I begin with a blank canvas, looking out at some part of the world in front of me. I find something that feels significant, something in which one could sense ones place in the universe. I look very hard at it - into it, and at the same time into myself - and I paint what I see. My opening strokes define the direction I will head in during this painting - they define the scope of what will appear on my canvas, they begin to define the colors, they begin to give life to a feeling of their own. I used to do a little lay-in drawing of my objects - an outline - but I’ve found that doing this removes the spontaneity of the “mistakes” that may end up being among the most interesting parts of the painting. The work grows organically because I have not limited it. But I stay focused the trajectory of my painting as it develops, so it stays cohesive. I almost always learn something.
My thesis is that if I am true to my experience and to myself, I’ll have a good starting point. And if I am true to what I am creating, the whole time I am creating it, I will come away with a painting that is whole and alive, and in it will be that part of perception where the world and I meet. I’m calling it Phenomenological Expressionism.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes phenomenology as being “the study of essences.” The way I paint can definitely be described as being this. “Phenomenology is accessible only through a phenomenological method,” he says. And Phenomenological Expressionism is perhaps that - a method of self expression and truth-seeking that acknowledges the notion that “truth does not ‘inhabit’ only ‘the inner man’, or more accurately there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.”
If I want to take a project of artistic self-expression seriously, I need to acknowledge what “self” is - or perhaps where it is. If the basis of my self-expression is perceptual (which, as a painter, it is) then I had better understand that it is “because we are in the world, [that] we are condemned to meaning.” I must start with my perceptions, my place in the world and its place in me, in order to arrive at meaningful paintings. Accordingly, to “self express” becomes an act of self discovery in which the act of painting is an investigation into the relationship between myself and the world in which I reside, and simultaneously the creation of an autonomous artifact, in this case a painting, with its own life independent of its own creation.
The phenomenological starting point is not sufficient - it is merely where my job begins. If I want my art to be significant and meaningful, alive and whole, if I want it to speak to humanness, I have to figure out what all these things mean in the world. And this is the captivating part. It has to do with the structure of things, in which all parts of it are activated, working for itself, in which the form of it and the meaning of it are truly identified as one. It is a structure in which the individual stones are more beautiful in their humble service to the wall, the wall is more beautiful in its humble service to the building, the building is more beautiful in its humble service to the town, and so on.