Using Found Surfaces as Random Image Source
Finding a Random Surface
For decades, I have used found surfaces to inspire me. Scraps of old torn wallpaper or advertisements found in a gutter, or the back of a rusty road sign can be full of surprises. Usually it is the accretion of experience, history, and the textures these surfaces possess that appeals to my eye.
Sometimes I photograph them and use them as material in a digital decalcomania process. Sometimes I have used them as if they were a sketch for a painting, which I then develop and explore on a new surface. This one is unique as a random image source, because it began life as a painting discarded by another artist and was left to collect dust until I asked if I could have it.
Acquiring the Surface
I spotted the painting sitting ignored in a corner, untouched for several years. There was something about it that intrigued me. I asked if I could have it. The artist agreed and gave it to me to do whatever I wanted with it.
I recently asked that artist what she could still recall about the painting. She said that it had been started as a horizontal semi-abstract bio-morphic landscape. But it had lacked any real reason to exist, she came to realize the she had not known why she was painting it, so she had abandoned it.
Using the Random Surface as Inspiration and Canvas
The first thing I did was to turn the landscape on its side so that it became a potential portrait. I was in love with Naples Yellow at the time and began to cover ever-increasing amounts of the original painting, in some places hiding what the first artist had done while leaving it untouched in others.
The forms on the far right side remain exactly as they were when I acquired the surface. Only now they are vertical and refer to or suggest a figure, not a landscape. The cloud-like forms in the sky above the main character also reveal some of the original color and brushwork.
Announcing What I Saw
What had prompted me to want to work on this surface was the complex main figure that I saw or sensed in the middle of the canvas. It was just waiting to be announced and celebrated. That is exactly what I did. This process introduced me to the namesake of the work The Duck-Billed Hat and the struggling figure underneath burdened with the weight of the main character, both leaning into the landscape or Wandering in Diagonal Land.
I especially enjoyed the surprises this surface had to offer: the six-fingered hand, the erotic bird being played like a stringed instrument, and of course “The Duck-Billed Hat,” which is at the same time a mysterious and goofy head. I also liked that the main figure exits the frame both at the top and the bottom of the composition leaving the completion of the figure and the world in which it wanders to the viewer’s imagination.
This painting was a total delight to paint. Or should I say finish. It did not take long to do and just seemed to come together by itself. I have always felt a special fondness for it, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its rather crude execution and bizarre content. When I look at this painting, I remember how much fun it was to discover its surprises and I enjoy being reminded of the original artist as well.