In which I gush about the “star-dust” dream that is cycling—and absorb its charm in a new conversation in paint.
Cycling–remember riding your bike when you were a kid? That feeling of freedom. That feeling of simple joy. There’s not much else like it for us earthbound creatures.
Once you start, it is easy to catch the bug… or bite the dust. Literal dust? Well that too, but here, I more so mean biting a star-dreamy dust. One taste, and for many of us, we’re hooked.
This new painting aims to capture that bright bliss. Here we have a brand new aficionado of this two-wheeled dream. The painting was commissioned by my friend Dan who has been an avid cyclist for a long time. It was one of the things we became friends over, way back when. I was freshly returned from a year in Japan, cycling–often in groups–to get basically everywhere. I absolutely loved it.
I had the bug. Or bit the dust. The star-dreamy dust, yes.
Now my friend’s wife (Christina) has got it! The painting pictures her riding one beautiful bike around the track on a brilliant day. The whole scene, to me, is a pretty darn good emblem of the sheer joy of riding a bike. Props to my friend Dan for taking such a good picture in the first place!
Dan says, “I like the photo because C is so happy, and she is riding a bike that has a cool back story, that I built it for her, and we were just having a fun day at the track.”
There we have it.
I used an abstract approach combined with elements of realism to portray that youthful sense of freedom along with the shared happy joy at the track.
But wait. Abstract and realism? These are two opposites. In many ways, yes, but arguably abstract art is the most “realistic” form in which to capture abstract experiences like freedom and enjoyment. In much of my painting these days, I am hoping to toy with how real and recognizable objects, places, events, and people combine with the more slippery qualities of how we experience them. What do they make us feel, think, do, dream? Our experiences of qualities like freedom don’t have objective forms per se. Or do they? That is one important question of this project.
For example, last night as I was falling asleep, I felt particularly comfortable, and my mind represented this feeling to me as a mint turquoise velvety marshmallow ocean, but just the surface. There was no mysterious depth. It was a simple physical comfort. Comfort (abstract) as soft mint turquoise (observable).
The task in this type of painting, in brief, is to take a photograph that strikes the collector in some way and transform it into something larger than life, evocative of the real yet elusive and abstract experience.
A picture itself holds more than its parts. My aim is to draw this more out through the observable abstract elements of art: line, shape, colour, light and dark, and so on, in and of themselves. What lines and shapes create a feeling of movement? What colours create our experiences of emotions? In this way, I am pushing realism into the abstract for it to feel more real in those big ways that are important to us.
Tall order? Yes. It is very much a work in progress. I am enjoying the process immensely.
I may simply be describing expressionism, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that name for what I’m doing here.
That and I’m stubborn and I want to call it what I want to call it 😉 . I’ll think on it some more anyway. To be continued…
So anyway, colour
In this painting, my friend Dan hoped I would capture the senses of happiness and connection of the moment. The smile is a recognizable form of happiness, but the palette of fluorescent pink and brilliant blues and greens also go a long way to create the elusive experience we call happiness. They are used to bring much energy and warmth to the painting and suggest the feeling of a brilliant sunny day.
Notice that red would have brought a completely different feeling to the painting. The energy would change from sort of happy vibrant to intense and possibly even anxious or strength and power. Red would tell a completely different story.
Line and shape
Then the poured paint and brush stroke patterns are meant to suggest swift motion and interconnection. The images are worked into the web of poured paint to emphasize this interconnection between everything in the scene, even the viewer. I can sense Dan in the scene, behind the camera. Likewise the viewer is implied to be there, in that witnessing perspective.
As we are social creatures, smiles invite us in. As the bike spills out of the painting, we are invited to sort of feel ourselves as part of the action, watching things happen, not just looking at a painting. The perspective and direction of lines and brush strokes also invite you to follow the path, with Christina, to feel the warmth, swift motion, and interweaving balance. And our mirror neurons allow us to experience the swift ride.
My own subjective input
With these last elements combined in this way, I aimed to capture that sense of almost slipping into a swiftly moving stream that happens when you hop on a bike. You’re inside a freshening flow that comes with the speed of the wheels and the rush of wind over your body. Somehow you take everything in as you move through your surroundings, in a way that is unique to riding a bike: completely exposed to the elements, moving quickly but not so fast as to make your surrounding world a blur. You breeze through it. It breezes through you. This is the sweet stuff of life, if you ask me, to be in this flow.
