Monday, May 24, 2010

WK, barns, structure, chaos

Ok, it's a barn, something I never paint. Structures. I usually prefer not to paint them because they tell you what to do.  They insist.  Twelve hours after listening to WK and I was in Cumberland. I was equipped with my painting sites list (for the Plein air festival in two weeks.) I decided to stretch myself thin and experience a barn. My painting sites list was full of barns to paint. So I chose this one. It appealed to me because of the tremendous contrast:high noon bright light and the intense red of the barn. It turned out way to stiff. I think I caved in to the demands of the structure.

In the lecture  some one asked WK why he painted barns. He answered by explaining that "Barns are simple, imposing structures with a history-like a Greek temple. They also have great verticals."  (that is something WK likes about Vermont-all the verticals, which is the opposite of the usual landscape.)

I do find something he said perplexing. He talked a lot about his desire to find chaos and paint that. I would say barns are the opposite of chaos. So structured. I am a little confused. Can anyone explain? I wish I had painted one before so that I could have had that question in my head.


Casey Klahn said...

I have seen some of his pastels in NYC, and of course all of those in his books. He makes much of scribbley messes. Tangles of brush and branches. The poor assistant and the upscale gallery thought his blue marks were oil pastel - so greasy and fresh.

I try my hardest to emulate that scribble mess chaos thing. I have to remind myself first, and it is hard to cut loose.

Many of his barns are odd angled roofs, close crops that make little sense, and tangles by them of brush and shadows, etc. I don't know your answer, but those are my observations.

Myself, I paint barns because I have a barn. How simple can you get?

I see your crit., but there is much good to this piece, my friend. Work it - I'll bet the one you want is waiting for you to find it.

Anonymous said...

While this is certainly stiffer than the Cumberland bridge from yesterday's post, your use of color remains stunning! I think the key is to find one's personal balance between structure and chaos. Perhaps the barns provide just enough counterpoint to balance the rest of the chaos for WK, and so he likes to include them to help anchor the rest.

lou said...


Mr. Kahn is intentionally “perverse” (his word not mine) in both his work and teaching. Contradictions create space for you to think for yourself.

Like the greek temples, barns deceive us with there apparent geometric simplicity and lure us into thinking we know what we are doing so we stop looking. They are, again like the greek temples, more complex structures both in their hand crafted anomalies, local patina and heroic transition back to nature. He paints them like one would a portrait of someone who has experienced the trials of a lifetime and knows joy.

The pursuit of chaos is likely to maintain his appetite for learning.



Nika said...

Hi Lorainn,
I'm finally back home, it was great meeting you in person!
I was doing some thinking after the lecture too and this dichotomy makes perfect sense to me. WK was talking about chaos and how it helps to take one out of his/her's routine and habitual treatments of subjects. He also said how he likes order and structure, remember? The excitement in his work happens when both chaos and structure are brought to bear and allowed to "fight it out" between themselves. That opens a lot of possibilities, don't you think?
However we think of our process, I mostly see it as contemplating and making sense of chaos in whichever way we find accessible to us. There's a million ways of doing that, sometimes we have to make more chaos in the process:)
PS. It's great to see you countryside explorations, best of luck with finding good locations that speak to you. Here comes my unsolicited advise:) I think you're not completely satisfied with your barn painting not because you "caved in to the demands of the structure", but because you didn't cave in enough!
You gotta give that barn some room to breathe and listen to it. "Celebrate the particular" as WK said.

SamArtDog said...

I am stunned! I saw the barn in your thumbnail and thought it was a cyber-blur. Perhaps a UFO. But no; it's not a mistake. It's fearlessness!

In physics, chaos is behavior so unpredictable as to appear random. For you, painting a barn is stepping off into chaos.

I think WK's chaos is all about fearlessness.

SamArtDog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
loriann said...

Thanks for your insights Casey. I am continuing to work from my sketches from the weekend. It can be very freeing to be in the studio without your source available. "Just be with the painting." hmmmmmmmm.

Hi Don,
I like your idea of balance and counterpoint. Thanks about my color...the color is my natural tendency. I think I just froze up with the solidity of the structure. I wanted strength, but I compromised my own natural way. I won't give up. Thanks for dropping by!

