On Form (Part Two)

Visual rhythm exists around us in all spaces and at all moments.

What is meant exactly by the term “visual rhythm?” As an abstract concept, we may perhaps define “rhythm” as the perception of patterns. In music, we perceive recurring metric patterns—that is, events in sound that are separated by spaces—as rhythmic. Of course, the greater the amount of regularity and similarity perceived between events in sound, the more likely we are to describe something a rhythmic. Conversely, a complete lack of perceivable regularity or similarity is labeled as “arrhythmic.” On the one hand, for example, the sound of a jackhammer is described as highly rhythmic because, not only is each strike of the machine equally spaced, but each strike also maintains at any given moment a nearly identical timbre (or sound color) and dynamic level (or volume). On the other hand, the composite din of a busy city street could be described as arrhythmic; it is comprised of many different sounds (people talking, cars driving and honking, radios blaring, maybe even jackhammers hammering), each sound characterized by a unique timbre, a unique dynamic level and a unique amount of repetition, which combined, is perceived as chaotic or arrhythmic.

Visual rhythm works in a similar way. It is the perception of repetition in the objects that surround us, and as a principle of art, it becomes perceivable when positive shapes are repeatedly positioned in a composition while being separated by negative space. Additionally, the conscious application of a particular visual rhythm becomes, along with negative space, an integral element in the creation of form within a work of visual art. You may remember in my last blog on form, I primarily discussed negative space and the use of negative space to create an atmosphere, to create the “feeling” within a painting. Well, if meaning exists within the negative space, then visual rhythm is the primary way in which one may organize the negative space. In fact, the two formal elements—visual rhythm and negative space—work hand in hand to create the form of any work. One cannot really exist without the other, and both play an equally important hand in directing the feeling and the atmosphere of the work.

In art, five basic types of visual rhythm are recognized: regular rhythm, alternating rhythm, random rhythm, flowing rhythm and progressive rhythm.

  • Regular rhythm occurs when positive shapes and negative spaces produce repetitive “visual beats”—or rather, the size, color and texture of the positive shapes is uniform as is the negative space between those shapes (although this does not necessarily mean the shapes and the spaces are the same) and the uniformity of the pattern becomes predictable. Perhaps the most often cited example of regular visual rhythm is that of a brick wall.
  • Alternating rhythm occurs when a visual motif changes at regular intervals (as opposed to merely repeating). Think of the black and white squares of a chessboard.
  • Random rhythm occurs when positive shapes and the negative spaces they create are not repeated or are repeated without order or any clearly planned arrangement. Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings” could be described as primarily exhibiting the characteristics of random rhythm.
  • Flowing rhythms are created when curvy or wavy positive shapes and negative spaces are repeated. A good example of a flowing rhythm would be floral patterned wallpaper (or a painting of wallpaper, like the painting Red Room by Henri Matisse, which was discussed in my last blog).
  • Progressive rhythm occurs when there is an incremental change in the motif or visual beat each time it is repeated. Progressive rhythms are, in part, responsible for the perception of a three-dimensional perspective on a two-dimensional plane (like a canvas). Imagine looking up at the seats of a theatre or stadium—as they get further away the pattern they create gets progressively smaller.

In previous blogs (specifically Captured Moments and On Form (Part One)) I have discussed how the four separate themes that suffuse my work—water, sky, trees and birds on branches—allow me to access, to capture, in different ways the fleeting moments that continually pass through our lives. You could say that each visual motif provides in some sense a different perspective through which to view and explore these moments. It just so happens that these four motifs also roughly correspond to four of the different visual rhythms, allowing me to explore not only a unique perspective on a specific moment in time, but also to explore and even highlight a specific visual rhythm. For example, whereas the water and sky motifs lead primarily to an exploration of flowing rhythms, and at times, even of random rhythms, the birds on branches and tree motifs lead me to an exploration of more regular and alternating rhythms. Progressive rhythms exist in many of my paintings, a gradually changing color or shape usually pulling the mind’s eye into the canvas and creating a feeling of depth.

Four examples of different types of visual rhythm, left to right: Among the Oaks and In the Light of the Silvery Moon – examples of regular and alternating rhythms, Grand Finale and Imagine – examples of flowing and random rhythms

As a way of underscoring what I have just described, I’d like to look at two of my own works and view their form through the lens of visual rhythm. The first of these is a relatively recent work entitled Suspended. As an example, I like this painting very much as it shows how the conscious choice of a specific visual rhythm (or lack thereof) can help reinforce the concept behind the work. In this case, the composition of the painting is comprised primarily of a random rhythm. Additionally, because there is a total lack of progressive rhythm, we lose a sense of dimensionality—or rather, we don’t feel as though we are necessarily going into the painting. The result is a feeling of stasis, of a moment suspended. Furthermore, with this particular painting, one could not really point to any section of the canvas and designate it as “negative space.” Instead, the meaning lies not in the negative space, but rather is implied by the specific visual rhythm that I have decided to use (or, conversely, have not decided to use).

