6/113/13 DAY 2: liang creek, 72x38" / by Philip Tarlow

6/12/13 DAY 2, stage 1: liang creek, 72x38"

completed painting

below is my response to a question from a good friend regarding a recent blog post:

re:what zhao says about not trying to create an illusion of reality but rather offering a work to be read as a set of brushstrokes on a flat surface--how do i internalize that as the viewer? why does that make a difference to me except that i won't be saying that the work doesn't look like those particular mountains. why is his explanation important? it is to him obviously. and to you. to me? why? 


well, i won't give you the long answer till we next meet. the short answer would be unsatisfying.

so....lets start with me. which will I hope answer your question "why does this make any difference to YOU?"

why this is meaningful to me is that, as a painter who, at this point in my life, is equally comfortable in the realist and abstract arenas, I have become aware recently of a set of signs and symbols beginning to show up in my work that equal but are not illustrative of creek, water, branch, current, etc. this evolution was not consciously planned.

but it does address observations i've made and resulting questions that naturally arose after, say, a day at the met, where i may have looked again and again at the brushwork in a franz hals sleeve, a velasquez lace collar, and so on. i would feel the visceral thrill i know the painter was feeling as he boldly brushed his whites, which defined "sleeve" and "lace" while concurrently having a life completely their own. i had a high degree of certainty that, had they lived a few hundred years later, they would have felt perfectly comfortable getting off on the sensuality of the strokes without having to press them into service as devices for describing bits and pieces of our known visual world. they would have CUT LOOSE! they would have known with far greater certainly than they were allowed at their time that it's all a grand illusion, which we put back together every morning when we wake up, to feel safe and secure in the world. or, to quote Janice Joplin at the end of her live performance of "ball & chain" (on the joplin anthology, disk 2), "it's all the same fuckin' day ma-n-n-n-n."

so in my evolution as a painter I am blessed at having lived in a very vibrant milieux (athens) where the realist me could flourish and develop, while all the while receiving clues & tantalizing hints from my friend & mentor tsarouchis (1910-1989 worth visiting his site: http://www.tsarouchis.gr) that the chinese knew, way back in the 8th century, that the "landscape" was simply a good excuse to make beautiful, meaningful, informed, evocative, personal marks on a surface which, combined with poetry, (see my 6/10/13 blog) allowed the viewer to more fully enjoy the equivalent of those hals brushstrokes in and of themselves, without necessarily having to attach "mountain" or "rock" to them. so, theoretically, this could dramatically change how you look at and experience any great work of art. and potentially make it more fulfilling, able to notice the painter winking.

when I saw this recently in maxwell k. hearn's superb book, published in '08 by the met, "how to read chinese paintings," it was as if I had been struck by a bolt of lightening! it suddenly all came together. what tsarouchis had said that day as we walked down the street in athens suddenly fell into place & made complete sense! and my tang & song chinese buddies winked at me and said "so, you finally got it tarlow!!"