“Slumber On” is the name of this small acrylic painting of mine. It’s horizontal rather than my usual vertical so I guess that makes it ten by eight inches. Like all the other names of my artworks this one was named whatever popped into my head back when I first did the sketch so it doesn’t offer much insight into the intent of the painting. The painting is dated 5/28/08 but that’s the date I finished it on so it was worked on for the few days prior to that too.

This is one of my face paintings but with a twist because it’s as much about the negative space of the sky as it is about the face. It’s cropped so that we can only see part of the face, An eye, and ear, half a mouth, and the hint of a nose. I’ve done quite a few of these small paintings where you can only see one eye. More often there is something over the second eye like hair or a hand but there is only one eye nonetheless. I think it can add intensity to the face looking out at us as a single eye is not focuses on a point out in space but is always looking at the viewer. Once again my habit of making the painting look at the viewer comes through.

You can see this is one of the few times I broke my own rule about always making lips red no matter what the color of the face. I went with green for the lips. I don’t remember why I did that but it looks weird to me even all these years later. Not necessarily bad but unusual. That’s what happens when I break my own rules.

Devoting about half the space of the painting to the blue of the sky is also unusual for me but that doesn’t look weird at all. I like that part. First off I like the blue. I don’t remember which blue I made it from but it’s a tint. That means a lot of white was added to whatever blue I used. As I look around my studio I see a lot of blue that I’ve used in paintings but this is the only one with this particular tint. It gives a sense of the far away sky to the painting. A depth of field that goes on forever. Most of my painting have a more defined, modernist, “Painting as flat canvas” space. I like that I can peer into the infinite with this one. It’s more “Painting as window”.

The secondary major shapes in this painting are the three orange triangles. They work as abstract shapes of hair and also as surprise or “Spidey sense” lines coming off of the characters head. What they are is up to you but I tend towards hair even if they transform away from hair in my mind as I look at them. That’s one on the thinks I like about putting the search for meaning into my paintings is transformation. Things can be more than one thing at a time or shift between two things. From hair to surprise and back again. Either way their triangular shape server as a signpost arrow that leads the eye from the painting’s eye into the deep space of the sky. But it’s a tough sky to stare into so the eye settles back onto the figure and is drawn up to the character’s eye and the conveyer belt continues.

There is a little bit of my mystery writing in this painting. That’s when I make something that looks like it could be ancient or alien writing. It’s in orange on the characters forehead and neck. The mystery writing seems to me to be the painting trying to communicate something that is just out of reach. If only I knew the language it would be knowable. Once again the search for meaning. I find it interesting that the writing is on the neck and face as if it were tattooed on but it doesn’t follow the shape of the face but follows the edge of the canvas. That, once again, says, “This is a painting”. That’s my 20th century roots. My realism is the realism that this is a flat canvas that I am turning into a painting.

The painting is also all about stillness. The stillness of the figure and the stillness of the infinite sky. Yet there is some movement in it. The earring of three small yellow circles. It’s moving on its own as if caught in the wind. Yet because it creates an arc with the three orange triangles and the angle of the neck and shoulder the earring seems still. I’ve always found this a little odd. I hardly ever perceive the earring as anything but still even though I should see it as moving. I guess it’s because of the space it occupies.

I can remember one of my early painting critiques back in college. I was learning to paint and had no idea what I was doing. All my brush strokes were hesitant and searching except for one. I had put a stroke of color down in one bold move. My teacher, Nancy Davidson, pointed out that was the one stroke that no one would argue with. It looked like it belonged there. A brush stroke of paint put down with conviction is a pretty thing. That’s what the thin green brush strokes on the character’s shirt are. Pretty things. They look like they belong there and no matter where the search for meaning brings you in the rest of the painting you know those green strokes are supposed to be there. They anchor the search for meaning in solid reality.

There are a few other painterly flourishes, the dots of color on the face, the stripes of the shirt, and the repeated strokes of paint on the right side, but in the end “Slumber On” not about flourish. It’s about stillness. Except for those green lips. They just won’t stay still. Maybe that’s why I made them that color.