Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Snow

Sensing, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

I finished this small painting the other day, and for some reason was compelled to title it Sensing. I just knew that that was its title. In nature, there is an automatic response to the physical stimulus of light that induces birds to migrate. I kept looking at this painting, thinking it reminded me of spring, or the fragility of spring, the forms still converging and perhaps being obscured by the elements. Then, last night, the snow began. It fell on the plum blossoms, the red tulips, the delicate grape hyacinth. Covering everything, until this morning I awoke to over a foot of snow. I now think I could sense deep within me, on some sort of primal level, that snow was going to fall, a lot of it. Like migratory birds, I was connected to nature on a deeper level and responded to the inner urging, to follow my instincts when it came to titling the painting. This is where abstraction leaves me breathless with wonder -- I didn't know where the painting came from, or how it arrived, or why I was so certain of its mysterious title.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Whisper the Luminous

Over the past three years my work has been a journey of transformation. Each step of the way has brought me closer to a mature relationship with my work that I have sought for decades. I've gone through a series of geometric compositions, learning about structure, light and atmosphere. I've mastered color through my recent ambient light series, which are minimalist meditations on the luminosity of color. Most recently, I explored new territory with texture, learning about layering and the expressive possibilities of the brushstroke and palette knife. Through it all I have maintained a devotion to the grid, and its potential for transcending the narrative and revealing nature's essence.

Whisper the Luminous, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

This is my latest painting, and I believe it incorporates the various elements I've been exploring. There is the grid, deconstructed and reconstructed as form in the figure/ground relationship. There is an elegant minimalism that I've been chasing, that I feel is successful in this painting. The shimmering color field simultaneously holds the forms and dissolves them. Painterly areas of texture and saturate color are left as remnants of the original grid underpainting, contrasting with areas of pristine, flawless blending. And the luminosity of color creates a resonance that fills my heart with joy. The title of this painting, Whisper the Luminous, is from a poem by Hafiz, the mystical Sufi poet.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about Cézanne lately, probably because of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's exhibit, "Cézanne and Beyond." I have a fascinating exhibition catalogue called Cézanne in the Studio from the Getty Museum. It goes into exhaustive scholarly detail about the importance of a single watercolor by Cézanne, Still Life with Blue Pot. As I consider the Philadelphia Museum's extraordinary view of Cézanne's influence on modern and contemporary artists, I have been reflecting on his contributions to the evolution of abstract painting.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Blue Pot, c. 1900-1906, watercolor and graphite on paper,
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA

As the Getty catalogue emphasizes, although Cézanne's world was one full of representational "objects", his canvases revealed the psychological and symbolic correspondences between the object and the viewer. Cézanne's work demanded "recognition of the two-way relation between the inanimate objects of the genre and the animate world of the human subject looking at them, of the set of exchanges, substitutions, and affinities that take place in the studio between the human body and the world of things." This is abstract painting in a nutshell. In abstraction there is only the color, the forms, the light, and the dark, which come into play as "objects of the genre"; the paint handling, bold or soft, invites additional psychological interpretation relative to the viewer's position -- emotional and intellectual. The fact that the artist is both the creator of the image and the viewer, gives Cézanne's self-conscious authority an almost mystical presence. I find this to be the most captivating and compelling dynamic of abstract painting.

(Above quote taken from Cézanne in the Studio, The J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, p. 66)

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Between the Pines and the Silence, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
© 2008 Diane McGregor

Gwendolyn Plunkett's Ancient Vessel Art Blog features my work this week. She has invited readers to participate in her Time/Rituals/Collections interactive blog project. Gwen's invitation inspired me to think of my own rituals as I create one of my oil paintings.

I've found one of the most important and necessary rituals I engage in is writing in my journal. Before I start work in the morning, I sit quietly in the studio, with the dawn coming up. I light a candle and begin to write my thoughts, observations, and reflections on the work I'm doing. An important part of this journaling ritual are my affirmations. I have a list of 4 or 5 affirmations that deal with my art and my career, and I spend about 10 or 15 minutes writing them out, over and over. This activity calms me and sets my mood for the day. I will often read poetry at this time as well, finding inspiration in the words and imagery of Neruda, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and others. Sometimes I discover a line or phrase in a poem that I will use as a starting point for the painting. I also seek out my favorite poets to find the titles to my work.

I usually spend a lot of time beforehand looking at the painting that I am about to work on, figuring out where the painting is taking me. I try to listen to what the painting tells me. When I'm ready to paint, I set up my work table. My glass palette is always spotlessly clean before I begin to paint. I pour out 2 cans of odorless mineral spirits for washing the brushes. Then I squeeze out the colors from the paint tubes. I select my color palette for the painting ahead of time, and I usually stick to that palette for the duration of the painting.

My technique is repetitive and process oriented. Vertical and horizontal brushstrokes, applied in many layers, form a grid structure and slowly build up the abstract composition as the brushstrokes accumulate and transform the canvas. The application of the paint is methodical yet allows for chance and unplanned discoveries. Time is an element of the process, as each brushstroke represents a moment, a gesture, a connection.

Another important ritual for me is music -- the music I listen to in the studio is extremely important. I usually always listen to the music of Hildegard of Bingen (or anything by Anonymous 4), which in itself is ritualistic and repetitive, with soaring harmonies and meditative melodies. The music mirrors my painting process in its repetition and meditative qualities. In fact, I will often listen to the same piece of music over and over while working on a particular piece. The repetition of the music adds a subliminal lyric element to the imagery.

When I am finished for the day, usually around sunset, I scrape off my glass palette and clean my brushes with soap and warm water. I have a ritual for washing my brushes too. It's kind of odd and obsessive, actually. I wash each brush exactly 3 times. I then lay them out to dry, and I always let them dry for at least 24 hours. I do this every time, I don't know why.

I was delighted to discover recently a blog called Daily Routines. It includes descriptions of all sorts of rituals and habits of writers, artists, composers, etc. Like many artists and writers, at the end of my day I enjoy a glass of wine as I reflect upon that day's work and consider the next day's direction.