I am not a fan of labels, but I know one thing for certain—I am not a minimalist.
I think and work in layers and thrive in complexity. The layers I create are both tactile and metaphoric. Each piece gets transformed over time with the addition of paint, textured materials, and collage elements. These elements are applied, removed, painted over, and rearranged. The richness of the surface develops its own beautiful complexity, or maximalist aesthetic.
Mine is a jazzy version of Maximalism. There is movement, jive, and a lively interplay between the elements of light, color, space, and texture. You can feel this jazzy energy in Ab Ovo (In the Beginning) a mixed media painting that has layered textural patterns beneath the painted surface. Jazzy Maximalism invites the viewer to wonder, notice, and make discoveries.
In River though Trees look for torn and cut edges, various patterned, printed, and painted surfaces in juxtaposition. These collaged elements create the forest floor, a rhythmic pattern of dark and light tree trunks and the horizontal movement of water and sky.
The black paper shapes in Earth and Sky Tree form a world constructed, deconstructed, and reassembled. It is a twenty-first century version of a “Tree of Life,” which can serve as a metaphor for change. It is an image for this moment, as many of us rethink notions about self and country in light of Black Lives Matter, the climate crisis, and the deep divisions in our country.
Western-style Minimalism keeps the viewer on the surface. A minimalist artist might say, “But that is the whole point.” An exquisite example of non-Western Minimalism is seen in Zen calligraphy. The curving arc of a kenso, or Zen circle brushed in a single breath by a master calligrapher, has minimalist simplicity and elegance. There are times when I am tempted to pursue that single brushstroke. One brushstroke can say a lot, but not everything.
This is a photo of a mail art card I sent out earlier this year, not realizing I was being a maximalist! I felt compelled to cover every square inch of that card with some kind of mark. Perhaps it was a reaction to the fact that I could control what went on that card, even if I couldn’t control a lurking virus ready to pounce on the unexpected. I couldn’t travel, but I could sure fill up a card, if not my eyes, with new sights. There is something strangely soothing to me about that image, so much so that I’m considering making a large painting based on it. Or maybe I’m more comfortable in chaos than in order.
I am an older self-taught artist. I became interested in Jackson Pollock and did throw and drip paintings for several years. I pick background and foreground colors, have some general design idea, and then randomly throw paint on a painted background, from four sides. Then I tip and tilt the canvas (attached to foamboard) to get my final design idea.
So it is a process of planning, the chaos of throwing the paint, evaluation, and then more intuitive work to get a structured flow out of the chaos. The throwing is the most important part, but the color choices before and the manipulation after ultimately lead to the success. A secondary chaotic factor is the chemical mixing of the paints, the color changes and shadings that are unplanned but welcome.
Image at top: Robin Brooks, Navigating, mixed media painting, 22 x 22 in. (photo: Christine Olmstead).