Paintings from Sunset Series by Spence Munsinger, Color Field + Blank White Canvas + Realism + Contemporary Abstract Art, original paintings for sale

"I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. ”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

Bright, brilliant stark raving color…

 

Bright, brilliant, stark-raving color, "Paper" app on iPad, by spence munsinger

 

What I love about painting is color. Brilliant, bright, stark raving color, and for me, painting has always been that dimension.

In 7th grade I took a photography class. We were tasked with working with black & white film. The development and printing for black & white film are simpler than color, the equipment is less expensive. The demands in creating images are to work with shape and tone and composition, and learn the mechanics of exposure. I had a feeling of dismay, a visceral sinking deep in my stomach, at dropping away the medium of color.

It was anathema.

In painting classes, I took solace in the burnt umber shades and tones in under-paintings. At least they had that much soft warm brown, almost sepia, color left. Black and white and greys would have been much harder and harsher…

Black & white film was a huge adjustment, one it took more than the entire class semester to get over. I now love black and white photography.

 

B&W Photograph of glass vase by Spence Munsinger

B&W Photograph of glass vase

 

I love the dropping away of everything but tone and shadow and light and dark. It is the essentials of form. And it has a softness, like seeing in shadows, in the twilight. There’s a nostalgia to it now that was not there in my younger self. I saw the small 3″x4″ photographs of my family and childhood as a primitive graphic representation of a life lived, and I had the arrogant assumption of eternity and timelessness, the embrace of the vivid ethereal color available in color film.

But in painting – God I love color.

 

— spence

 

xmind

xmind logo

Xmind is a mind-mapping software I found through a serendipitous train of thought and action.

I was working through Ariane Goodwin’s Writing the Artist Statement. She talks about clustering or mind-mapping as loading your right brain – or left brain. I can’t remember which – I am left-handed and right/left don’t work for me without conscious thought. She talked about working through it on paper. I’m a computer-oriented rather than paper-oriented process person. I went looking for mind-mapping software, preferably open-source, preferably free, and preferably running on Linux and Windows, since I find my self using both.

To quote from a section of the book “Writing the Artist’s Statement”:

“Clustering is a right brain, learning technique pioneered in the 1970s by Tony Buzan in Using Both Sides of Your Brain. Instead of using linear outlines and sequential data, he theorized that learning works best when we organize material the same way the brain organizes information, with neural pathways branching off of central points. The idea caught on, and now we don‘t think twice about dividing learning strategies into right and left-brain styles. Clustering has also been called spider webbing or mapping, and is often used to order ideas generated in a brainstorming session.”

Do’oh. Right brain… I knew that.

That willingness to see if I could find a tool for the computer to work with the technique led me to Xmind. It worked brilliantly for the exercises from the book, pushing them forward quite a bit. I am close to an artist’s statement that actually communicates effectively what I am doing right now. Once I got beyond those exercises, I continued playing with Xmind and the mapping techniques, creating a map of tasks, basically a map of my life and purposes. From that, I started using sections within the map. It has separate sheets, like in Excel – where you have a workbook and then at the bottom you can present data differently on tabbed “sheets”. Same metaphor, but without a rigid cell structure in each sheet.

The Xmind map allows a non-linear presentation – like brainstorming, but with the ability to place order intuitively as you discover or realize pieces of the process.

xmind workbook

I work this way, fluidly. I am not disorganized, if anything, I am more organized in process. Without the process, following trains of thought creatively never results in actual painting, actual product. But within that process I require a constant adjustment, re-evaluation of importance and direction, a maintaining of mementum.

The rigid structure of Excel never worked for me, and endless lists ala Getting Things Done or before that 7 Habits worked, but were heavy and ponderous, even with a computer. Re-ordering and rediscovery or adding newly found tasks wasn’t flowing even in a text editor on a computer. Xmind allows that discovery. It allows changing the whole map structure on a whim to a tree or a logic chart and then back, coloring for emphasis or intuitive grasp of importance. It’s become a favorite tool.

I would highly recommend Ariane’s book as well.

spence

expatriate artist

 

I am an expatriate Southern Californian. How I look at light. My conception of space and perspective. Color and form, translated into paint on canvas, and from that to plane and three dimensional space implied on two dimensions. All of this is sourced from this sense of being elsewhere.

I learned to see in California. I know colors and forms and techniques learned and drilled from that space. It doesn’t leave, it still influences.

I miss an ocean to the West, a long line of water and sand roughly north-south. I had always located direction and location from that. Move an ocean to the east and that expansive sense of space and innate ability to feel located is just gone.

