Note: This was written in July 2007.
My Artistic Process
By Duane Kirby Jensen
As An Artist…
I am the voyeur who captures people's inner moments, those quiet times when they do not believe that anyone is watching. I strip away the mask to see their inner soul. I want to touch each of the emotions, which reside there. To feel the turmoil, understand the agony, loose myself within the isolation, become excited as my flesh burns from desire, have my eyes filled with tears from the sensation of sheer joy, or fall to my knees under the weight of heart break. I look inside the true mind where sexuality is allowed to run wild, unchained by puritan morals and social repression. Then, I step back and see how it emerges through the filters of societal guilt. I relish lush color that can cohabit with the darkness within a subject. An intimate dance between bright light, and deep darkness, which creates a sense of perspective that, may tilt out of time and space.
I think of my images as cinematic stills. With each brush stroke, I am creating one frame of a biographical film. Within my mind I create a whole back-story, about my subject that gives richness to their life that I try to evoke in my paintings. I want people to view the subjects, as if they were eaves dropping on a moment of inner dialogue.
My primary tool is body language. I love the angles of people's bodies, the sharp lines of noses, necks, jaw line and the flow of hair as it cascades. It reveals everything about a character. As I paint, I think in terms of film. The core of the image I am painting is what the camera lens sees. I then tilt the lens to whatever angle will enhance the particular mood I am trying to capture. But there are other people on the set, each having a slightly different perspective. I use a variety of perspectives to create an exaggerated view of reality. This also serves to heighten visual tension.
I like small brush-strokes. They feel intimate. I also paint very close to the canvas, which is equally intimate. I want the image to holdup if the viewer is an inch away or standing back 30 feet. I want people to feel as if they could actually touch the flesh and feel the exhale of breath of my subjects.
I was asked by my friend Debora, "What moves you to paint all these women? They are so powerful." I find the female form and her features to be more interesting then men. Women as a whole, tend to evoke more emotion, mystery and inner dialogue then men. Men, I find for the most part, are bland. I do paint men from time to time, but I doubt if they will ever become a primary source of material.
My best friends have always been women. I am very comfortable in their presence. Women have been allowed by society to have a wider range of characteristics then men; therefore, as an artist, I have a wider palette to paint from and towards. I also like to fall in love or feel a spark of passion for my subjects, so again women are the obvious choice for my subject matter. In those moments, that I am painting a subject, we are in relationship. As I paint, I tell them my stories and they tell me their stories. It is both beautiful and fulfilling. I also believe it enriches each stroke of my brush, flavors the merging of pigment to paper and pigment intertwining with pigment.
Does this "love" or "passion" go beyond the painting? Not really. The cold light of reality splashes me awake. That is not to say that I do not come across a woman I could fall in love with. From time to time I can see that the seeds of love are there. But for love to have a chance to blossom, one really needs to meet and interact in person. For me, at this time, the relationship I have with my painting and writing is enough. In many ways it is pure and untainted.
Some people have asked why I do not paint nature scenes without humans. Simple. I find nature to be too perfect for me to capture. I find if I try to paint it as anything but a secondary subject, it emerges as a pale reflection that lacks a heartbeat.
I love painting man-made structures. Steel bridges. Buildings. Roads. Walls. Thinking about it, these are the men in my work. Men are the historic builders. They have shed blood, dripped sweat, left skin and finger-prints over these constructions. They have sworn and cursed, then loved and praised these structures. In some cases they have given a life. For many people, these man-made constructions are inanimate. For me they are alive with the character given to them by the passion and will of there creators.
I am also moved by interiors. Most of my rooms are either empty, or if decorated, furnished in a spartan manner. I believe, if one of my characters is experiencing loneliness, longings, or isolation, they view their surrounds with a minimalist eye. They just recognize the hard lines that surround them, as their mind filters out all the inconsequential nick-knacks that weigh a life down. If this is how my character sees their surrounds, then this is the perspective I want the viewer to share.
