Friday, March 15, 2013

A Forgotten Rite of Spring

Killdeer Pair at Manayunk Canal. Watercolor by Ken Januski
This time of year brings with it many rites of spring. One of the best is hearing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring on the radio. It's the perfect time to play it. And it always reminds me of the difficulty of doing realistic art. Given that work like Stravinsky's has been played for around 100 years how can you paint as though such transformations, beautiful transformations I might add, never took place?!

I never know the answer to this. I do know that if there is a cause of anxiety at the back of my more realistic art it's due to being aware of this artistic tradition. In the visual arts of course you can substitute Picasso, Matisse, my old hero Stuart Davis for Stravinsky.

Another rite of spring is the return of migrating birds, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, Common Grackles and as above Killdeer. I was shocked to find one in January or February this year. This pair seen today at the Manayunk Canal is my first pair of the year. It's now time to be on the lookout for nests and young.

But the real rite of spring I'm talking about is one I'd just as soon forget - very difficult, overworked watercolors with Killdeer as subject. I'm not sure why I've done so many Killdeer watercolors that have been such a struggle. Perhaps its because they're one of the first birds each year that I sketch in the field. I then want to develop them into a painting. My guess is that's the most likely case.

But I thought I'd left the struggles behind. I didn't have any problems with the watercolors of Killdeer I did last year and possibly the year before. That wasn't the case today. I struggled quite a bit on this 9x12 inch watercolor. Though I started off treating it as a watercolor I ended up treating it as an oil or acrylic, where I don't worry about what's already been put down on the paper and keep pouring on paint. This is almost painting through exorcism.

It looks rough and crude and surely doesn't have the deftness of most of the watercolors I most admire. On the other hand I know that sometimes you just need to struggle to get something right. Today I decided it was time to return to that approach. The painting didn't seem right so I just plowed on, knowing that I might destroy much along the way. (One day later and I've substituted a slightly modified version.)

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