The sun rises over the ocean in the east, backward, distorting time. The days in the northeast are dramatically longer in summer, shorter in winter.

Summer encloses space in trees and foliage, vines and bushes explode in the spring. Sight lines are interrupted, broken, occluded. In fall the space opens back up, but with the openness soon loses all color, dropping back to simplistic greys and browns and line and shadow. The space is back, but at a price of limited light and dropped temperatures.

Lying on a beach in February, in Malibu, feeling the warm grit of the sand supporting and bouying, and the sun flodding light and color. The rhythm of the waves, swells crossing huge distances over the Pacific, finally mounting the continental shelf and lapping at the edge of the world.

It is right now 14 degrees outside my door, at 4:00 PM the light is shadows, and I’ve just spent three hours clearing my driveway of snow. In New England. In the winter. Which basically implies that I’m here, this is expected and I don’t have the right to complain too much. Some grumbling is expected.

It does not feel like home here, as an artist. I don’t believe it ever will. There will always be sand and sunsets and true beaches and warm days in winter in my soul. I source images and emotion from that, and from the separation and dislocation of painting in the Northeast.

Artists are supposed to be classed by location. A “New England artist” constributes to a collector understanding the work, or at least feeling that they understand the work. I live in New England. I am a Southern California artist. That’s truth.

 

CA coast

 

— spence

 

balance and the edge of creativity

 

I’ve been thinking about the process of painting. I’m defining the sunset series, refining the words that describe why sunsets and where that comes from. I’m also looking for the words to explain and express and place myself as an artist.

 

sunset #4

 

Creativity is a balance, a choosing of alternate paths of action and thought. An intuitive sense of balance and motion, like listening to musical rhythm and counterpoint, harmony and backbeat. I sense color and emotional resonances from form and color in a particular place on a canvas, relate that to the push and the pull of space across that two dimensional surface, that transforming of planes into space and motion. From that I listen to what might be. Maybe several might-be’s. I choose.

That choice, that’s a knowing choice, with a result that I start measuring and judging the effect – what does that color and the form it takes, the plane it forms, affect in the painting? What motion does it create? What movement in the space of the canvas? What vibration? And what should happen next? And I start finding the next might-be’s.

It’s an aesthetic judgment and sense, knowing the materials and the tools, the surface and what is possible, drawing on experience, on training, and on a body of works.

Wolf Kahn wrote that art is the progression of an artist’s vision through his works, that each work reflects a progress. Mark Rothko wrote that each picture is a set of problems to be resolved. Hans Hofmann wrote that fine art is emotional resonance, like music.

 

wolf kahn

 

I read an article tonight by Johann Hari. He wrote of his experiences with a drug, a smart drug, Provigil. It treats narcolepsy, and given to someone without that condition, it stimulates alertness and from what Johann describes a feeling of effortless creativity and intelligence. It sounded so good.

 

provigil

 

If only intelligence were so easy. Before you run out a get an illicit supply of Provigil, let me remind you that the brain is a precisely equilibrated machine. Even drugs that don’t appear to have any negative side-effects – who wouldn’t want a more focused brain? – can actually have deleterious consequences.

In this case, the tradeoff involves creativity. Some of my friends who relied on crushed Ritalin during college used to joke about how the drugs were great for late-night cramming sessions, but that they seemed to suppress any kind of originality. In other words, increased focus came at the expense of the imagination. It makes perfect sense that such a cognitive trade-off would exist. Paying attention to a particular task – like writing an article – requires the brain to ignore all sorts of seemingly unrelated thoughts and stimuli bubbling up from below.

This hit home hard. Sometimes painting is an exercise in effort.

Like running. You feel tired and out of it and each step is an effort, and you get tied up in that heavy exhausted feeling. Often if you persist, that blows off and running becomes the joy it can be. Sometimes that heavy drudgery is all you are going to get this time through.

 

running

 

When painting clicks it’s like dancing, following the motions, the actions, a precision you can feel and a rightness to all of it that is extraordinary. It’s a balancing act between effort and no-thought. You have to balance between the effortless knowing of what to do next and the decisions and materials and running evaluation of where the work is moving to.

Eventually I’ll dislike something on the canvas. I’ll back away from it for awhile. Rarely, I’ll back it out, and continue. Usually, that critical balance has been lost. What I see as wrong won’t be wrong at a different time. It will at worst be a jumping off point and at best it was actually right, just the focus had been lost.

 

sunset #2

 

That creative balance would be impossible for me to achieve in a narrowed and restricted focus. The wider the net cast, the broader the attention span and awareness of now the deeper the creative impulses are. The price is that it isn’t always easy. But, it wasn’t meant to be.

— spence