Water and sky are always key elements for me. They hold out the chance of tomorrow and renewal of today. The sky warms the day and, if we pause to hear the song, water breathes into us the rhythms of the earth. If earth is truly woman, then, it must be her song I hear. She whispers to me, "Paint my daughters, paint the mothers, and paint the female in all of her strength and beauty and even her moments of weakness and doubt." That is why I paint women.
How Do I Produce So Much Work?
It seems like I paint all the time. I would guess that I devote 10 hours a day to the process. Some days it is just sketching out an image I plan to paint. Other times, I am just lost in the world of painting. Even when I am driving or nodding off to sleep, I am thinking of painting. How I am going to approach an image, colors, brush-strokes. I will complete a painting in my mind, admire it and then decide to go another direction. It is all part of the process.
Then there are days like yesterday, which is promoting. That is equally important. I believe that by getting the work out for people to see and hearing their comments helps me avoid any type of artist block. Even so I spent about 3 hours in the morning and another 3 or so in the evening painting on a new piece. There are always pieces awaiting ink.
I even fit a real job in. Work is such that I may not see a customer for 1-3 hours and then I see 20 in the next hour. This gives me time to sketch and sometimes-even paint while getting paid for my other duties. Plus the job gives me a lot of Internet time so I can network and participate in a community of creative people. As driven as I am to paint, I also need to satisfy the verbal.
The Creative Fire Veers Painter's Block
I used to suffer from painter's block all the time. I wanted every brush stroke or pencil movement to be perfect. If it wasn't the way I envisioned it to be, I would toss it away or just stop. What I have learned, and what works for me, in both writing poetry and painting, is to get my ideas, good or bad, out of my system. The bad ones get tossed away. This part of my process is to just cleanse my palette so that new ideas have a place to form and grow. If I were to leave things in my mind, and not give birth to them, I would be so mentally constipated as to never be able to create again.
If someone was to drop by and see one of my paintings a third of the way through, they might shake their head and say, "He has lost it. It simply looks awful." I would love to have every line perfect from beginning to end, but it is the end result that matter for the viewer of my paintings. Much of the journey can be dirty and chaotic, but it is through these travels that the painting gains its soul. I love to get muddy, but I do not expect people to invite me into their lives until I clean up again. This is all part of my process.
With Regards to the Materials I Use
I love the texture that I get from Strathmore Cold press 140lb Watercolor paper (400 series). The ink I use is New Formulas FW Acrylic Artist Ink. Most of the time I use brushes, but occasional for tight spots I use bamboo.
The color that is most important to me is Process Yellow. It is really the key to the mood of my paintings. I am using 3 bottles to 1 of any other color. Other colors I couldn't do without is Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Light Green and Process CYAN 120. I seldom use white.
People have asked, do my ink fades? I have seen no fading. If anything, the colors have become richer as time passes.
When I paint with acrylics, which is something I have seldom done this year, I use Golden Acrylics. I love their creamy texture and the rich glow that they give to my paintings.
In July I picked up a great artist table from Daniel Smith Art Supply. The Table is an Alvin Workmaster Table 479 050 015. If you are looking to get a new table check this one out. It is stable (no wobble), and offers plenty of room (38-60).
I love the surrealists as a whole, but Salvidor Dali, Dorothea Tanning, and Yves Tanguy are at the forefront of my thinking. The two artists whose work mine most resembles are Edward Hopper and Edvard Munch. The underlying theme that these artists deal with is isolation and internal dialogue, which is the core of my work.
I would say that cinema has had the greatest impact on my creative process and me as an individual. More specifically, Film Noir. I can point to both the films and the posters that sprung from this movement as shaping how I see the world. The aspect of Film Noir that I am most attracted to is the individual's disenfranchisement from society, and then from the group until he is isolated, even when surrounded by a crowd.
