Greenwich Public Library, Greenwich, CT
The original Greenwich Library building, which looks like it was built in the 1920s, underwent an addition sometime in the past 15 years. The modern addition is gracefully married to the more classical original edifice. Just at the intersection of the conjoining eras of the library stands a wall nearly 30 ft. tall of large, simple horizontally-oriented windowpanes. Through the windows you can see columns supporting the roof, the staircase leading to the upper level, the reception desk and the windows on the other side of the interior space which let in additional sunlight. The transparent scene inside the library was made more complex because of the reflection of the exterior setting behind me. The 1930s brick cape, the street, the modern elongated crimson torpedo-like sculpture, foliage and myself are reflected and super-imposed on the grid of the windows and the setting within.
Each session brought a rotating cast of visitors, from the Director of the Library to families who had come to use the facility. I always find it interesting to observe how people react to me painting on site. The reactions are both positive, negative and sometimes just wierd. I do not want to be considered a performance artist but I do recognize that there is an entertainment factor to what I do. I like to think that I am, in some way, pulling aside the veil and exposing some of the mysterious and unknown aspects of creating art.
One day a middle-aged woman came by and immediately began to explain her own background in painting, who she studied under, etc. She told me that she stopped painting to give career guidance then she began to give me unsolicited advice and direction on what was successful in my painting and which parts needed work. The lady told me I should get my teaching degree to earn money. As I casually began to pack up for the day, she followed me to my car. Odd, this need to engage, or connect via criticism in order to self-validate. I was the catalyst to facilitate that emotion… just because I was out there doing my thing.
The majority of my interactions with observers are more positive. An example of this occurred one afternoon. A large, gentle, dark skinned black man with walrus-like eyes and whiskers to match, carefully approached me. He had a sketch book in hand and explained that he was originally from Jamaica where he was a cartoonist. He went on to say that he had been taking the bus to the Library every day to practice sketching quickly. He pulled out his sketch book and showed me his gesture drawings of what looked to be unknowing Library visitors. He explained he was trying to become a courtroom artist. He was reaching out to me as a fellow artist, I was touched.
The challenges with this painting have been as much to my visual perception as they are to my technical abilities. We take so much for granted regarding our ability to see. We absorb visual information all the time but how often do we analyze and deconstruct what we see in a framework? What do we see only upon closer examination? I find myself making greater use of my dominant eye in this circumstance by letting the image come in and out of focus in order to more clearly register the reflection and then the transparent scene. The task of rendering the reflection is made more complex because the windows are thermal paned (two-layers). Therefore the reflected image is doubled with one reflection slightly askew. It is at times mind-boggling to keep track of the images and what I am trying to depict. The compositional element that makes things a little more manageable is the window framework itself. The grid provides segments in which to tackle each section individually as well as part of the whole piece. It is a simple tool but it helps to keep me focused during the most difficult stages of the painting.
Another compositional element presented itself: my own reflection. I had ambivalence about including it and wondered if it was too trite but it was something that was clearly visible in the reflection. After including my own figure I realized that it added a more dynamic element than if I had omitted it. There is a certain self-deprecating aspect of this addition: the figure is represented from ankles to shoulders but my head is decapitated by the metal window frame. I suppose you could impute some sort of symbolism by the omission of my head and feet.
After nearly three weeks, I felt it was time to let it go. I am still too close to the painting to judge if it is successful.
(Images 2 & 3 courtesy of Wayne Campbell © 2010)