I’ve been working on edges this week.
In Walt Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland, there’s a musical number, “Painting the Roses Red,” in which the minions of the Queen of Hearts are tasked with doing just that – painting the white roses red.
I’ve been humming that tune all week, adding my own words, “Painting the edges black.” And doing just that to the pieces I’m preparing for the art show. I’ve chosen not to frame the pieces, but finishing is required. Hence, painting the edges black. It’s not the same as working on a new piece, but there’s a nice Zen feel to it, the steady and slower work of carefully dipping my brush in the black paint, carefully applying that paint to the edge and nothing more.
While I work, my mind is on edges. All kinds of edges.
A friend from New England once visited me in the wide wide West and was physically uncomfortable because it was “too big.” He needed edges. Edges. Definition. Boundaries.
In their wonderful book Art and Fear – my constant companion in the art-making world – author/artists David Bayles and Ted Orland speak of edges in a chapter titled “Metaphor.”
“Sooner or later…every visual artist notices the relationship of the line to the picture’s edge. Before that moment the relationship does not exist; afterwards it’s impossible to imagine it not existing. And from that moment on every new line talks back and forth with the picture’s edge. People who have not yet made this small leap do not see the same picture as those who have — in fact, conceptually speaking, they do not even live in the same world. Your work is the source for an uncountably large number of such relationships. And these relationships, in turn, are a primary source of the richness and complexity of your art.”
After I re-read that passage, I took another look at my paintings and – lo! – Bayles and Orland are quite right. I saw something different about the work I’ve been doing. I understand something different about the work I’ve been doing – and about myself as an artist.
Writers know that there’s often something in their work that they didn’t “intend,” but it’s there all the same and readers will sometimes remark on it. It’s like a light going on for the writer.
It’s a great thing to begin to understand one’s own work.
The black edges still have to be done, but it’s the edges on the faces of the canvas that matter to me. And I’m pretty sure I understand why.