Its time again for me to pull an old painting out of storage and give it a look. I have recently been writing about my current work but sometimes I like to look at old stuff and examine it. For this week I’m looking at and eight by ten inch acrylic on canvas painting from April 24, 2008 called “Stay Ahead.” That name has no special meaning to me so I’m guessing it’s one of the ones I randomly chose. I name things that way all the time. I guess it’s not really random but I look a piece and try to make a name out of the first words that come to mind. Sometimes the names are inspired by the piece and sometimes they’re just words that float across to my conscious mind.

Though the painting is eight by ten inches it also has some depth to it. It’s a pre-stretched canvas that I bought form Dick Blick. Most canvases are made with stretcher bars that are three quarters of an inch thick but this canvas is made with stretcher bars an inch and half thick. I like the extra heft the thick bars give a painting but I haven’t used them in a while. I remember getting those thick canvases for fairly cheap but then the price went up on them. It didn’t make any sense to me to spend twice the price on a small canvas just for a little extra thickness. Plus they take up twice the room on my shelf.

The first thing I notice about this painting is the color red. Before I can even figure out what the image is I perceive the red. That’s unusual for my work. Normally it’s the image that I grasp first and then the color. Or maybe both at the same time if they’re inseparable. But with this one it’s that red. In looking at it I think that’s because of the shape of the green man’s body. It’s not a shape that says “Human figure.” It’s more like a triangle. The shape also takes up about half of the painting so it’s the dominant form but it’s visually behind everything making the shape sit back in space but it’s red color come forward demanding to be noticed. It’s an odd combination.

The bright red of the body almost makes a bullseye. A human figure is usually a positive shape but in this case since the yellow arrow is in front and the red body is in back, plus the body is obscured but the stuff in front of it, the yellow arrow becomes the positive shape. It’s what we see as solid object. This makes the red around the arrow, particularly the red to the arrow’s right, become a negative shape. I refer to it as a negative shape as opposed to negative space because it’s not “Empty” space as negative space normally is. The blue behind him is negative space the red between the arrow, the collar, and the green hand is a negative shape.

The second thing I find odd about this painting is the lack of face. There is only part of a face here. I like faces and like working with them and I cheated myself out of one here. I don’t know why. The color covering his face has a swirl in it, which is one of my favorite shapes, but is still not the most interesting thing in the world. I want him to pull down that collar so I can see what he looks like. Maybe that was the point. Any way I slice it I still want to see more of his face. I find the mystery a little annoying.

The second most dominant color, and it’s a distant second, is the blue in the background. It’s a tint of blue, which means it is blue mixed with white, and tinted blue almost always works as a background color. You can thank the sky for that because were used the the blue sky being behind things. The blue behaves nicely with the red. It lets the red be the star of the show but still makes its presence known. I like that about that blue. It’s a bit tricky finding the right tint of blue to do this. Often if there is too much white in the blue it sits to far back in space or if the blue has two much violet in it can move forward in space too much. I can’t remember which color blue I mixed this one from but I bet I mixed a lot of it and used it in a few paintings at the time.

The green adds a bit of mystery to the painting. It’s a dark color. Not quite as dark as the purple but since there is more green than purple the green is the dark color with the most influence. It draws my eye in as I look at the painting. I think it would be too dark without those light green stokes that are along the edges of the black line. The lines help the keep the dark green from receding too much and disappearing from our consciousness.

The collar and purple scarf confuse me. I’m not sure why they’re there. Neither the shapes nor the colors are particularly pleasing and they’re obscuring the face. Why? I don’t know. It’s also a different fashion than I usually draw. That part just leaves me cold but I’m not sure exactly why.

The part that makes me smile is the fake writing along the edges of the red. It’s something I don’t notice at first, it just reads as some yellow at a glance, but as my eyes move across the painting and I discover the writing it brings a smile to my face. I have a fascination with history and read about it all the time and I like ancient art and writing. Even if I can’t read the writing I find ti fascinating that it exists. Seeing the yellow pseudo-writing is like discovering and ancient text. So what if I can’t read it.

So there you go. This one is a mixed bag for me. I like it but there are parts that don’t do it for me. That’s how life is I guess.