Painter F. A. Alsbach
“Eventually the people decide what is truly Art with a capital A.”
A few purely subjective notes on how I prefer to paint and my own eccentric methods:
First: I try to avoid contrived ideas, clever cool cat looks, rehearsed modern or post modern points of view, stylistic devices, cues that feel to me like saying “yup, I’m cool, I’m in the know.” (Tough for someone born in a self consciously cynical fast-media, rock star wanna-be age.) I try to mentally just shut up & paint, straight up, head on. Then I edit, tune, adjust, trim, refine, and emphasize while trying to not ruin the freshness. The danger there is that at first glance this straight forward view can tend to make my paintings look “too traditional” for the hip, but hey thats ok. Afterall I’m fishing deep, not looking for a big splashy bite on the surface. When someone spends time looking they find more… which is my whole thing.
I want to gradually seduce the viewer, not knock their teeth out. I prefer to think of it as more like an unblended, well aged Scotch whiskey, as opposed to corn licker. But the only way for you to tell is in person, to taste, swish it around and smell the flavor, just a tiny sip now & then. If after that you still prefer white lightinin’ well… thats too bad for both of us.
WORD ART – FOUR DIMENSIONAL (time) PAINTING: I often write poems or prose directly onto the panels with solvent based permanent ink. It bleeds through the paint slowly over several years so that the painting gradually changes. Fragments of the writing become subtle shadows through the paint.
Paints: Gamblin, Grumbacher pre-test, M, Grahm, Windsor & Newton, Daniel Smith
Medium: I love texture. Painterliness. So that each brushstroke leaves a track I use a homemade mixture of beezwax, linseed oil, dammar, turpentine, safflower oil, and a tiny bit of cobalt dryer. I heat the mixture to the melting point of the wax. (NOTE: This is not a safe DIY project without CONSIDERABLE experience working with highly flammable liquids. Beeswax has a flashpoint not far over the temp. at which it liquifies. It burns very hot, flaming wax splashing everywhere. It will burn your house down in minutes. So be extremely careful.) I mix it to the consistency of stiff butter. The medium becomes a cold encaustic. I mix all of my colors into the medium, starting with white.
Support: 1/4″ (mahogany underlayment) plywood glued & stapled, with a cabinet makers stapler, to a 1x yellow pine cradle (stretchers).
Primed with 4/5 coats of high solid, commercial white primer & sanded smooth. Recently I’ve started using canvas glued to the panel occasionally.
SIZES: I arrive at my sizes using phi, the Fibonacci sequence, The Golden Mean. Of which many artists, and art historians have a simplistic understanding. I would refer you to Matila Ghyka’s truly great, classic little book (now out of print I believe) The Geometry of Art & Life. I essentially use the same methods ancient carpenters used, a simple compass & rule.
Resources: Nature & nine years of classical & modern art training by incredibly patient unsung hero teachers. Imagination, life, experience, sketches, memory, anatomy books, 3 Art S. Buck pose-able figures, occasional selective quotes (theft) from the old masters, whatever technique I need to use it to get the painting right in the time I have available to do the work.
How: Basically I’m from the school of trial & error. I don’t trust ideas much anymore and so I look at nature a lot, just look. I have spent much of my life working outdoors. Usually I start with a quick sketch in my notebook of something I think might make a good painting. Few of them do. In the last few years I have tended to prefer tall compositions. I like clouds and big sky. Then, back in the studio; I often find myself starting with a sketch in thin paint directly on the panel of the overall composition. I mix lots of colors, 30-40, before I start painting in earnest which helps get me in the rythm. Then , usually without thinking about it any more, I start. Moving this, deleting that, adding something here and just let fly. After the initial paint sketch I often don’t look at anything but the pallette and painting, just letting the pent up image flow out. When I start making a mess, get lost, lose focus, I usually stop. (Every-so-often the painting just rolls out, I suspect I slip in to a narcoleptic trance, called lost time incidents I think, and when I come round it’s done. Which is kinda cool, and kinda scary.) I usually have at least three or four going in the studio. I often re-work paintings after they dry. Sometimes, several times. I like the look of layers of color each worked over a semi-dry surface. I glaze a little here & there, put in a few highlights if I feel like it, scrape out the places where it’s obvious I lost track of what I was doing, essentially I tune them up. Stranglely they become sort of invisible to me after a while. I’ve moved on I guess. The whole process takes about three months, most of that time I just set them around the house to look at them. I’ll usually finish between twenty and fifty paintings in a year. Of those I burn a few, give a couple away, show some, sell some, and end up storing the rest.
In over thirty years as an artist I have built up quite a collection of my own work. Which makes me desperately sad occasionally, but then I’ll look through the old bone pile, and I think, “Hey that one was pretty darn good!” And so go on. Fool that I am… I actually believe the best of my paintings are silent songs. Songs that can uplift a heart, heal a wound, sear a soul. But after all they are just paintings, just pretty little pictures. They don’t really mean anything. Kinda outa style anyhow. Thank God style doesn’t have anything to do with it. Well… except to the exceedingly short sighted.