For me, I feel both a sense of the scenery receding into the background, and the forward motion of the bike along the path. I can feel myself inside the movement of the painting, so to speak.
An intuitive process
It’s funny. When I describe the thought and technique that went into the painting, it sounds like the whole process was very logical and carefully planned out. In truth, this description is a hindsight explanation of a much more intuitive process. There is some important logic that goes into these projects to be sure, but in practice, that logic recedes into the background as I work with the paint, the picture, and the surface. And the reality is not achieved in closely focusing on details but larger patterns that only emerge with eyes blurred and executive functioning placed in the back seat.
The logical brain doesn’t rightly understand how the parts of a picture form meaning and experiences as a whole. It understands bits and pieces, but it is the intuition that puts them together meaningfully.
A part of life, A part of larger projects
I used to cycle everywhere, and I miss that feeling, but I’m happy and grateful to see others enjoying it.
And I am grateful for the invitation to relive it vicariously and appreciate this simple pleasure through painting. My main squeeze in my study and appreciation of life in all its oddities and wonders, its darkness and light. Through the contemplation that creating art involves, including commissioned art, I feel a deeper connection to similar segments of my own life and to the human experience in general. I hope this is true for the viewer as well, in particular collectors like Dan and Christina!
This work is a part of a larger project of collaborative abstract paintings. I collaborate with collectors to get the sense of the abstract meaning of an image and how it comes together. Like this one, each painting aims to capture or evoke some sort of abstract but universal experience–in this case, the freedom, connection, and enjoyment.
There is something elusive to my experience with this particular painting that I can’t really describe yet. Words here catch at it, but there is more still.
My original Instagram post adds a few interesting thoughts.
Like the others in this sort of abstract realism series, this one aims to portray the scene as diverse but interconnected, while also emphasizing the illusion of discreteness we experience between ourselves and our surroundings. We see ourselves as one thing, when we are in fact many things highly organized, which is also true of anything, be it natural or human made. We are each more properly a whole in relationship to our surroundings, not just in relationship to our bodies and possessions. Anyhoo…
“Real” v Abstract?
This collaboration called for the cycling to be recognizable as cycling. My challenge here was to really balance the abstract with recognizably real objects, events, and people. It was a challenging challenge (haha), as I would typically lean more into purely abstract forms: shapes, lines, contrasts, etc. that suggest motion, mood, and particular feelings and experiences or events. I like to leave enough ambiguity to allow the viewer’s imagination to play a big role in the painting’s meaning and associations, in how it lands for a person, not anchoring the image in a clearly defined “reality.”
I suppose I am challenging what we normally consider to be reality as well.
This painting above, for example, of a sunset through a plane window (turned on its side) captures more of the abstract senses of wonder and dreaming (day or night) that both a sunset and looking out a plane window (flying above the earth!) can evoke. Less of the actual plane window and sunset, more of the associated feelings, which can arise through many objects or environments in life, which this painting could remind people of.
Of some interesting possibilities people have mentioned, one is looking through a porthole under water, seeing light filtering down from the surface. Another is an abalone shell. I love these! The form is less important than the experience.
The Real & the Abstract: Both/And
However, I found with this painting that a sort of traditional realism (esp. attention to objectively recognizable detail) can be mashed up with the abstract and achieve curious results. I don’t know that I would experience that bidirectional motion in this painting without the recognizable cyclist in the foreground.
Also, what one person sees and experiences in this painting is still not necessarily what someone else will see and experience. Those of my friend and his wife will be unique and important, yet the painting is also still universal and open enough to the musing of imagination.
For me, it reminds me of my many biking adventures and in particular, how they felt. A-maaay-zing. Even in the rain, once I got on the bike, all was right with the world.
And on that note…
What do you see?
I am always curious to know when I work in the abstract…
What do you see? Where does your mind travel when you look at this painting? Memories? Feelings? Stories? Curiosity?
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
To balance, connection, joy, and freedom. Enjoy life, friends, whatever that means to you.