APOCALYPTIC OMNIPRESENCE 1968
As I make forays into my archives I can sometimes be reminded of what I live with everyday… I see this painting, inspired by the lotus napkin-fold I used to make, as I move up & down the stairway to our bedroom at Soundcliff & rue the too-visible damage from too-many, too-casual moves. It is, in so many aspects, a very complicated canvas… a story beginning in damage, as I recall.
I still own it because it was never offered for sale after the vinyl sheet in which I wrapped it [a bit prematurely] for protection while being submitted to the first juried show for which the Denver Art Museum began considering canvases without frames. I had been experimenting to build more sculptural stretchers for my canvases. I had been lobbying for freedom from the constriction of frames. The mauve of its imagery wraps over the edge onto the slanted side defined by the angled stretcher which no frame could enhance…
Rather than protecting my work, the film damaged it, fusing to the surface just enough that it could not be considered… fortunately only to the not-yet-cured color I’d used for touching-up that edge. I could repair that, but… So much for losing a win!
I had long been absorbed by the study of black & white even before the assignment given for one of my last painting classes… I thus could easily celebrate being encouraged to “let-go of color! Indeed that became part of the gestation of Leo Toye. [https://www.grbbells.com/leo-toye-returns/g]
Paint & pigment had been my life becoming much messier as a student of Abstract Expressionism. I wore jeans which hadn’t been changed for weeks… their denim thighs having become the repository for several painting’s worth of finger wipes & brush swipes… joking that they could stand-up on their own… becoming the messy badge of my identity as a painting major walking across campus. [Now, don’t I wish I had more than a mental a picture of that drag ?!]
As well around this time I learned about technical pens from my then new & now lifelong friend Francie Kendall… who is an un likely source for the use of such tetchy tools requiring to be held vertically so the ink flows smoothly flat! I need to ask how she learned about the Rapidograph she used to keep her journal… her “beautiful book” of quotations… with the beautifully dense permanence of India ink
The BEAUTIFUL BOOK painting 1967
FEK became my first patron… beginning my jewelry career with her enthusiasm. It was she who branded me GRB, as she also dubbed others in our curass with initials: WEB, FWK, SELaM. I appreciate her as “EffieKay” & she gifted me so much of my identity as “GeeHarBee”.
I fell under the thrall of the India ink those pens feed on… seduced by the notions of precision & archival permanence.
I grew up a rather simple rural classicist. I’d made a reputation even before high school for lettering the posters for school elections & the signage at the retail store where I worked. I fell in love with colorless clarity & shadows as I followed my creative roots… leading me ever closer to the sculpture l love.
Somewhere along the way I had become enamored with the sexy ink drawings of Aubrey Beardsley… very much about black & white.
All these became fertile ground for a body of work exploring richness without color. After several years of “education” in the messy color of abstract expressionism, I finally found permission for my innate sense of precision! Black, white & atonal grays fuzzling deep-light-shadow-sharp into what comes from ink-nib flow or strokes of graphite. Contrasting light & shadow. Graphically sharp or soft with sculptural chiaroscuro. Ink & pencil.
Posters. Beardsley, Daumier. Rapidograph pens encouraging calligraphic precision which eventually morphed into my own journal habit, jewelry & eventually bells!
I remember lackadaisically discovering, the evening before my final critique, that I was one painting short of the requirement. I had this abandoned canvas, pained in oil as being draped over one corner with a yellow cloth, with the implication of a border inviting me to play with the calligraphic notion of embroidering poetry a rapidograph painting… I hurriedly finished it before dawn.
BAUDELAIRE BROCADE 1967
That canvas had the usual rough texture of woven surface which most painters love for it’s “tooth” to grab the paint, but leaving brush marks which affected the quality of the pen strokes. In spite that it was made in such an impulsive rush & in spite that it used color, Baudelaire Brocade was not only accepted for class credit, but immediately whisked off by the school to be entered in the 1967 Colorado Intercollegiate Exhibit in Pueblo where it was awarded first prize in the painting division. Nice vindication!
Dorothy, Kansas & OZ… B&W & color… So many stories come as images to my mind!
For years I worshiped at an inky shrine… carrying the pens for writing my journal even when I flew, cradling them open, handkerchief in hand to catch the leaking ink “burped” while the cabin pressure equalized. I still collect those icons.
So somewhere in that period I was inspired to develop a technique to prepare a stretched canvas, as support for a ground with a surface smooth enough to accept ink from one of those Rapidographs or the subtlety of a pencil drawing. I applied several coats of gesso [a plaster-like paint] to the stretched cotton canvas, as was the usual technique, before sanding them smoother than most painters bothered or wanted. I then embedded well-worn cotton sheeting into several more layers of gesso. That sandwich of canvas, muslin, labor & gesso was then carefully sanded that surface until the tautly stretched canvas took-on the texture of nice writing paper.
In many ways, for the tightly detailed work I was doing, some variety of a more rigid board might have been a better choice, but… I guess I enjoyed the challenge of flex from the tradition hallowing that antique design. I painted several of these ultimately rather fragile wood & canvas constructions…
One of them hangs at the top of this page. Remember my mention about damage? It’s a deep indentation seemingly made by the corner of a box… stretching the fabric[s] & cracking the gesso. I’ve been loath to attempt its repair for several decades. It has hung in all my homes, even nicely on the ceiling in the Sedona house I called Up-Willow. It will eventually collect better attention…
One of those smooth canvases was a hexagon, framed in plexiglas, which I named The IDIOTS MANDALA for its complexity of pencil & ink. There is no white pigment… meaning that the network of white in the background is made of black blocks inked closely together… begging the question which positive was dancing as negative?
I was obviously working quite madly to prove my own idiocy.
The IDIOT’S MANDALA 1968