As I write this, 2015 has ended and 2016 has just begun. The conclusion of the year and the beginning of another is sort of like the cycle of life. One thing ends and something else is born. This transition sometimes occurs in my art as well. When a painting I’m working on doesn’t pan out, I may decide to not throw the canvas away. Instead, I’ll paint another image over it. Essentially the earlier work will cease to exist, and will be replaced by something new.
About seven years ago I painted a series of images inspired by the work of two 19th century artists, John Martin and Francis Danby. These Romantic era painters created large, sublime works depicting dramatic, and often violent, events like epic floods or terrible earthquakes. They often showed scenes from the Bible, portraying the wrath of God. The work functions a lot like Hollywood’s disaster movies seen today. As a matter of fact, Martin and Danby are said to have influenced the artistic vision of many well-known filmmakers and writers over the years.
Inspired by these three works, I painted my own versions with the same compositional arrangements and color palette. But instead of the Biblical scenes portrayed by Danby and Martin, I painted modern skyscrapers and cities being destroyed. This was around the time of the financial crisis of 2008-2009, when the world’s economy was crumbling and on the verge of becoming a global disaster. I suppose I was reveling in the darkness of the moment by making these paintings. Things seemed bleak in the world, so I used my art as a way to express the anxiety I was feeling.
After completing these images I became disenchanted with what I had done. I felt I hadn’t painted anything that wasn’t already conveyed better in Martin and Danby’s work. My paintings seemed too derivative and not distinctive enough to call my own. Therefore I put them aside for a while so I could figure out what I would do next. I ultimately chose to paint over the works and create an entirely new series of paintings. However, rather than fully obliterate my previous imagery, I decided to allow certain areas to peek through. Revealing the underlying artwork this way created a nice dynamic. I found it introduced a richness and depth that wouldn’t have been present if I had simply begun working on a blank canvas.
The resulting artwork has nothing to do with the subject matter of my earlier paintings. However, if you were to compare the before and after, you would see they share a darkness or feeling of menace. I like to believe these buried images will intrigue some future art historian. Just like an archeologist digging in the ground, someone will decide to examine one of my paintings and discover that an entirely different painting lies beneath. It will be like a ghost embedded in the image, whispering secrets from another moment of time.