thought of Europe and how I’d only been there a couple of times but not for long enough. Perhaps I’d like to move there. I’d been living in Chicago for 15 years and was feeling that the inspiration I’ve received from the city might be starting to wind down. I was ready for new landscapes. It was time to begin a new painting, and I searched for inspiration. I found an image of a woman from a book of lifestyle illustrations from the 60s. The wistful expression of her face and the way she held her hand enticed me. It was right. I knew I needed to paint this woman. But where was she? Where did she exist? I searched through other reference images that surrounded me--books and books and eventually Architectural Digest magazine. And that’s where I found a beautiful photograph of the inside of an Italian villa. THIS was the place she wanted to be (let’s face it—that I wanted to be). It also felt deeply symbolic, with the two spaces it depicted holding meaning to me as references to my own past as well as my future. (…story continues below images…)
… I used a small hand-held projection device which I'd found at a thrift store, resting it on top of each image in the book and magazine, to throw the shapes across the room and onto my canvas. I used charcoal pencil to trace the general position of the shapes, to find my composition. Then I began to paint, roughing in the initial shapes and color. I referenced the image of the woman, but soon realized that the image wasn’t detailed enough. It was a starting place, and that was all. I had a small mirror in my room and looked into it to see my eyes and the shapes of my face. I hadn’t intended for this painting to be a self-portrait and in the end I don’t think it entirely is, but I did need to see some solid face shapes to get the effect I wanted. I spent a few hours painting my own eyes and face, eventually holding the canvas in front of a mirror to see if it made sense or needed correcting. That led to correcting, of course! I eventually came to a point that I like the face and it was settled in my mind. I wouldn’t touch it further. I moved to the scene she inhabited and worked on and off on that space, small as it was, for weeks, pushing and pulling the trees on the wall behind her to come into the right type of feeling. At times I’d see something I’d painted the day before and it had lost its luster—the paint seemed to have dulled overnight. I went at it again to bring further clarity.
My life took some twists and turns and I eventually found a new place to live which provided the light I needed (via a huge bank of east-facing windows) and more room in which to paint. This time period saw the painting sitting on an easel, the woman staring at me like some Dorian Gray, wondering when I would give her the growth around her that she needed—the completion of the wall with its foliage and trees and even eventually its fruit. I moved in March of 2020, and after some initial whirlwind efforts at decorating and setting up my new space as a proper art studio and living environment (no small task), I revisited the woman and I gave her the finishing touches she needed. This was April, and I began taking neighborhood walks outside. I heard the birds and saw the buds opening. It was the sound and look of Spring, and she was returning. And so I named my painting “The Return of Brigit,” giving the woman a name and identity. She watches over me in my studio and reminds me that I needed a larger space and more time to really make my art a priority, and that I found it (oddly, because of the pandemic). And that we can always dream of a more beautiful life if we need to. Some call that escapism. I'm calling it The Return of Brigit.
(To see the details in this painting, go to this page and hover over the image. "The Return of Brigit" is available as an archival paper print and a gallery-wrapped canvas, also on that page, and the original is listed for sale here--message me for more information).
In the Studio
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