I’ve never been fully able to put my finger on what it is — but I’m going to try again. For those of you who might know more about it, I’d really like to hear from you. I hate to admit it, but it’s actually a bit of a mystery. I’m talking about “the groove.”
I got onto the subject again today because I found myself in a bit of a panic. Shows coming up, so many things to do, so many projects to which I had optimistically said yes. I knew in my heart to slow down and take my measured time, to live in the paint, to think things out but, like my dog Emily when she’s running excitedly on fresh sandbars, my hind legs get ahead of my front ones. On the one hand, in life and art, energy and bravura are necessary to maintain elan. On the other hand there’s the need for contemplation and refinement. How to strike the happy medium? “Think,” I said.
In my case I’m trying to resolve the acrylic sketches that were started on the Mackenzie River in July. Our boat was towed back into the driveway on Monday — half-finished paintings sticking out of all the nooks and crannies. I wish I could say that all they required was a signature. They require “the groove.” There’s the clear necessity that the work taken to the studio easel is exactly what you want to do right now. Choose the one you want to work on. Hey, it happens when you’re relaxed. Quality flourishes in “extra time.” Personal invention keeps an artist’s personality in the exercise and makes the job more fun. While there may be a reworking of themes there’s also the sense of exploitation. It’s not what subject you paint, it’s how much you’re able to take out of and put into a subject. Something else — obfuscation. Ugly passages can be overrun with glazing. Dullness particularly can be overcome with a bright or complementary scumble. Negative areas can be gone back into. Half close your eyes. Pay attention to surfaces. Re-live the moments. Let it happen in front of you. It’s still an elusive mystery. Something just happens that I can only describe as “wonderful” — and the odd one, thank goodness, is okay.
For a moment there, I almost knew what it was.
PS: “The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product, a footprint, of the state.” (Robert Henri)
Esoterica: Passing through and above all individual techniques are three valuable considerations: They are pattern, form and surface. “Technique is a vehicle.” (Callum Innes)
This letter was originally published as “The groove” on September 21, 2001.