Suspended (2017)

In the painting below, we can see how two different types of visual rhythm define the different sections of the canvas; the upper quarter of the canvas could be described as exhibiting a random rhythm while the lower three-quarters exhibits both a flowing rhythm—comprised of smooth curving lines—and a progressive rhythm—the lines becoming both smaller and less defined as they move up the canvas. Additionally, the various colors that characterize those same lines become duller, or less rich, as they move up the canvas, progressively blending until they essentially become one tone. Where Suspended could in some sense be defined as a painting about slow transitions, the result here is one of contrasts, a juxtaposition of movement; the top portion of Concurrence­, filling the role of the static backdrop while the lower portion of the painting, fills the role of dynamic character—continuously moving across the canvas while simultaneously disappearing into the distance.  Again, the concept behind the title is in some respects fulfilled by the visual rhythm; two unrelated visually rhythmic instantiations—one dynamic, one static—occurring side by side, conceptually disparate yet bound together by the canvas.

Concurrence (2017)

From one perspective, visual rhythm exists to arrange the negative space; it gives form to the atmosphere that surrounds the subject matter and can intensify the emotion that is trying to break through the canvas. From another perspective, visual rhythm can define, to a greater or lesser extent, the divisions of the canvas; the texture created by contrasting rhythms, as much as by contrasting colors and shapes outlining the different sections that combine to create the whole composition. Perhaps more important than either of the preceding perspectives, visual rhythm creates varying degrees of movement. Movement conveys not a snapshot or an instant of time, but rather a moment in time—a brief period that has a beginning and an end. Visual rhythm, as much as negative space, then allows me to create and capture these moments, which exist at the conceptual heart of all of my paintings.

Out the door! book signing

Book signing at Gallery for Out the Door! to Benefit Planned Parenthood

Out the door! book signingOn Sunday, June 11th from 4:00- 6:00pm, Margaret Lockwood Gallery in Sturgeon Bay will host a reading and book signing for Out the Door! by Marianna Beck writing under the name of M.L. Collins. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to benefit Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

A satirical novel set in Door County, Out the Door! has been described as a story that’s a little about everything: geology, sex, politics, the environment, prairie voles, cheese curds, casinos, aphrodisiacs, sturgeon, trilobites, gulls, Hat Island, bit of mystery – and much more!

Reviewers on Amazon have called the novel “a delightful romp of a novel”, “a story packed with intrigue and madcap comedy”— “full of lots of twists” and with “characters well-developed and quirky.”

ML Collins book artworkM.L. has worked as a free-lance writer and lectured extensively on the history of sex, fashion and culture at institutions including the School of the Art institute, the university of Chicago Graham School and most recently, Columbia College. She divides her time between Chicago and Door County.

Light food and beverages will be available. Margaret Lockwood Gallery is located at the corner of Michigan Street and 2nd Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. Parking is available in city lots kitty-corner across from the Gallery, down either way of 2nd Ave., and on 2nd and 1st Avenues. For more information call 920-493-2912 or email info@margaretlockwoodgallery.com.

Margaret Lockwood Painting

Join Us at our Season Opening Reception on May 28th

Margaret Lockwood Gallery in Sturgeon Bay hosts its traditional season opening reception this Sunday, May 28, 2:00- 5:00. Featured are ethereal landscapes and tryptics by Lockwood, jewelry by Angela Lensch and Skye Ciesla, ceramics by Renee’ Schwaller, large-scale sculptures by Dan Bresnahan and mobiles by Steven Haas. Music will be provided by Cathy Grier (a.k.a. NYC Subway Girl) and food and beverages by Nistebox catering.

Margaret Lockwood Gallery Jewelry

New to the Gallery for 2017 are Skye and Haas. Skye began her extensive career as a sculptor but became frustrated with what she felt were its limitations and so began experimenting with works combining fiber, wood and bead embroidery. Her work is featured in boutiques and galleries from coast to coast but long time admirers will also see the influence of the large stenciled banners she has been working on for concerts of Bob Dylan’s music.

