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Friday, July 22, 2011

Beating the Heat: The Art of Carelessness

Nothing beats the heat like painting in my basement studio. The light leaves something to be desired, but the temperature is a comfortable seventy two. Cold air falls.

With nothing on the easel I care to get into, cleaning the studio was the chore I chose as the exercise of the day. My gorgeous sink was a splattered mess and screamed to be scrubbed. My paint table was a disorganized disaster, albeit colorful, and begged to be bleached. And then I realized what I was looking at: spills and prints and impressions of what went on before, artistic marks of paintings past. Instead of scrubbing them, I photographed them. I might have been procrastinating? But what the hell, there was a string of heat advisory days ahead, plenty of time to clean up my act.

"Enso" is what Bill Cook (Bill Cook's Fine Art), calls these happenstance marks and mars. The word is not in the dictionary, but it's as good a word as any for the careless imprints made from containers weeping their contents onto the surface like the ring left on a table from a sweating glass when we're too lazy to reach for a coaster. Having no coasters in my studio, there are quite a few rings and spots and spills around the place--remnants of what went down days, months, years past. Ensos aren't planned. Ensos are marks of carefree carelessness.

The ensos on the top of this post is are not but sort of. The paintings were made intentionally by imprinting on a 140 lb. watercolor block whatever palette colors I had left over from an easel painting. When the print was dry, I cut the sheet into four sections and used the decorative cards for stationery. Often I had to make adjustments to balance the mini compositions. This is not an enso in the true sense of the word; the paintings were manipulated, the lower one, more so than the top one. The following four ensos are environmental. They are portions of my studio--my poured cement flooring and portions of the laminate panels that are my makeshift paint table. They just happened, a collection of oops gone unnoticed while lost in the rapture of creation.

(NOTE: The blurriness of the photographs is not shaky hand. Two shots into the shoot and I, duh, noticed the batteries were nearly exhausted. Explains a lot about the rookery photos. those AAs have been discarded and new ones installed. Blurry or sharp, you get the pictures. Ensos are beautiful examples of the absence of control--they are also a good way to find your way back into painting).



  1. I love them all. Such lovely colours.

  2. your enso's (sp?) are cool. It is always enlightening to visit your blog :)

  3. And you couldn't duplicate those spills and splatters if you tried Evelyn.

  4. I spelled the word as Bill Cook spelled it Celeste. It's his word, not mine, It's as good as any though for these accidents that happen then we make something of them. Unfortunately I'm not about make anything of these. Sawing up my paint table or my cement floor would upset Honey.

  5. What a riot. I must have missed this post. Glad I went back and checked. I absolutely love that you began to notice all the art left over from making art. And the photos are just stunning! I bet if you used that close up setting and a tripod with the largest possible resolution, you would have good enough files to have giclee prints made. Beats cutting up the concrete. I think these 'incidental' compositions are that good, worth saving somehow. Love the note card idea too.

    In the interest of accuracy, while I have nothing against expanding the meaning of 'enso', I should clarify my use of the word.

    Enso is a mark made free-hand by a brush that looks like a zero. It is a calligraphy exercise used in Japanese writing and later adopted by the Zen monks as a form of meditaiton and concentration. It is said that one can tell the condition of ones soul by 'reading' a persons enso--not unlike the mandalas we visited a couple months ago.

    In my recent post I was being flippant in discussing 'accidental ensos'. There can be nothing accidental about a real enso (they are among the most deliberate marks ever made). All those accidental rings from cans, coffee cups etc. you mentioned could be considered ensos in the that your eye goes right to them. They're mysterious and archetypal like that. I included some of these marks in my painting along with actual ensos performed in the Japanese spirit.
    Wikkipedia has a great Enso article.

    All that said, I really like this idea of expanding the actual meaning of Enso in the sense of purely accidental and incidental marks that have 'zero' intended meaning (but are hugely wild and fun to look at). So in addition to rings and round shapes, spills, splatter and other assorted craziness could be included, although I know at least one Zen monk that might get indignant.

    In any event I apologize for all the confusion, and I really love those mini compositions, whatever they're called.

  6. Thanks for the scoop on ensos. I appreciate you taking the time to explain to me what they actually are and was hoping you would. I was being flippant too with my photographs of my accidents. I was also procrastinating the tremendous task of cleaning up my studio space. I am looking forward to reading the Wikipedia article. You've peaked my curiosity. Good post Bill.