Other cinematic influences include the mood-induced lighting of Marlene Dietrich in the films by Josef von Sternberg and cinematography, Christopher Doyle, who has worked on many of Wong Kar-Wai's movies, such as Chungking Express (1994) and In The Mood For Love (2000). From these films, I bring away a sense of tone, perspective and another way of looking at life. A caption from In The Mood For Love captures a sense of what I try to evoke as a painter: "He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty windowpane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct." (1)
The following statement was written about Chungking Express. "The camera styles add a common surreal element to each of the stories, while still keeping them somewhat independent. Perhaps the most striking element of the film is the interconnectedness of the characters and situations. There are many establishing shots showing characters inhabiting the same places at different times, and even the same places at the same times without noticing each other. This style of filming can alter the viewer's perception of reality, daring us to believe that we are all extras in somebodys movie." (2) This also sheds light on what I try to do as a painter and the direction I am heading towards.
I appreciate how Christopher Doyle describes how he sees the world. "I left Australia when I was 18 and I've been a foreigner for 36 years. I think that's very important to the way I work because as a foreigner you see things differently. But I started making Chinese-language films so I regard myself as a Chinese filmmaker. I just happen to be white. Or pink, actually." He also stated, "I really think music and movement - dance, you know - and literature inform my visuals. I think film is also based in dance. The relationship between me, the camera and the actor is always a dance. (3)
Music also has a heavy influence on my work. I am enraptured by music, which possesses a dark melancholy wrapped in a sense of loved loss. The artists that have played the biggest roll are: Maria McKee, Dead Can Dance, Portishead, This Mortal Coil, Pink Floyd as well as Techno and trance.
I have always viewed myself as a foreigner, a stranger in my own land or a person out of phase with time. As a child I grew up believing that I was an orphan, to the consternation of my family. I value my family and relationships, but I have never felt a part of them. This creates a distance in how I see myself and how I interact in the world I inhabit. My ex-girlfriend, Lizzy, always referred to my thinking processes as 'pretzel logic', because I can see and weave multiple threads of ideas and beliefs into a unified whole that creates sound points, but whose logic is disquieting to most people and how they see the world. I possess a rebellious mind, from which springs my paintings and writings that examine the isolation of the individual both in society and within their own mind.
The Artists Who Influenced Me
Edward Hopper (1882-1967) Many of his paintings utilized and investigated the themes of solitude and isolation on his subjects. His work also expressed the stark vastness of America, which only served to enhance the loneliness of his subjects.
Dorothea Tanning (1910-) "Tanning's paintings have evolved from her early surrealist evocations of perverse cildrens games and fantasies to experiments with different painting and, later, sculptural approaches--although her involvement with symbolic and dream material has remained constant." (4)
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) "We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one's innermost heart." (E.M.) (5)
"Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life." A number of modern sources have described Munch's illness as probably being. (6)
Yves Tanguy, (1900-1955) "Yves Tanguy was inspired to make art by the inner world of dreams and the subconscious mind. Rather than reflecting the external world, his painting combines realism with fantasy and mystery in an expression of a private experience." (7)
"Yves Tanguy's paintings have a unique, immediately recognizable style of nonrepresentational surrealism. They show vast, abstract landscapes, mostly in a tightly limited palette of colors, only occasionally showing flashes of contrasting color accents. Typically, these alien landscapes are populated with various abstract shapes, sometimes angular and sharp as shards of glass, sometimes with an intriguingly organic look to them, like giant amoeba suddenly turned to stone." (8)
Salvidor Dali, (1904-1989 I have seen a nice selection of his work in person. What amazed me most were his drawings and those paintings where he used ink. These opened my eyes to a medium I had not tried before. It has since become my pigment of choice. More then any other artist, his work showed me how to look inward and bring those emotions and thoughts into the light of reality and then to give it a twist.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) Basquiat initial notoriety was that of a graffiti artist. In the 80's he found international fame as a highly successful Neo-expressionist. When I look at his work my mind becomes free-er.
Lois Silver (1950-) Her work is reminiscent of Hopper, although her paintings are richer and have a glow, which resonate.
Bibliography & Links for Further Research
In The Mood For Love
(7) http://www.artsconnected.org/artsnetmn/inner/tanguy.html \