From Point A to Point B or Someplace in that Neck of the Woods

time and place and circumstance
copyright 2022, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic, gouache, ink and paper on canvas
28″ x 22″

People ask, “What’s your painting about? How did you do it?”

Every artist, writer or other creative person knows these questions. Inquiring minds want to know. The answer is usually some kind of song and dance about the creative process, choosing the right paints (paper, tap shoes, guitar strings), the muse, inspiration, one thing and another.

I was advised early on that it would not be enough to say, “I just like the way it looks (or feels or sounds).” And yet, so much about creative work is exactly that. About some idea we have of what we want to convey.

In the creative world, this may be especially confounding, and arguments ensue about what Van Gogh or Gaugin or Cezanne or Steinbeck or Hemingway or Bojangles really wanted to say with their work. A carpenter can talk about wood and screws and nails, but other creatives (read artists) who are honest are more inclined to shrug and say, “I just like the way it looks (or feels or sounds).”

The process itself is never smooth. In fact, it’s a complex matter of trial and error and more trial and more error. But to answer the question as best I can, I want to say a little about my own process, and about the abstract expressionist painting process in general, which is where I hang my hat.

I’ve made a few notes. I’ve also consulted my favorite and most practical/helpful art books – Bayles & Orland (Art and Fear) and Robert Henri (The Art Spirit).

I’ll begin with these words from Robert Henri who taught and wrote his book long before abstract expressionism saw the light of day: “We are not here to do what has already been done.”

Many artists might say, “Exactly right,” but abstract expressionists live by these words.

As for my own process, I’ll speak about it without trying to dress it up. I’ll speak about it in humble and egregious confusion which more or less boils down to “Can any abstract artist clearly explain what the hell they’re doing?”

Jackson Pollock gave it a try: “I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”
-Jackson Pollock

What he didn’t specify, but what we all know is that the art is in the process. It’s in the making. We’re pleased when someone else likes one of our works, but it’s the process where the joy and fun and holy moments happen for better or for worse.

Yes, I know the art critics and writers and many artists themselves will argue the point and they would be as wrong as they are right. What I have to say is based on my years in the creative world as a creator, as a patron, as part of an audience and, for a few years, as a reviewer myself.

Mistakes are made. Imperfections abound. Happy accidents are just as often unhappy accidents.

Without further ado, my day-in-the-life report of my experience and process as an abstract expressionist painter:

-Put a fresh canvas on my painting table (I don’t use an easel).

​-Start with gesso and light tint (random color choice).

-Add the first bold strokes in one or two colors that call me.

-Step back and take a look. I like what’s there, but it’s not enough. Interesting but way too minimal, and it doesn’t say anything to me yet.

-Add more strokes, more colors…beginning to look good, beginning to say something.

-Hang it up and let it dry for a few minutes or an hour, sip my tea, listen to some music.

-Decide to do some touchup, add more colors…here is where things can fall apart…an idea that looks great in my head but not on the canvas…even abstract work can go haywire which is why a four-year-old can’t really do it and neither can most ten-year-olds… result is too often equal to a portrait with the wrong nose. What was I thinking? Now what?

-Hang the canvas on the wall across the room again and take a break to consider the mess I have now made (not what I was going for…the messes are never what we’re going for).

-Eat chocolate or any other handy snack…drink rapidly cooling tea…listen to Kermit Ruffins’ New Orleans jazz…”Sunny Side of the Street.”

-Tell myself I should never have paid attention to wonderful Myra who encouraged me to go to art school, and what was so wrong with writing and landscaping and working in the flower shop anyway?

-Calm down and read a passage from Bayles & Orland on process, to wit:

“The truth is that the piece of art which seems so profoundly right in its finished state may earlier have been only inches or seconds away from total collapse.”

Well, exactly! Inches away from total collapse!

Hope springs. I may still get the piece right and, truth to tell, I usually do. At least to my own satisfaction. When the colors feel right and when I can hear a tiny voice say, “Okay. That’s good. I like it.” It may not look good to another person, but when I hear people at the shows tell me how they like the pieces and what the pieces say to them, I figure I’m on one right track or another.

The line of poetry for this title comes from another of my Maine poems titled “Swimming Lessons”:

Pisces, me and Cancer, you. Water creatures,
Swimming separate oceans, east and west,
Tangled in strong nets cast out by
Time and space and circumstance…

When viewers express surprise at the direction my paintings take, I think of Robert Henri. I have always walked a different path and was once told that I was “too damned independent for my own good.” I smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

4 thoughts on “From Point A to Point B or Someplace in that Neck of the Woods

  1. I am inspired by the strong independent women I know! Count yourself among them…Love, Molly

  2. I like it when you speak “in humble and egregious confusion,” – something I guess which happens which one is “too damned independent for (her) own good.” Keep it up!

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