Why Lines and How Did They Come to Dominate My Painting?

Those of you who have known my work for some time may be thinking that this recent obsession that I seem to have with lines as of late is something of a large and abrupt departure. After all, these lines are so regular, meticulous and straight where any line that I created in the past was probably anything but. I have to admit, creating a painting of thick, regular lines come as sort of a surprise to me too. But continuing to create even more paintings of lines comes as even more of a surprise to me.

Because it intrigues me that I can be surprised by myself so easily, I’ve asked myself what I can possibly find so interesting in a line and where did this come from. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I’ve been painting even more lines and I realized that the question is a really big one, and one that I don’t think has an answer, or at least, it doesn’t have only one answer.

Beautiful Trash: Dualities of the Mind and Other Things

Leah Wilson, Dualities of the Mind and Other Things

Strangely enough, painting a painting of lines was a really scary thing for me to do. How in the world can I show you how amazing I am at drawing and painting if I can’t knock your socks off with some crazily intricate painting? How can I be a real artist if I don’t pull off some magical feat of layering? How can what I’m doing be even considered art at all when you too can take out a ruler and draw some lines of your own?

This may be a very ridiculous thing for me to fear since I have been known to sit in front of a Rothko painting for a considerably long time and have never questioned its validity as art. (OK, Rothko’s paintings aren’t really lines, but I don’t care. I love his work.) And Barnett Newman’s zip paintings make me really excited about those very intriguing vertical lines of his. Agnes Martin’s work is solidly placed in history as a major artist and makes my list as a major personal influence. And what about Robert Ryman who obsessed over painting white on white? And there are many more. If anything, I should be afraid of venturing into territory already explored by many amazing artists.

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

Barnett Newman - Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Barnett Newman – Vir Heroicus Sublimis

 

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin

Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman

My fears are not rational, but what fears are? The fact still remains that I want to show off how well I can draw. But so what? There are tons of artists who draw well, better than I can do myself.
There are some days where I can go into my studio and congratulate myself on being so bold as to dare to paint something so simple as a bunch of lines because by doing so I have conquered some narcissistic fear. But so what? That’s not actually why I paint them. But it’s probably a big reason why it took me so long to start to paint them in the first place.

I have discovered that I have some myths about what art is that I apply to myself, but don’t apply to other artists. I care very much about Barnett Newman’s zips. But why in the world would you ever care about my lines of color? It’s easy for me to fall into some nauseating self-deprecating reasoning that you probably won’t care because the only reason that I make and care about them is that I happen to be neurotic. But that’s not true. I am not neurotic. But it’s an easier path to take, to just blame what I am doing on the neuroses that I don’t have, than to try to think about why I care about these lines so much.
So I won’t try to explain to you that I am crazy so I don’t have to feel like I need to convince you or me that these lines are art. In fact, it won’t do any good to try to do any convincing at all. It would only serve that fear by feeding it.

But I still haven’t really gotten to any of the reasons why these lines now exist not only as a singular painting or project, but as an evolving series that absolutely thrills me. Sure, getting over a fear and discovering and dispelling a personal myth is thrilling, but not enough to get me to paint a series that doesn’t seem to have any end in sight.

So, reason number one is that I am fascinated by the process of creating the lines. And even though I have completely mapped out the colors before I ever begin painting, I am absolutely surprised by the finished paintings. I really don’t understand how these paintings can hide themselves from me when I have already created their detailed blueprints and never deviate from them. And after the paintings are finished, I hang them on my walls in my house to live with them. I meticulously mixed those colors to match my blueprint exactly, yet throughout the day the colors seem to change, sometimes so dramatically that they don’t appear to have any relation to the colors that I squeezed out of the tubes to make them. I don’t thoroughly understand that either. I don’t understand how something that appears to me so intellectually simple can elude my understanding in so many ways. That keeps me going to my studio to paint line after line after line. How can something so simple be so elusive and intriguing to me?

I’ll leave it there for now because I a) don’t want to write a blog post that goes on for pages and pages and b) writing about painting the lines has made me really want to go paint some more. So that’s what I’m going to do. More on these lines later…

Any thoughts on this? Please leave a comment to let me know!

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