Sunday, April 28, 2013

Discovering the Broken Obelisk

A sculpture by Barnett Newman, an Abstract Expressionist painter, a precursor to Minimalism; “The Broken Obelisk” is a geometric steel work residing in the courtyard of Mark Rothko’s Chapel in Houston, Texas.

Interestingly, the work was originally installed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Located on the corner of 17th Street and New York Avenue, NW, it was essentially at the entrance of the Corcoran College of Art and Design. My Alma Mater! Displayed there in the late 1960’s “The Broken Obelisk” was considered very controversial, seen as a reference to the Washington Monument and the social discord of the era.

I did visit the Rothko chapel during a short stay in Houston, however my path to realizing the piece followed a study of line drawings based on the square, and its axis’.

 Discovering the piece didn’t have to do with seeing the sculpture. Discovering that it was hidden deep inside the square, only to be found by deconstruction…an excavation…that was exciting!  Recognizing it, discovering it through a process of ideation, in the process of searching out an idea was more than a surprise.
Believing that something worthwhile will be had in searching out the basic, the fundamental, the essential, before you see it, is perhaps the important point here. 

Hope believes that vision will play out meaningfully, given the chance; even in the simplest exercise.

Ideation Drawing, 2013, 8 1/2" x 11"

Studies for "Discovering the Broken Obelisk", 2013, The Art Library, Brooklyn, NY

Who knew that this ideation would lead to a complete break from 25 years of abstract expressionist/surrealist artwork?  Nearly 5 years later I continue investigating related imagery alluding to order and peace beyond our everyday experience.

"Oblique Tetrahedron", 2017, 36", Welded Steel with Powder Coat Finish,  © James Thatcher


Monday, April 1, 2013

Making It!

“Process”:  The steps you go through as you make art; it's the act of creating… I wanted to describe my own process with these recent works.  My motivation (in terms of process) was to create some paintings quickly, cleanly, but with random elements—to quote the Wizard of Ads, “surprise is the beginning of delight”*.  I also felt pretty familiar with my subject matter, having used it extensively in art school.
I’ve worked with stencils in one form or another since my third year at the Corcoran College of Art and Design…stencils and spray paint were the go-to materials for these pieces, given my stint as graffiti guy during the heady days of the 80's.

I was interested in creating shoe imagery without distortion so I was off to the internet for a quick search…the “Classic Evening Pump” was the first stop, but so many variations!  I decided to choose shoe profiles that were very different from each other, so I chose the Peep Toe Sling Back, a Strappy Platform, and a nice Open Toe variation as well.

I spent a good amount of time paring down and re-interpreting to develop iconic profiles of each design.  The Strappy Platform had this split sole that had to be consolidated…big design changes, but consistent in scale and proportion. 

 I use manila file folders as stencil stock because they are fairly heavy weight but are also easy to cut with an exacto knife, and you can use them on a light table to transfer your designs. 

I picked up some big paper doilies and plastic needlepoint forms in a local craft department to use in the backgrounds and they worked really well!  The doilies have a lace-like quality without being exceedingly delicate, and the tiny grid of the needlepoint forms is delicate while being thoroughly contemporary. 

I create washes by scrubbing lacquer thinner into a preliminary coat of spray enamel.  These washes gather in  the textural underpainting.


It isn’t hard to see some of these as finished paintings without any “subject matter”…That may be the image of the future.  For now, an interesting background is what I need.


I place my stencil and wonder…am I seeing the most interesting part of the painting thru the stencil, or am I putting the shoe in quiet section of the background?  All of this work, all of these decisions before actually applying the subject to the painting!  Don’t mess it up now!

Don’t let the subject ruin the artwork!  The subject always has a precarious role in my artwork…the shoe is not necessarily the most important aspect of these paintings!  Painting is the most important part of my paintings!


This is “Process” in painting:  the process is the artwork;  the subject matter is not the artwork…the act of painting is the important part of the painting, not the subject. 

Perhaps the subject matter motivates me to paint…but the wonder of creating, the process of painting is more excellent 
than depicting stuff.
This results in a painting that will always be a nice painting!  Generations from now this will be the same fresh and interesting piece that it is in 2013, because it's about painting, and exploring materials and processes.
"Slam Pump"   James Thatcher     Copyright     2013
8" x 10"     Spray Enamel on Prepared Paper
$100 Framed and Shipped   
Painting # 69/72 of an ongoing series.
*Roy H. Williams, "Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads", 1999