Haas’s mobiles fascinate people with their graceful movements and technical challenges. Inevitably there are comparisons with the work of Alexander Calder. Haas loves avoiding high tech equipment so each piece truly has a life of its own some with representational imagery but mostly free- form. A recent group from the Boys and Girls Club thought they saw fire, water, trees, and sail boats all in the same mobile.

Lockwood continues to explore her landscape themes of paintings interpreting the felt emotions of trees, skies, waters and dreamy vistas. Often the viewer has the feeling of “I know that place” even though no such place actually exists except within Lockwood’s vocabulary of loving Door County, its changing seasons and sheer beauty. New this year are a series of medium size tryptics playing with inside and outside, open and closed, day and night.

Margaret Lockwood Season Opening Reception  Margaret Lockwood Painting

Dominating the patio area are the sculptures of Bresnahan with several wall hanging pieces arriving for the opening. Lensch’s woven gold and silver jewelry is stunning, Schwaller’s ceramics colorful and a bit whimsical.

For the reception the Gallery is pleased to welcome singer-songwriter Grier to inspire and entertain those attending. She is becoming known throughout NE Wisconsin as a passionate performer, advocate and the producer of the Tamborine Lounge’s Thursday night’s Writers’ Night for musicians, poets, storytellers and artists.

Food and beverages will be available from the great folks at Nistebox. Margaret Lockwood Gallery is located at the corner of Michigan Street and 2nd Ave. in the Steel Bridge Creative District. Parking is available in city lots kitty-corner across from the Gallery, down either way of 2nd Ave., and on 2nd and 1st Avenues. For more information call 920-493-2912 or leave a note on facebook or email info@margaretlockwoodgallery.com.

…meeting/introducing my influences (part two) …

A couple of weeks ago Allin and I spent several wonderful days in San Francisco. It usually rained in the morning and evening, but was sunny during the day, and as a result we enjoyed crystal clear springtime weather. We ate great food, traveled around a beautiful city, and went to see Hamilton (which was wonderful, but not quite so wonderful as I expected). However, as I related in my last blog, the main reason for going west was to see the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit, which is currently on view at the SFMOMA.

The exhibit met my expectations and more! While the connection between Diebenkorn and Matisse would perhaps not be particularly obvious when viewing their works separately, because of the interesting way in which the show was curated—that is, the artist’s works were generally paired, presented side by side—the influence Matisse exerted over Diebenkorn became as clear as day. In fact, as I had mentioned in my last blog, Diebenkorn collected many books on Matisse and made detailed notes about his work. These same books, as well as many of his notes and clippings (often written directly into the books), were on display at the museum and pointed directly to the long study of Matisse’s art that Diebenkorn made.

…technical influences…

With each pairing the connections between the painters was on display, and many of their similarities involved technique. For example, clear technical parallels could be drawn between the brushwork of the artists; the way in which each artist loosely layered different colors (often related, sometimes contrasting) in order to create a vibrant and texturally rich composite hue. Take the paintings below. We can clearly see a connection between the loose brushwork in Matisse’s Woman with a Hat and Diebenkorn’s Seated Figure with Hat. Additionally, look at the fields of yellow in each painting; notice the layers of paint that combine to create a rich background. Of course there are differences: Matisse layered related colors; Diebenkorn applied a layer of yellow over a contrasting deep blue or violet.

Matisse and Diebenkorn artwork
Left: Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905
Right: Richard Diebenkorn: Seated Figure with Hat, 1967

Which brings me to color in general, and one of my favorite pairings of the exhibit: Matisse’s Goldfish and Palette and Diebenkorn’s Urbana #6 (below). With these paintings it is impossible to avoid the stylistic differences, yet there are equally unavoidable connections between color palettes. Observe in both paintings the islands of blue, the daubs of pink, yellow and orange. Also observe the geometric division of the canvas: in Matisse, columns of white separated by columns of black; in Diebenkorn, a horizontal stratification of black and white.

Goldfish and Palette and Urbana #6
Left: Henri Matisse, Goldfish and Palette, 1914
Right: Richard Diebenkorn: Urbana #6, 1953

Both Diebenkorn and Matisse were able to draw you into a painting through their use of color. In the paintings above, each artist framed the edge of the painting with strips of color (Matisse: right edge) or black (Diebenkorn: upper right corner, bottom edge), creating a foreground, middle ground and background while maintaining different levels of abstraction. In the pairing below, it’s possible to see how Diebenkorn followed Matisse, drawing the eye deep into the painting by connecting the different perspectival planes with his use of orange.

