Saturday, January 25, 2014

A year in the studio

A little over a year ago, I walked into my nearly empty studio soon after a group of paintings had been shipped out for a solo exhibit. I gave myself a week to catch my breath, settle down and then resume my work in the studio.  Although I hoped to avoid the post-exhibit slump, I felt listless and directionless. I started to work on several new paintings that were directly connected to the previous body of work, but with little enthusiasm. As this continued for several weeks, I became increasingly despondent. Was I struggling because I had just hit a tough spot, or was I struggling because it was time to shift directions?  In preparation for the solo exhibit, I had narrowed my focus—not wanting to become distracted. Perhaps this was the moment to re-engage with ideas that had cropped up earlier but had been put aside.

The most exhilarating, but at times terrifying pursuit in the studio can be to set off in new directions-- exhilarating, because everything seems possible; terrifying, because nothing is certain.  To place some limits on the uncertainty I set up a few rules. First, since my paintings develop slowly over many months, I decided to do small works on paper that could be executed fairly rapidly.  Next, since one element of my recent work had emphasized areas of rhythmic busyness, I would push myself to dramatically pare down the compositions.  Finally, not only would I limit compositional complexity, I would also place restrictions on my palette.  Of course, through all of this I recognized that while these forays might yield dramatic changes in my work, they might also just lead to a subtle realignment of priorities.

Over the next twelve months I would follow my rules, completely abandon them, and then return to them once again. I found myself energized, utterly deflated, and occasionally thrilled at what I saw emerging in the studio. I would work with great enthusiasm and then hit a wall. I saw connections to topics I addressed in previous posts on this blog (Painting in Black and White; A personal take on Rockburne). But as the year progressed, I felt as if I had accomplished very little.

In preparation for a studio visit towards the end of 2013, I looked at all that I had done--looking for the common threads, looking to see which (if any) of the directions I had pursued resonated with me.  Several observations emerged from this review: It was a relief to discover that I hadn’t wasted my year; I quickly identified avenues that held little interest for me; I had a better understanding of several directions that did excite me; but I still had no idea where I was heading.

What follows then, is a glimpse of my year in the studio, roughly in the sequence that I worked on each project (some of which were pursued simultaneously). Although I’ve provided just a few images, each project includes between 10 and 25 finished pieces. 

February 2013 /       Untitled     oil on paper, 9.75 x 10.5 inches
My first series shows a close connection to the work from the exhibit, although I did follow my rule of working with a restricted palette. Determined to break away from rigid rectilinear forms, I abandoned this group after a few weeks.

March 2013  /   Untitled     gouache and oil pastel      6 x 6 inches
This project was prompted both by my interest in working in black and white as well as a desire to add linear gestures to my images. 

April – July 2013    /       Criss Cross    oil on paper, 9.75 x 10.5 inches 
Although the process would be slower, I resumed my work with oil paint on paper, with an emphasis on developing compositions that were spare, but dynamic. As the series expanded, the palette gradually shifted into colors I considered more decorative, adding an unwanted associative element. 

June -July 2013  /        This That     oil on paper    10 x 6.25 inches
I found the process of developing This That meditative and quite satisfying. Once again, I was searching for a dynamic tension while restricting the number of elements in the composition. I also wanted to dip my toes into working with curvilinear forms, something I generally avoid.

July 2013  /    charcoal on paper   8.25 x 9 inches
With this group of drawings, I returned to making visible marks but worked the image by lifting off charcoal with a kneaded eraser, rather than by adding lines on top of the field (as I had done with the gouache and oil pastel).  The drawings were executed quickly, meeting one of my rules.

August – September 2013   /   Tangle    charcoal on paper   8.25 x 9 inches
Clearly, this series marked a major departure for me. It emerged in response to my boredom working with more or less parallel lines, and immediately engaged my interest. After I built up the field of charcoal and began to draw (with a kneaded eraser), the images emerged fairly rapidly, in a single, relatively short work session. Although I've taken a hiatus from this series, it has a very powerful hold on me--I love the intense energy these drawings embody. I expect there will be another iteration of Tangle--perhaps in a few months, perhaps in a few years. 

 May 2013 – January 2014   /    Untitled     oil on wood panel    15” x 14.5 inches 
Although one of my self-imposed rules had been to restrict myself to work that could be produced quickly, I repeatedly returned to this series of small wood panels throughout much of the year. In earlier paintings on panel, I used rough sandpaper on small patches of the paintings to create textures and reveal underlayers. Now I wanted to see what happened when those areas became a more prominent element in my compositions and in my process.  As with my earlier paintings, the process entails multiple sessions in the studio until the composition of each painting begins to emerge. Thin paint layers are repeatedly added and partially sanded off.  Yes, these are slow paintings. But I stuck to my other rules of keeping the composition spare and the restricting the palette.

It is clear to me that I'm not yet ready to settle down. Indeed, there are already a few new explorations underway. But it has been a satisfying year in the studio.  


  1. Thank you for sharing this lovely and candid journey. Such a strong path! Your work and process is an inspiration. Happy 2014.

  2. One of my favorite blog posts in recent memory. Illuminating and thought provoking. I've always been a fan of your work Tamar, but this post took my appreciation of the work to a deeper level. Thanks.

  3. I enjoyed your post. Insightful, something I often find hard to do...everything takes time, to think, to plan, to execute, and to evaluate. Thank you.

  4. Thank you so much, Lynette, David, Sue and Annell, for reading and commenting. While I write to clarify my own thinking, it helps to know others find my thoughts meaningful.

  5. wonderful post about the progression of ideas, the value of setting parameters, intuition about the next step.

  6. Tamar..
    Good to hear about process..and insecurities too. Too often we see 'finished work' as if
    produced 'all of a piece'.. 'full tilt'..etc. The route that takes.. and gets us there is always
    worthwhile to reflect on and remember.
    Julie Gross

  7. If my wandering eye is any judge whatsoever, the transitions you've made resulting in your current work, has been a journey of real value. My best, Ken Tannenbaum

  8. Thank you, Tamar. Trying to find my "voice" after a year filled with change has been an arduous journey. Your post poses a methodical, intelligent, and insightful path to reconnect.

  9. Thanks for this wonderful post, Tamar. I love the way you've given yourself freedom to branch out and double back, all the while maintaining reductive elements and exquisite tension. The new untitled paintings are divine.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing so much of your work and thought process. I know this is valuable to all of us who encounter the fearful but valuable experience of changing directions and developing our work. Your post resonates so vividly with the emotional roller coaster of life in the studio.

  11. I am so gratified to read your comments, Rebecca, Julie, Ken, Pamela and Joanne. Working in the studio can be a lonely pursuit, so these conversations matter that much more. Thank you for being part of that dialog.

  12. Wonderful post Tamar! Thanks for sharing your creative process and the results of your experiments...which of course are beautiful!

  13. Interesting, inspiring and helpful. Thanks for posting.

  14. Thank you Nancy, Diane and Carol, for taking the time to read and comment on this post.

  15. The tangles are dynamic--but I read the angles as equally so. What I like most about the tangles is the depth of movement. The textured pieces made me move closer to the computer image to see how they operated. Thanks for pointing your work out to me.

  16. Seeing these paintings in situ allow me to say with certainty that these paintings are happening! They feel interconnected, from one group to another, even without the chronology. In fact they tell their own story through subtle layers and textures, sensuous winding line, and bold, dynamic graphic form. Congratulations TZ!