PRINT March 1971

A Meditation on Painting

BECAUSE PAINTING, AS AN ART FORM among many, is hard-put to come up with enough pizazz, it is often deliberately omitted, in writing about painters, that almost every one is lifting devices from a repertoire and is employing them only in varying proportions, combinations, and intensities. I have compiled a list of painting devices, partial in both senses of the word, titled them for ready reference and referral, and, to the best of my ability, illustrated them. (The illustrations confine themselves to graphic, edge and over-under possibilities and are limited to portraying them in bands, although more complicated uses are certainly possible. The problems of shape—what kind and sizes of areas and where they’re put—and color are deserving of separate consideration.)

Paint is liquid in varying viscosities and by “painting” we usually mean the metamorphosis of this liquid from a state in which its surface extension is turned inward, upon itself (e.g., in the tube, in the can, in the jar) to a state on the format (canvas, panel, wall, paper, whatever) in which a maximum surface extension is visible. In the past, this has been done manually, usually by brush; nowadays other methods, though still minority techniques, are employed with increasing frequency. Some have thought this to change the “essence” of painting, but the problem, the change of paint from state to state, remains unchanged.

1. BRUSH. The brush, a handled implement with a shock of hairs sliced to an even tip at the end. Liquid paint is suspended (usually by dipping) among the hairs, transported to the format, where it is released through manual pressure onto the surface of the format. The brush is best serviceable for Roughs, though with an excess of thinner or water it is suitable for Wets, and with extra care in handling, or a masking device, for Hards.

2. POUR. Paint of sufficient liquidity can be poured directly onto the format, which, for the most variety in configurations, is laid on the floor, face up. Pours can be transparent, translucent or opaque, and are best suited for Splashes and Wets.

3. SPRAY. Although certainly possible manually, Spray has become identified with the use of motorized tools, such as airbrushes and compressors. Spray is essentially the application of a multitude of paint dots in such indefiniteness or minuteness that the overall boundaries of the sprayed are difficult to detect. Indeed, it might be argued that Spray effectively avoids any of the devices mentioned above, destroying by subtlety as it does the edges of an area. However, non-edged areas (if not a single in actuality) really fall into the province of color, since the whole purpose of this sort of thing is the opposition of color in a relatively pure circumstance (i.e., without the interference of “shape” or “brushstroke,” etc.). Spray is, however, suitable for certain kinds of evenly applied Wets and, with masking devices, the most precise Hards.

4. SOAK. Although Soaks, i.e. permeating the format with paint by dipping it into the paint, can be considered inside-out Pours for the most part, especially if they are partial enough to result in any sort of configuration, there is a special use, the creation of a colored ground, more or less uniform, which is peculiarly suited to the Soak. Needless to say, most any device can be used over a dried Soak.

The following is an incomplete, but possibly helpful, Glossary relating to the above material. The reader is invited to add to it as is needed.

Brush Buried Line
Pour Butted Crevice
Brush Hard Overcut
Pour Crevice
Butted Brush Rough
Pour Splash
Butted Pour Leak
Reverse Soak Leak
Butted Spray Wet
Rough Brush Leak
Conglomerate Spray Stripe
Soak Wet Leak
Spray Butted Column
Double Brush Rough
Spray Cushion
Double Spray Overcut
Total Soak
Line With Double
Wet Soak
Pour Wet
Wet Reverse Leak

Peter Plagens