Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Size Matters

There’s a tradition among some Native American ceramists that I know, which I have always admired. These artists consider the selection of materials as the actual starting point of their art making process. The location they choose to collect their clay is just as important, as the making of the clay pot, and is in fact a deciding factor in how the final piece turns out. Modern artists are fortunate to have most ingredients and materials pre-made and ready-made. Paint comes in tubes, canvases are pre-stretched and even primed. But we still have choices, and the choices we make right in the beginning are an essential part of the process of making our art. Sometimes we just take it for granted, but what we choose pre-determines the end result. Before the first brushstroke is even considered, an emotional “content” is already inherent in the choices we had made.

Take, for instance, selecting a painting surface. Large, medium or small sizes each carry a different emotional weight. Anything painted on a small surface will appear to the viewer as a “gem” or a precious object. Something medium sized ( any side measuring about half a person’s height) will be more directly personal. The viewer is imagining looking in a mirror if it is vertical, and looking out of a window if horizontal. Any size that is our height or larger will evoke a “cosmic” or grandeur of the universe appearance.

Some artists use this emotional content regarding size to their advantage. Here is a painting by New York artist Chuck Close, who paints close-up intimate portraits on super large scale formats. The jolt between what you expect and what you see adds a dynamic quality to his work.
Once we establish size and orientation, where we place forms within that painting space also carries different emotional expectations. For instance, something placed near or on the bottom of a painting needs to be large and “weighty” (either physically or emotionally) because this is the pedestal which holds up the rest of the imagery. Our continual relationship with gravity still holds sway when we look at a painting. And how about this new craze with square formats? A former teacher of mine, David True, would call a square canvas the “boxing ring” because of the energy battle contained in the square shape.
At times, I have found small surfaces to be more difficult to paint on than larger ones. This is because, for me, a large canvas is like writing a novel. I can paint a large variety of things in an aggressive way. While a small surface is like writing a haiku. I need to be more precise and execute it simply and directly. When I embark on a new series, I will often begin with several large works, then as I clarify my thinking I more easily move into the smaller pieces. Below I included a small and large image from my latest “ocean” series. The large one feels more like a grand ocean, whereas the small one focuses on one wave.

Here is my latest small painting, measuring a mere 8” x 8”.

While in comparison, here is a larger painting, measuring 46” x 36”.



Blogger Kelly Snelling said...

hi nancy! your new pieces are beautiful. i recently ordered your book from north light and, much to my disappointment, it is on backorder! i hope that means it is selling like hotcakes. also, i am wondering if you will be teaching anywhere in southern california this year. that's where i am. by the way, i'm kelly, the girl who sat by you at the f&w author dinner at CHA in anaheim. i hope you are doing well!

April 10, 2008 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Nancy Reyner said...

Hi Kelly!
I just emailed you back.
Good luck with A Charming Exchange. It looks like a great book!

April 21, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

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