The Blue Window and Woman on a Porch
Left: Henri Matisse, The Blue Window, 1913
Right: Richard Diebenkorn, Woman on a Porch, 1958

…thematic influences…

Each pairing also reinforced the similarities between the artists and their subject matter. The first example already provided a clear example of Matisse’s influence on Diebenkorn’s choice of subject matter; both paintings depict a seated woman with a hat. However, the “thematic” similarities went further. The paring of Matisse’s Red Room with Diebenkorn’s Recollections displays not only a connection between subject matter and composition, but also Diebenkorn’s appropriation of Matisse’s use of wallpaper patterns as a way of creating contrast between a flowing visual rhythm (the wallpaper) and a geometric division of the canvas.

Red Room and Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad
Left: Henri Matisse, Red Room (Harmony in Red), 1908
Right: Richard Diebenkorn, Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad, 1965

And finally, with Matisse’s Interior with a Violin and Diebenkorn’s Interior with a Doorway, it is possible to detect an appropriation of atmosphere—that is, the exploration and juxtaposition of the cool interior against the warm exterior (below).

Interior with a Violin and Interior with a Doorway
Left: Henri Matisse, Interior with a Violin, 1918
Right: Richard Diebenkorn, Interior with a Doorway, 1962

If there were a single aspect of the exhibition that I found to be most interesting, it would have to be viewing the stylistic convergence between these artists. It seemed that as Matisse grew into artistic maturity he became more abstract; his paintings began to explore fields of color as much as subject matter (an exploration that Mark Rothko would begin extend in the late 1940s). Conversely, it seems that as Diebenkorn grew into his own, and became more influenced by Matisse, he became less abstract. The decade that saw Diebenkorn’s temporary return to representational art—between the mid 1950s and 60s—could be characterized as the period in which this convergence was most pronounced, the result of a “meeting in the middle” between individual, yet related, styles.

The Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit was without doubt the highlight of our trip. In particular, getting the chance to inspect Diebenkorn’s technique up close—his brushwork, the way he layered paint—was incredibly instructive, and gratifying as I noticed that, when underpainting, Diebenkorn seemed to use mainly warm colors, something (I am happy to say) I do as well! Additionally, I discovered techniques that I was not expecting to see. In particular, the framing of the painting that I alluded to in Urbana #6 is a technique that I like very much and may consider using in the future.

A great adventure, a great exhibit and a wonderful art lesson!

…meeting/introducing my influences (part one) …

Toward the end of this month Allin and I will be heading out to San Francisco. Of course at this time of year it always makes sense, as a resident of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to head toward the warm air, blossoms, and sunshine that beautiful city is associated with. However, atmospheric reasons aside, we are also going for another more personal reason: to see Matisse/Diebenkorn, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s newest exhibition.

I think it is safe to say that almost anyone who will be reading this blog will have heard of the famous turn-of-the-century French painter, Henri Matisse. I think it is equally safe to say that the mid-twentieth-century painter, Richard Diebenkorn, is less well known. He is, however, an artist who has exerted an enormous amount of influence over my personal style.

…Richard Diebenkorn…

Richard Diebenkorn was born in 1922 and lived in Portland, Oregon until the age of two when his family relocated to San Francisco. His art career began in the early 1940s, studying first at Stanford, and then, after two years in the Marines, at the California School of Fine Arts. His early works could be best described as an extension of the abstract expressionist movement. These paintings are comprised of bold colors, fluid lines and shapes, and have an iridescent quality and a vibrancy that continued to infuse all of his work.

Richard Diebenkorn Berkeley 46
Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #46, 1955

Diebenkorn perhaps made his biggest contribution to the art world with his return to representational art in the mid-1950s. Considered a founding member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, Diebenkorn spent much of the 1950s and 60s painting and drawing landscapes, figure studies, and still lifes, fusing the qualities of his take on abstract expressionism with the work of Henri Matisse.

Richard Diebenkorn Cityscape 1
Richard Diebenkorn, Cityscape 1, (Landscape No. 1), 1963

In 1966, Diebenkorn moved to Santa Monica, a move that saw his return to pure abstraction as well as the beginning of his most famous group of paintings: the Ocean Park Series. Marked by a geometric division of the canvas, the Ocean Park period still retained the bold juxtaposition of colors that had marked all of his work – perhaps the synthesis of his early abstractions and the geometric landscapes that characterize the San Francisco skyline.

Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park 79
Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79, 1975

…Diebenkorn and Matisse…

It was during his formative years that Diebenkorn was first exposed to the work of Henri Matisse. Diebenkorn is said to have gone to great lengths to seek out Matisse’s work in museums, at exhibitions and in private collections. Wherever he happened to be living at the time, Diebenkorn would seek out books on Matisse, buy postcards of his art, or cut it out of magazines. What did Diebenkorn see in Matisse’s work? What attracted him to that particular artist? In Matisse, Diebenkorn was drawn to his use of bright colors, his fluid lines that were often juxtaposed with geometrical shapes or a geometrical composition. He admired his figure studies, his forays into abstraction, and his willingness to change styles with his location. In Matisse, Diebenkorn found a lifetime of influence and inspiration.

