“Warm and rich, rich and warm, which is which?” Like a mantra, these words echo through my mind as I stare at my painting, trying to discover its name.
I’ve hardly bothered with naming other paintings. They seem content with brief descriptive titles: “Sea Cave as Seen from Highway 1,” “Blue Bowl with Dancing Poppies,” “Landfall, the Marquesas.” Some I never name at all, or having scribbled something on the back of the painting before framing, have since forgotten.
But these recent abstracts seem to want more. Or maybe it’s me that wants more. We have a complicated relationship.
It began with a playful intent, the desire to enrich myself with color, to see what these two vibrant colors in juxtaposition had to say to each other, and how they made me feel as they danced across the page and spilled down the edges.
It started with oil pastel, a ribbon of red, a ribbon of yellow, swirling across a blank page. Then a line divided them, not evenly, but generously. Each color sat side by side, like lovers in conversation. But what they had to say swirled around them, crossing lines, and mirroring each other. Each crossing enriched, lighting up and warming the other. They seem separate and distinct, yet the swirls of pastel beneath them, the patterns that play across the line, unite them.
They seem two but are many. On one side, first vermillion, then scarlet, then crimson, each layer texturing and deepening the other. On the other side, cadmium yellow, quinacridone gold, drips of vermillion. Streaks of French ultamarine blue on the left, then a swathe of it at the center washed away. More gold on top of that. A glittering of yellow oil pastel at the center creates a single, subtle eye.
The whole process is like a conversation between myself and the painting that emerges on the page. The paint and brushstrokes, like words we use to speak to each other. Do you like this? Not so much. How about that? Better, but I need something more. No, not that. Yes, this. I love, love love this! Big smiles all around.
Making, erasing, dripping, glacing, washing away. On and on it goes, not knowing when to stop, where to stop. Then stopping.
Once it’s complete, the question comes. How do I know it’s done? What makes it complete? Is there simply a sense of resolution? Of satisfaction? Or the sense that any new mark-making will be its unmaking? A made-thing would be undone, so therefore, no more making? I do not know. The painting itself seems to tell me it is done, and I cannot translate the words.
But now the naming. How do you name such a thing? Can it go unnamed, untitled, a mere number? Why not? In truth it is nothing. Paint, paper, play. It’s not even art. Who is to say it’s art? Who can proclaim with absolute authority, this is art, this is not?
There is but one creator. One I. It spills through each of us, every day, every moment, each time we pick up a pen, a brush. Each time we walk into the kitchen and pour a cup of tea, a cup of coffee. What is this? A new thing.
I am the only one who can name this new thing. It came from me, or at least through me. It swirls around me. All that crimson and gold, warm and rich, rich and warm, but which is which?
All that spilling together, washing through me as I view it, as I take it in, this painting, this new-made thing. A part of me, speaking to me. Creation to creator. What is it saying?
“Like two lovers in conversation.” It speaks and I complete its thought, I speak and it completes me. And so we name it.