My paintings communicate visual, sensory, and cognitive phenomena, evoking information gleaned from the natural world. Color, texture, and marks bend to match my perceptions. I search for the simplest form that is the essence of what I wish to express. I don’t know what that looks like; I have to flail around blindly, manipulating paint to find meaning. I push around this substance in pursuit of something substantial. The resulting pictures transport the viewer into primordial worlds. They are syntheses of the visual world and my thoughts and feelings. The places aren’t quite like ours yet ring true.
I’m an American painter, a descendant of the American landscape painting tradition. We can step back to consider the American Frontier, something that held promise for a better future. This paradise was only attainable by combating the natural world and the people who lived there first. Europe had history while America’s history didn’t yet belong to the settlers. Colonists appreciated natural beauty and had the virtues of determination, dedication to personal belief, and individualism that are also present in American art.
In later years, the Hudson River School painters tried to capture the wildness by painting out in the elements. The land was so unbelievably vast and perfect. There was a desire to comprehend, communicate, and own the experience. The painter could capture and sell it just as native land was captured, parceled, and sold. This statement is not an attempt to demonize the painter but to place the American landscape painting tradition within the dominant culture at the time. There was a cultural psychology at play.
Human emotions could be seen in relationship to landscape and even weather. Some thought that nature was healing to the soul and doctors sent patients to recover by the sea. In the nineteenth century, American writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman celebrated the spiritual aspects of nature. There was something of a Platonic ideal about it and, just as today, many people thought that nature was from God (America is “one Nation under God”).
Mimesis in art was the act of copying nature. The nature of western oil painting is that there is an illusory picture in a frame, similar to a view out a window. The wild could be safely contained through the parameters of a window. The viewer is removed from danger, cold, heat, and insects. The painting was the expression of untarnished hope and belief.
Americans were always resourceful as they tried to tame the new country and move into the Industrial Age. American ingenuity combined with lessons learned in Modernism drove the Abstract Expressionists to make large paintings reflecting the enormity of the world. Nature informed Mitchell’s enormous, exuberant canvases. Pollock and DeKooning were inspired by their homes in Long Island; DeKooning’s abstractions reflected his perceptions while biking there. The work of these artists echoed nature but was its own independent phenomenon. In this process, the internal is externalized by taking action. The flux of life with its seasonal changes is acknowledged and celebrated. Improvisation and intellect work hand-in-hand to organize chaos while still embracing the wild. Nature is not controlled as in an English garden. Fear and control are superseded by respect, joy, and the need to place oneself in the world. Nature is a metaphor for the self; we are alive and a part of nature. The Abstract
Expressionists practiced gesture painting. Gestures are expressive acts that come from us. Gestural painting comes out of the painter, just as “ex” in “Expressionism” implies. “Ex” also relates to leaving a place and being free (think “expatriate” and “external”).
The psychic strain of searching for identity in the world is like being thrown into a kind of wilderness. The painter resurfaces, triumphant, when the expression is made manifest. The result is often ineffable. The feeling is fleeing, so it must be painted again. Think of Gauguin’s 1897 painting, Where Did We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (D’où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous?). The search for meaning is a part of the human condition. We want to SEE it. We want it to make it tangible, hence the art object.
So it is for me. My painted vision is the affirmation of my presence because, like everything, I am ephemeral. Stepping away from American art, I also connect with the French painter, Pierre Bonnard. Bonnard painted lyrical landscapes throughout World War II as the Germans occupied Paris. Critics can call his work “escapist” but his carefully orchestrated, colored worlds affirmed his belief that life is worth living and that joy and beauty are real. He desired harmony (perhaps idealistic) but also believed in the possibility of attaining it. Painting it made it exist and proved it could happen, because suddenly it was.
I can take you further into my particular process. To do this, please imagine all the different kinds of landscape you’ve experienced. Imagine how your experiences of those places differ with variations in weather: light, moisture, heat, wind, precipitation. Now imagine ways in which you’ve traveled through these spaces: walking, biking, driving a car, riding a train, flying, on a ferris wheel, etc. Think of how the angles of the landscape change. Your perception of the scale of things changes depending on where you are (are you looking down at that pond or are you next to it?). Combine all of these memories. Use your experiences handling the properties of paint (fluidity, density, shiny/dry, bumpy/smooth). Use your knowledge of color as it pertains to mood and atmosphere. Splice color into nuances that trigger emotion. Use various gestures at differing speeds to create lines and marks. Imagine all the art you’ve ever seen and all you’ve ever made. Remember to let it inform you but don’t let it stop you. This is what I do. My paintings are abstracted from all of these sources to make a new experience that is kind of like these things but not exactly. The paintings are places of their own waiting to be experienced. Actively daydream while you stare at them, as if you’re gazing out a window or sitting outside watching the sun set. Settle in.
“I met a seer, Passing the hues and objects of the world, The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense, To glean eidólons*… Ever the mutable, Ever materials, changing, crumbling, re-cohering, Ever the ateliers, the factories divine Issuing eidólons.”
-Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
*eidólons – 1: an unsubstantial image: phantom 2: ideal Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary “Walt Whitman’s poem by the same name in 1876 used a much broader understanding of the term, expanded and detailed in the poem. In Whitman’s use of the term we can see the use broaden to include the concept of an oversoul composed of the individual souls of all life and expanding to include the Earth itself and the hierarchy of the
planets, Sun, stars and galaxy.” – Wikepedia
Nicole Maynard-Sahar Statement: Poetry Drawings
This series of drawings is created using the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Procreate app. The drawings include hand-written excerpts and sometimes complete poems that are in the public domain, particularly poems from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Here I investigate relationships between poetry and drawing, text and images, collaboration, as well as technology and what is crafted by hand. Choosing a poem is a creative act similar to Duchamp’s readymades. Once chosen, I extend the “found object” by responding with my own artistic sensibility. I mine the poems for words that connect with my internal processes/experiences/beliefs. I stitch the poetry, collaging it, grafting it into my drawn/painted worlds. The resulting images are representations of my internal monologue.
Whitman frequently addresses the poets of the future, asking them to validate his work by expanding upon it. Many poets, artists, musicians and other creatives continue to be inspired by Whitman and, in doing so, exemplify the power of one soul to communicate to another across time through art. I follow Whitman’s directive, “contributing my verse.”