The Blue Window and Woman on a Porch Paintings
Left: Henri Matisse, The Blue Window, 1913 Right: Richard Diebenkorn, Woman on a Porch, 1958

…looking inward…

I have found that, Diebenkorn may have exerted the same kind of influence over my own work that Matisse exerted over his, and of course, I am therefore very influenced by Matisse. But I point to Diebenkorn directly, because it is through his “Matisse-filter,” and through his other idiosyncratic techniques, that I can draw a clear connection to my artistic past. While I have perhaps been most heavily influenced by his brushwork, by the rich textures and vibrant colors that result from the many layers of paint that have been applied to his canvases, I have also been deeply influenced by his use of contrasting colors to divide up the canvas (a technique of mine that is equally as indebted to Mark Rothko), and to that end, by his geometrical division of the canvas. I have found in many of my own works a strong compositional connection to his paintings, to the bold shapes outlined by color and separated by texture. I have found that without knowing it, Diebenkorn led me to an atmospheric approach to space, and a desire to capture in that space the luminous and fleeting experiences that pass through our lives.

Ocean Park and Skys the Limit Paintings
Left: Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #68, 1974 Right: Margaret Lockwood, Sky’s the Limit, 1997

So, off we go, to enjoy a warm and sunny atmosphere (or possibly a wet and cloudy one), to capture whatever feelings and experiences our trip may bring, and to capture and hold onto whatever secrets Richard Diebenkorn and Henri Matisse may be willing to share.

Margaret Lockwood Painting - Homecoming

On Form (part one)

In my last blog, I discussed the slow emergence and development of four separate themes in my work, themes that have reappeared often enough now that I refer to them as visual motifs.  Additionally, I touched on the twin roles that these four visual motifs have assumed, these motifs: 1) aid in creating a coherent body of work and underlying conceptual constant, and 2) act as a visual medium, each allowing me to capture and explore, in a variety of ways, every aspect of the atmosphere that inhabits and defines those fleeting moments in life which exist so vividly in our minds eye, but are nearly impossible to describe or convey in conversation or with the written word.

Put another way, the visual motifs that I have developed provide a concrete reality, a stable image that all viewers can agree upon. Against this backdrop of objective reality I can then attempt to create the subjective and subtle atmosphere that exists as the essence of each moment. However, the atmosphere that I choose to create and the emotions evoked by that atmosphere, regardless of its connection to a particular visual motif, do not come from the motif, but from its surroundings, from its placement on the canvas and from the subsequent space that placement creates.

Any discussion of artistic space naturally (and appropriately) leads me to a discussion of form and one of the formal elements that is perhaps most relevant to my work: negative space.

Negative space is defined as the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. I would add (perhaps redundantly) that negative space in a sense defines the subject. This is definitely true of the subject’s outline, and of course vice versa: the shape of the subject defines the outline of the negative space. More importantly, the negative space defines our relationship with the painting or image’s subject matter. Take for example one of my more recent paintings, homecoming:

Margaret Lockwood Painting - Homecoming

In this painting, the viewer will perceive first the subject matter, one of my visual motifs: trees. I have felt, since painting homecoming, that it is a painting that captures the moment when the early morning sun first breaks through the trees on a cold winter day. It could perhaps also be a painting of an early spring morning, or maybe the last rays of sunlight at the end of a midsummer day. How one chooses to interpret the moment captured in this painting is entirely subjective, but one thing is certain, the trees provide the viewer with very little in the way of visual information upon which to build a subjective impression. Below, is the same painting; the work that I’ve done to fill in the negative space between the trees has been removed.

Margaret Lockwood Painting - Homecoming Negative Space

There is a well-known statement in the art world that I’ve repeated many times when teaching: meaning exists within the negative space. I think this example clearly illustrates the principle behind this statement. Gone is any sense of atmosphere, instead what we are really presented with is a series of thick, dark lines. The negative space remains, but the “feeling” of the painting has been completely altered. In fact it is the space between and around the objects that we refer to as “subject matter” that provides us with the actual visual information as to a specific moment in time. In a painting, we cannot rely on the sound of birdsong to tell us it is morning; we cannot rely on the feel of the air on our skin to tell us that it is a brittle winter morning, or an inviting afternoon in late May. Those associations, conjured by applying (in the right proportions) specific pigments on a canvas, are created between the trees, in the negative space that is outlined by the forest.

