Creating the Continuous Painting:
When I decided to document the life-cycle of a sunflower, painting it daily and photographically recording all the changes to the painting, I never imagined how difficult the project would be. I effectively chained myself for five and a half months to a few square feet of our garden!
I didn’t keep a regular diary. But I did keep a few notes which I’ve included:
( To view the video and my exhibition proposal scroll to the end of this blog post.)
My master plan is to pull a few stages of the continuous painting out of the sequence and replace them by the next day with a reproduction on canvas. I’ll continue my daily record on this new canvas without disrupting the evolution of the ‘continuous painting’. I’ll aim to pull out eight or ten canvases. I am going to Don and Era Farnsworth at Magnolia Editions for the prints on canvas and also for feedback. All the paintings I pull from the sequence will be part of the ‘continuous painting’ which will also be recorded as a time lapse video to be shown along with the canvases. (see proposal at bottom of this blog)
I’m investing a lot of time and energy into this. What if the sunflower blows over? We have strong winds here in the summer and these big sunflowers do blow over from time to time. I’ll plant a second seedling, behind – as insurance..
The scrub-jays are actively defending their turf, especially the garden and the pond, from all comers. They nest in an oak two houses away. This garden is their main source of food. They are welcome because they eat the snails. They keep a close watch on Pilar, the cat who hunts in the garden . They loudly herald his every move, blowing his cover. He wheezes and sputters while his body twitches in barely contained rage.
A scrub-jay landed on the fence today so I added it to the painting. I may animate it. The Jays are a major presence.
I’ve asked myself for some time now, “What happens if the plant grows faster than I can paint it ? “ I think that moment may have arrived. Yesterday I stepped outside to discover that the plant had risen four inches. The leaves are growing at an incredible rate. I repaint any changes every day. I begin at the base of the plant and work my way up. I usually photograph three stages of this progress. After several hours I reach the top, by which time, the lower leaves of the sunflower have expanded considerably. It’s almost impossible to do this in the time I have available! I’m getting sick from the stress. I feel I’m becoming a slave to the plant.
Today, exhausted and sick, from trying to keep up, I prepared to paint but my condition made it impossible to concentrate. I returned to bed.
I’m recovering. The only way to deal with the plant’s excessive growth is to block in details more loosely. Some days I just manage to describe all the leaves in silhouette. No modeling, no veins. Sometimes not even light and shade. I wonder how this stage will look in the video.
Will this plant grow right out of the painting? This is my new anxiety. Fortunately it’s growth is slowing. But it’s perilously near the upper edge of the canvas
The plant grows in cyclic bursts. A new junction of leaves halts its vertical thrust . It pours its energy into expanding the leaves. Once they are formed the stem shoots up again. As Don Farnsworth, at Magnolia Editions, remarked “It has to unfold it’s solar panels.”
It’s like a green fountain that shoots spasmodically higher and higher.
“ The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
drives my green age. That blasts the roots of trees
is my destroyer.” - Dylan Thomas
Even here in the city I’m surrounded by animals. Legions of insects including aphids, ladybugs and dragonflies, larger creatures like scrub jays, mourning doves, occasionally raccoons and possums and a great blue heron. I have a nest of gopher snakes and a small stream and pond with gold-fish and one frog. Every day the frog, still as a stone, returns my gaze. He’s my garden Buddha who watches my back while I paint.
I’m going to close the project . The plant is beautiful in a threadbare way. The leaves are shriveling, many are dead. They begin to die along the extremities and in areas farthest from the veins. These parts turn yellow, then reddish brown and finally black. Today I lowered my eyes from a dried leaf to mix a color on my palette. When I looked up the leaf had vanished. I examined the ground. There it was. An insubstantial parchment, so different from the pulsing green leaves of late June and early July that drove me crazy trying to keep up. ‘The force that through the green fuse’ drove the flower has ebbed, leaving a parched substance as light and brittle as burned paper.
The Video (which must be viewed full screen):
The eight canvases (36″ X 24″) extracted from the continuous painting would be hung in a circular space with a diameter of about 15 feet.
A screen (outlined in black) would be hung between the first and last painting of the series. It would intermittently play the video.
Viewers could step into a design in the middle of the space, painted to resemble an archeological dig (Mexico circa 2600 BC) and affect both the direction and speed of the video by moving their bodies.