PAGES OF THE COLORING BOOK, February 27 - March 27, 2016
ARTIST STATEMENT BY TOM EVERHART
Caution, High Surf Advisory
How raw and fearlessly fearful we are when we first step into the dangerous waters just off the coast of our rules. Is it possibly the raw fine mist of our academia that precedes the rolling waves of cultivated influences will allow us to be receptive to new and other ways of seeing? And, what are the raw elements that make us so available to a new movement of illusion, thought, and mood. What will help us stay receptive when that new way of seeing comes with an unexpected narrative that interrupts our play of consciousness? Can we depend on our raw emotions to overcome the fears within our raw nerves when we find ourselves face to face with this unexpected swelling 50 ft. narrative wave that appears overwhelmingly unfamiliar?
Well, delete the concern. Because, the beauty in a state of being raw, is that it pushes us to be visually active and allows us to see the familiar in the unfamiliar. Riding it’s wake makes us accessible from all vantage points to being changed as it becomes the under toe for our creations.
So, is raw hard to see or is raw black and white?
We surf the web to find information. The student of the Arts surfs the history of art, much in the same way, to find information of inspiration. As there was very little real-time information in the 1970’s when I experienced fine art academia, the abundance of recent extensive information was mostly compiled from the preceding decades. The aesthetic tendencies of academia in the 70’s like Minimalism and Conceptualism, frankly very hostile to drawing and easel painting, that superseded the previous various contemporaneous “isms” along with Pop, Hard Edge, and Color Field was at that time, not as available as was information on the milieu in which the Abstract Expressionists flourished from roughly 1942 to 1952.
As a young child, my visual awareness grew increasingly through my enthusiasm for the raw untouched black and white pages of the coloring book. To be sure, the most significant qualities in the pages were the black lines relating, interrelating, and cross-referencing to form imagery tending to seduce color but able to stand on its own. So it shouldn’t be surprising that it was the raw sparseness, fluidity, and linear invention of the black -and- white enamel abstract paintings of the Abstract Expressionist that made the biggest impression on my student experience.
Of course, Picasso had already set a precedent for using enamel and painting in black and white, with the most famous example of black, white, and gray painting, “Guernica.”
But the New York school of Abstract Expressionist like Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, and Bradley Walker Tomlin all set black -and- white painting on fire by extending the limits of drawing by amplifying it in a painting context, fusing drawing with painting as well as ever changing manifestations of human emotion. Their black -and- white abstractions produced in raw materials such as commercial white and black enamel paints and inexpensive housepainter brushes, melded drawing with painting through raw, blunt energetic individual expressive marks.
Many of these expressive marks on these large scale paintings were exact blow-ups of very small sketches, accidents and all, amplified many times. Willem de Kooning, who’s black -and- white abstract paintings were a chief catalyst in Franz Kline’s black and white work, prompted Kline to blow up his small brush drawings onto the wall of his studio using a Bell-Opticon projector to make his new full-scale paintings.
And he did.
Just imagine what a raw moment in time this must have been for Kline as he swam from figurative work to this large abstraction art. Elaine de Kooning reported Kline’s “total and instantaneous conversion” to his black -and- white abstractions and how his “style of painting changed completely” after he saw his small drawings enlarged on his wall using the Bell-Opticon projector.
Shortly before beginning my friendship with Charles M Schulz (Sparky), in 1980, I was in the dark of my studio with a projector enlarging small black and white drawings of his strip on a large 25 ft. wall in research for a design project. It was possibly one of the most raw moments in my life. The black and white drawing was projected over-scale casting the restraining perimeter cartoon box off the wall, as well as the word balloon, leaving me face to face with these beautiful gigantic black strokes that loomed and eradicated any image, expanding as entities in themselves, unrelated to any reality but that of their own existence. As images lost themselves, whipping brush-like lines ricocheted around the brightly lit wall. I had a strong sense, once again, of fusing drawing with painting, as the projected black and white lines could stand alone at the scale of a painting rather than a drawing. The unfamiliar was gradually becoming the familiar as the moment and the pull of memory fused the unexpected tsunami of Sparky’s dynamic line constructs with the remembered experiences of the Abstract Expressionist.
So, for the next 20 years of our unique friendship, I learned how to surf in Sparky’s waters in black -and- white. Color was so raw that it rarely existed in our conversations since any color used in his strip was added to a scanned image of his black line art by the printer using a hand colored photocopy of the work with a corresponding color chart as a guide. Most importantly, our conversations were pictorial problems simplified in black and white, with a touch of abstraction.
Sparky, in one of his last essays published in 1999, included in, “Peanuts a Golden Celebration”, writes, “As the strip grew, it took on a slight degree of sophistication, although I have never claimed to be the least bit sophisticated myself. But it also took on a quality which I think is even more important, and that is one which I can describe only as abstraction.” Sparky moved toward abstraction around 1960 when he started flattening and generalizing his subject’s appearance. And very much like the Abstract Expressionist, the visual articulations of his raw black line art offered an encyclopedic range of concentrated expression based on human emotion and activity.
Even his tools, a two-pronged, split, sharp-ended quill 914 radio penpoint squeezed into a R. Esterbrook penstaff and Strathmore three-ply, high-surface Bristol paper, had for a painter, the same unpretentious raw beauty as the black and white enamel paints used by the Abstract Expressionist.
In that same essay, Sparky went on to say, “This was the direction I wanted to take, and I believe it has led me to do some things that no one ever before attempted in a comic strip.”
Maybe raw, is all circular.
So, If the raw blank black and white pages of the coloring book can influence a young raw aspiring artist enough to nurture his future interest in black -and- white Abstract Expressionism. And if the academic studies of Abstract Expressionism, their ideas and understanding how it came into being can open the student’s creative thought to the unfamiliar strategies and visual constructions of cartooning. What waves of influences possibly made the young raw would-be artist of the Abstract Expressionist generation eventually available to surf the thinking of Abstraction.
Well consider this, their contemporaries born between 1900 and 1950, were the first to grow up with “The Funnies,” and were not yet making distinctions between the daily comics and the art of museums. As fine arts training was remote, it’s quite likely they began their formal art educations with correspondence courses in cartooning (the same type of correspondence school Sparky worked for very early In his career). In a letter to an academia friend from a young Franz Kline, who’s popularity of his high school cartoons encouraged him to study art, he writes:
“I am especially interested in cartooning and would like to enter a school with cartooning as its main art subject. I should be very happy if you can give me information in regards to good cartooning schools.”