In some sense you could say I’m attempting to flip the definition of “subject matter” on it’s head…the perceived subject matter, the visual motif, is actually not the “subject matter,” rather, the true focus of my painting is everything but the “subject matter,” it is the negative space. By removing my painting from the negative space in homecoming, the focus of the work clearly becomes the subject matter. Returning the painting to its original state greatly reduces the visual weight that one will attach to the trees. This viewpoint may seem to diminish the importance of a painting’s subject matter, but of course, like much of life, the form of a painting is a delicate balancing act, in this case, a balancing act between subject matter and negative space, each dependent upon the other; the visual motif provides an objective context for the negative space, and the negative space, a subjective context for the visual motif.

Margaret Lockwood Painting

Captured Moments

The mid-twentieth-century French artist Jean Bazaine once said “An artist has a very small number of things to say, which are ever emphasized and ever identical.” This viewpoint has been shared by many other artists: Vincent Van Gogh obsessively painted sunflowers, William Turner focused most of his energy on the sea, and Edvard Munch painted at least four versions of The Scream throughout the course of his artistic lifetime.

Margaret Lockwood Door County Painting

In fact, it has been said that one of the differences which separates amateur artists from professionals is amateurs tend to continuously shift their focus, from one medium to another, and/or from one concept to another. The preceding statement may seem a bit unfair, and of course exceptions exist, but generally even when professional artists do shift the entirety of their focus or some parameter of it, an underlying conceptual constant exists between the seemingly disparate styles – an idea or principle that ties together a large body of work.

Sturgeon Bay Artist Margaret Lockwood Painting

More often than not, these same artists spend years, if not decades, perfecting their craft and seeking out their unique conceptual constant, in discovering what it is they want to “say” and how it is they want to “say it.” Edward Hopper famously remarked, “What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house.” Gaining this simple insight into what he wanted to do probably resulted from years of experimentation, as did the development of his technique and the way in which he decided to employ that technique so he could explore something as profoundly simple and beautiful as “sunlight on the side of a house.”  And, just as every artist is a unique and individual person, so too is their concept and the approach to that concept. An obsessive desire to capture “light” is fairly well-worn in the visual arts community. “Sunlight on the side of a house” however, is unique to Hopper, as is his decision to combine “the side of a house” with oil paint. Had he been a different person, had the unique path lain down by the unfolding of his life taken a different course, he may have perhaps approached “light” abstractly, or as reflected off the water.

Margaret Lockwood Painting

This takes me to my own work, which has, like the work of countless artists before me, developed over the course of many years. Through the endless hours of experimentation, I have found four basic visual motifs have developed, motifs that continuously crop up in my work and that are represented by: water, sky, trees and birds on branches.

Margaret Lockwood Gallery Sturgeon Bay, WI

Why these motifs? I would say many artists have a difficult time determining how they arrived at the subject matter that defined their work. The type of repetitive subject matter that I’m referring to rarely develops quickly or during some sort of eureka moment. Instead a visual motif will usually emerge over time, filtered from the background noise of numerous other ideas. On one level, each of these seemingly disparate motifs allows me to explore some different aspect of the compositional process: negative space, visual rhythm, color scheme, etc. But on a deeper level, behind the surface of the painting, so to speak, the exterior subject matter that I have developed allows me to explore the more important interior subject matter. To the viewer: a bird, water, clouds in the sky, these are the perceived “subject matter.” To me: the color, the light, the atmosphere that is created by the different elements that combine to create the composition, this is the point. The “subject matter” is merely the means to an end, the medium through which I explore the atmosphere that exists in the inexplicable and beautiful moments of life. In short, I seek to render permanent the fleeting images, carved in light, which ceaselessly enter our minds throughout the day. I seek to recreate, through my painting, a “true” experience, a re-instantiation of the past, with all the concomitant sensory, spatial and emotional associations that defined that moment in time. I seek to capture, as Proust put it, “a fragment of time in the pure state.”

With the four visual motifs: water, sky, trees and birds, acting as a unique perceptual and associative filter, each “captured moment” then exists at the heart of every painting, working as the conceptual constant that binds my body of work together.

Margaret Lockwood Gallery Small Artwork

Margaret Lockwood on smaller paintings…

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of being a full-time artist is the “visits” I receive from my many patrons. Sometimes the relationship established between myself and those who pass through my doors is fleeting, a temporary introduction and farewell that is never to be repeated. More often than not a relationship is established with my clients who return to the gallery year after year. Some I get to know very well, others become great friends over time, each relationship is different and each relationship is treasured for the varied texture these differences add to my life. From these most-rewarding-of-relationships I learn as much about my art and its reception as I do from Allin or myself.