Hi lou
Intentionally "perverse", eh? I like the reasoning behind that. "pursuit of chaos" sounds wonderful.
Thanks for dropping by my blog!

Hi Nika,
It was really great to meet you too! Putting a face to your writing makes me feel like we are talking. Hope you had a wonderful trip to DC, albeit short. I remember WK's need for order and referring to himself as a "fusspot."
I like the idea of the fight.
You are right, it is making sense of chaos, no matter what ...but it becomes even better when the chaos returns and makes the painting breathe.
I will continue with the barn.I think I just froze...maybe through barns I may make peace with imposed structure:-)

Hi Sam!!!
You ARE so right...a barn was stepping off into crazy chaos. Fearlessness. I like that.

Caroline said...

I was just about to click away thinking I had come onto another blog but noticed the heading of your blog just in time! It doesn't look like your work to me, but I think that is fine, it was a surprise to see you paint something so very different. We do need to experiment and try new things. If anything we return to our own style of work much fresher and with plenty of new inspiration. Your painting is lovely and the barn very well grounded! I have been a fan of WK's work for a long time thanks for sharing the lecture and thoughts.

One Step Away said...

Wolf Kahn Barn Paintings: When I see a WK barn painting I feel like I'm looking at one for the first time. How do you make a barn unique and interesting? Not an easy thing to do. Somehow he comes up with a fresh approach for each one. I enjoyed reading your notes about his lecture. He gave some good hints. Common elements in all his barn paintings, in my opinion, are powerful and interesting shapes with provocative color relationships. A generalization like this, however, offers no help at all.

Jala Pfaff said...

I don't understand what he said either.
I had to smile when I saw you'd painted a barn after meeting Wolf Kahn.

Jala Pfaff said...

P.S. Don't know if you're a fan of blogger Tracy Helgeson? She's been doing some spectacular, monumental, minimalist barns.

loriann said...

Hi Caroline, you are right, it doesn't look like my work. I am glad that you didn't click away. I am trying to work out my fear/dislike of structures through WK. I will keep posting m=new tidbits.

Hi Steve,

I like those thoughts. Realizing that it can be reduced to a paragraph, your words are insightful. Thanks !!!

Hi Jala,

Confusion is good, right? It makes us search and through it learn more. Glad I made you smile. I decided after seeing that list of painting sites for the plein air thing and seeing so many barns that it was a sign. Between WK and the list. i had to make amend s with structures. Yipes!!!! AN yes, I love Tracey's work!

Double "D" said...

Hi B,

You've just entered the elite world of barn painters.
Fun isn't it. As far as the chaos ... I think what Casey said about brush, tree's and vines as the chaos makes sense. For me, I think the chaos is the interruption of the landscape with a man made object which is nothing but straight lines. Even straight tree's aren't as straight as barns ... except the ones losing out to gravity and aching bones. Or as WK says, barns are filled with history and stories of farmers and families, the success and failure of crops ... etc.

OK yammer, yammer, enough.
If you glean anything positive from this
whoo ooooo.

Karen said...

I think SamArtDog got it so right, the barn for you is the chaos (for me, today I painted a head study...and it felt so chaotic!) But HOW COOL is that...the barn, even is you never paint one again, will have informed your other work, just because you faced this 'unknown', or this 'fear'...

loriann said...

Hi PB, How are you doing? How is your shoulder? Have you been listening to your docs and PT?
Entering the world of barn painters sounds really scary...not a place I really belong. As Sam said, it's about fearlessness and my dislike/fear of structures and their rules. Can I make peace with it? We will see. I like your idea that the chaos is the interruption of the landscape with a man made object with nothing but straight lines. How do you get it to bow to the landscape? We will see.
Always good to hear from you my friend!

Hi Karen,
I think we are both meeting our fears head on. that Sam she's a smart one. I think I need o make peace with this idea...onward to more barns.

Double "D" said...

Hi B,

I think it depends on whom the diva is ... or who is the supporting actor? One fades and one shines.

loriann said...

Right on PB.