Last week I spoke about fear as it relates to my painting process. Fear motivates me in a strange way to do easier things as a step towards doing harder thing. In the case of my current painting obsession (Pilot #4) my trepidations about starting a new and complicated drawing series lead me to work on this Pilot work first.
I’m pretty familiar at this point on how to put together works in the Pilot series, and so this fourth piece in the set is a comfortable work to design, even though its much larger and more unwieldy than the other three paintings in the set. I realized the other day that I never explained how I structured this series beyond its overall theme and so I thought I’d do so now, since I’m at the mid-point for the set.
This painting series is designed to have a loose narrative starting with an opening painting that I call a “chapter house”. This painting is a kind of image bank supplying much of the relevant motifs in the series. Following the chapter house work are three pieces I call “struts” – paintings which are like stylized portraits in which elements in the painting peacock across the picture plane. Pilot 4 is the last of these strut paintings in this set. After its done I’ll begin the really exciting and ultimately terrifying works in the series, the “battle scenes”. These works are supposed to depict the idea of achieving success despite overwhelming odds. The final work will consist of a kind of “anti-chapter house” or epilogue. This work will be a celebration piece filled with a super-dense cacophony of activity like the first piece, but with the same scale of Pilot 4 only it will be in a horizontal rather than vertical orientation.
These works all reference each other and share the same set of motifs and overall design. However, some design elements have happened by accident. For instance many of the pieces so far share a similar diamond-shaped composition. I realized this was happening after I noticed the pattern in “Pilot #3” and so now I feel obliged to carry it forward with the rest of the works. Whats similar throughout so far is that disembodied heads representing John C Robinson and a random drone pilot float around and act as witnesses to the drama unfolding in the center of each work. Also, stylized airships float through heaving cloud-scapes. Ultimately these ships will be engaged in pitch aerial dogfights by time I paint the battle works. A blood-red sky, linked chains attached by rainbow disks and an array of floating angels and mythical creatures also show up in each work and will continue to as I more forward.
I don’t regularly spell out my painting plans like this but I’ve been doing a lot of writing and thinking about my work and others – specifically the amazing Norman Lewis who I just discovered and Trenton Doyle Hancock – and I thought it would be a good change of pace to be very literal about this Pilot series because I think it speaks to tradition of this kind of abstraction particularly among African-American painters. This tradition I think is one of world-crafting and the use of avatars as stand-ins to depict often painful or nuanced issues within themselves and in society. Setting the plan I have for these works in words also keeps me honest regarding my intentions and gives me a point of departure in case there are any changes to my plan.
Change interestingly is something I’m a bit adverse to in my pieces. I almost pride myself on a certain consistency and rigidity of approach in painting. It’s what makes my works look like my works. I am aware though that they also make them sometimes stiff. However since this series is far larger and more ambitious than I originally intended or hoped for – due I believe to me unexpectedly getting into the Banana Factory in February – surprising things like my obsession with my secret paintings, and the animals and angels popping up all over the place in this series, has for me infused these works with some really fun variety and forced a change in my technique. Okay that’s it for now. Here are some studio shots of Pilot #4 at the mid way point.