I am well known for the size of my paintings…that is to say, many of them lean toward the larger size! Indeed painting on a larger-scale is very rewarding; one need only experience a painting by Mark Rothko once (in person…not in a magazine!) to understand the appeal of creating a work that envelops the viewer with its mass. In fact, the idea that one can experientially become immersed in the texture and subject matter of a painting is very important to my work; like one of György Ligeti’s slowly evolving and expanding soundscapes (I’m thinking here of the incredible symphonic work Lontano), the large-scale painting can suck the viewer into a unique and private world.

Margaret Lockwood Painting It Used To Be Red

However, my tendency toward “ample two-dimensional proportions” has its drawbacks It is not uncommon for friends and patrons who would like to own one of my works to have neither the funds nor the space for one of my large-scale paintings, and really, the unique moments that each of my paintings represent can exist on any scale, and what any artist wants, at the end of the day, is for their work to be appreciated by as many as possible.

I have therefore begun a new series of smaller-scale paintings, paintings that are no less vivid or intense in their depiction of the outside world, but paintings that do it in a more proportionately succinct manner. And, it turns out that I find these paintings to be as enjoyable to create as my larger-scale works, for while the latter may afford the opportunity to capture a larger (physical) swath, or provide a more detailed imitation, of a particular moment in time, the former can be produced with more frequency and therefore can represent a greater variety of moments. Marcel Proust once said “the painter, who has to have seen many churches in order to paint a single one, the writer, in order to obtain volume and consistency, generality and literary reality, needs many beings for a single sentiment.” These smaller works end up as my “many beings,” they provide me with visual “volume,” and help me explore, and more-fully understand, the nature of the world around us through the medium of painting.

I look forward to showing you, my many clients and friends, these new smaller works. Come down to chat; come down to check out the jewelry of Angela Lensch, the pottery of Renee Schwaller, and the sculpture of Dan Bresnahan; come down to check out my new paintings, both large and small, or check them out on my online “painting wall,” where you can watch those same paintings begin, come to life, and then leave for hanging in my Sturgeon Bay Gallery.

Margaret Lockwood Earth Air Water Painting

Margaret Lockwood on the commissioning process…continued

In my last blog, I discussed my commissioning process, so I thought it appropriate to provide a few examples of the process working itself out in the “real world.”

I  had  mentioned  that,  when  an  artist  accepts  a  new  commission,  their  role  shifts  slightly, from Artist to artist, or even from artist to craftsman. This shift of course results naturally when more than one person – the commissioner in addition to the artist  – imposes  their  will  upon  the  final  product,  usually  in  the  form  of  a  set  of  instructions to the artist, which dictate the size, color palette and subject matter (among  many  other  variables)  of  the  final  work.  In  my  previous  blog,  I  had  also  mentioned that of the two types of people who purchased my art, the second type tended to commission new work, usually based upon an older work that didn’t quite line up with their initial desires or the feel of the space in which they intended to hang the painting.

As  it  so  happens,  I  recently  received  two  commissions  that  illustrate  clearly  two  variations on this process. The first was based upon my tree-series. This is a series that I enjoy very much, and have developed over the years as a way of representing the  endless  variety  that  exists  in  the  quality  of  light  that  daylight  hours  bring.  Morning, midday, afternoon, evening and the moments in between; each has a special  character,  a  unique  mood  that  is  conveyed  through  the  interplay  of  light  upon the bodies, branches and leaves of each tree, and each character and mood contains  the  potential  (if  captured  correctly)  to  effect  our  own  characters  and  moods when we view them in real life or in a painting (this, in the end, may be the true power of representation).

In  any  case,  the  commissioner’s  initial  desire  was  for  a  painting  that  either  represented early morning or midday light filtered through the leaves of the forest, or perhaps just as likely, that complemented the character, mood or color scheme of the painting’s final home. I eventually provided them with two versions (below), one that  conveyed  a  lighter,  more  “spring-time”  character,  and  another  darker,  more  mysterious variation:

In  the  end  however,  neither  was  chosen.  Instead,  the  commissioner  changed  their  mind in favor of a painting that evoked the moment that exists just after the sun has set (below), a moment in which the negative space between trees is loosely defined by  the  rosy  glow  of  an  evening  sky,  and  which  represents  the  borderline  between  night and day, a moment when one can still see – but not in any great detail.

