I spend a lot of time alone. But being isolated for most of the day doesn’t mean the mind stops chattering. It chatters constantly, but the dialogue is either internal (between entities whose identities are still undetermined IMHO) or with that object in front of me, the WIP (work in process.)
Is there such a thing as a dialogue carried on with a painting? This is hard to describe to someone whose thinking is precise and linear. But for many of us, the objects we make are conversational and they do engage in a back and forth of ideas, tensions, directionals, outcomes. No, they are not sentient beings. But maybe they are something else. Maybe they are a something that has its own dynamic arc of aliveness. Like I said, this is hard to describe.
Something that showed up in a conversation between painter Philip Guston and art critic David Sylvester touches into this if just obliquely. Here is Guston talking about the picture plane:
We were talking yesterday at the studio about the picture plane, and to me there’s some mysterious element about the plane. I can’t rationalize it, I can’t talk about it, but I know there’s an existence on this imaginary plane which holds almost all the fascination of painting for me. As a matter of fact, I think the true image only comes out when it exists on this imaginary plane. but in schools you hear everyone talk about the picture plane as a first principle. And in the beginning design class, it’s still labored to death. Yet I think it’s one of the most mysterious and complex things to understand. I’m convinced that it’s almost a key, and yet I can’t talk about it; nor do I think it can be talked about. There’s something very frustrating, necessary, and puzzling about this metaphysical plane that painting exists on. And I think that, when it’s either eliminated or not maintained intensely, I get lost in it. This plane exists in the other arts, anyway. Think of the poetic plane and the theater plane. And it has to do with matter. it has to do with the very matter that the thing is done in.
And later in the conversation, Guston shares a few more painterly insights:
It’s terrible to rationalize about painting because you know that, while you’re creating it, you can have all sorts of things in your mind consciously that you want to do and that really won’t be done. You won’t be finished until the most unexpected and surprising things happen. I find I can’t compose a picture anymore. I suppose I’ve been thinking about painting structures for many years, but I find that I know less and less about composing and yet, when the thing comes off in this old and new way at the same time, weeks later, I get it, and it arrives at a unity that I never could have predicted and foreseen or planned.
Ah, the love of uncertainty. The thrill when “the most unexpected and surprising things happen.” Surfaces seduce and entities evolve: It is exquisite getting lost in the mysterious pageant of the making.