Margaret Lockwood Tree Series Painting

The second commission was based upon two paintings that hung upon my gallery walls  –  both  seascapes.  In  some  sense,  one  important  concept  behind  much  of  my  work could be boiled down to a personal fascination with the interaction between the  four  classical  elements,  or  more  specifically,  between  the  intersection  of  one  element:  light  (fire),  with  the  other  three:  earth,  air  and  water.  If  my  tree-series could be viewed as an investigation into the relationship that exists between earth, air and light, then my seascapes could be thought of as “studies,” which like the tree-series, explore the progress of the day, and the shifting moods that accompany that progression as the sun’s light mingles with the correspondingly shifting currents of air and water.

Each moment in time, each period during the day, the sun’s rays paint a new palette upon  the  heavens  above  and  the  sea  below.  As  mentioned  earlier,  the  initial  inspiration for the final painting was based upon pre-existing works; there was no intermediary step of earlier attempts. Instead the final product (below) ended up as an amalgamation of the two paintings above, the client requesting the color palette provided by one moment in time (represented solely by water), and from another, a composition that resulted from the visual juxtaposition of air and water.

Margaret Lockwood Earth Air Water Painting

As  a result  of  the  commissioning  process,  new  paintings  came  to  life;  each  an  extension and variation on previous works and concepts, and each completed through an extension or variation on the abovementioned process. To be clear, I did not  mind  creating  the  two  tree-series  variations  that  were  not  chosen,  as  each  painting is a single step in an unending journey, or better yet, a stage in a relentless investigation  into  the  temporally-dynamic  relationship  that  exists  between  existentially‐static elements and the unique visual moments that this relationship produces,  a  relationship  that  in  many  ways  mirrors  the  dynamic  relationship  between artist and commissioner.

Margaret Lockwood on the commissioning process…

For an artist of any stripe receiving a commission is always welcome. Professionally it means being paid to do what you love; personally it always brings some level of validation, whether of the hours of hard work that have lead up to the commission, or of a particular and unique artistic vision that has been worked out.

Commissions, like water, should never be taken for granted – both can dry up without warning.

Margaret Lockwood Gallery Commission Painting
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Working on commission means entering into a relationship. Whether new or preexisting, this relationship means you are not working for yourself anymore. Creating art for one’s self is essentially creating art for art’s sake, and this can be incredibly rewarding, especially when one desires to let the creative juices flow, or rather, to seek out or explore a new idea uninhibited. However, creating anything without boundaries can also be terrifying, the lack of imposed structure can often lead the artist to feel as though they are treading water, or floating in a creative abyss, unable to move in any direction because every direction is a possibility (this may sound like hyperbole, but this type of creative “terror” has stopped some artists in their tracks, and often for a period of years).  One well-documented statement that deals with this very issue comes from the composer Igor Stravinsky who declared, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.”

A type of welcome-relief that is brought to bear on this “problem” often comes in the form of a commission and its aforementioned and attendant relationship. A relationship implies constraints – social and working – and it is important when taking on a commission to work out the boundaries between the artist and the commissioner from the very beginning of the relationship.

I have found that there are generally two types of people that purchase my art: the first type generally sees a piece in my gallery that they love and say “I have no idea where I am going to put it but I cannot live without it”; the second type usually has a very clear vision of what they require in terms of size, color palette, subject matter and placement of the painting, before they enter the gallery. These folks usually see a painting online or find one in the gallery that is close but does not quite line up with their initial concept, and so it is from the second type that I generally receive my commissions.

I also like to make sure that they understand the art that I actually create. Preferably, if they have not been exposed to a large amount of my work, I discuss the project at my gallery/studio so that they form a clear understanding of my entire body of work – the more of my work that they are exposed to, the more easily they will accept the final piece that I produce for them.

I generally take as my point of departure the previously discussed painting that lead to the commission. This working method has several benefits: the compositional “constraints” that governed the creation of previous painting can be transferred, and can help guide the creation of the newly commissioned work; the extension of the previously discussed painting into a new work essentially ensures that the boundaries – the colors, size, subject matter – the client is creating for the new work (whether they realize it or not) are adhered to; and by extending the characteristics of one work into another, I create a coherent body of work that is representative of my concepts and ideals.

In the end, the point is to create a painting that I love, and this is what I do. I take no money up front, and when the commission/painting is finished, my client has the choice of loving it as well and purchasing it, or of saying that it’s not quite what they wanted. If it is a large painting and the client lives within the Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul arc, Allin and I will deliver and install it, which is rewarding in itself, as the placement of the final work is as much a part of the work as its brushstrokes.