According to the artist Willem de Kooning, texture is a word that denotes the events of our lives. If he is correct, then the texture of my formative childhood years InSide the Back Mountain was the experience of fields and woodlands surrounded by the contentment of home and family. Many believe that wherever art ends up, it always begins with nature, and that is my reality! The painter Matisse wrote, “An artist must possess nature.” He meant sit with it. Occupy it. So even though the everyday definition of texture is the feel, the appearance, or the consistency of a surface or substance, and even though textures can be silky, scaly, sandy, slimy, rough, wrinkled, prickly, or pebbly, the word texture denotes so much more!
Art is a visual language spoken through materials and equipment and expressed via lines, shapes, colors, values, and textures. Add the design elements of size, direction, edges, and contrast, and one may create millions of different images simply by rearranging those elements! It's like the sounds Julie Andrews sang about in The Sound of Music: “Do re mi fa so la ti do….” Mix them up, she said, and you've got many different songs! When I think of the season of autumn, I immediately think of the element of color, yet autumn is so much more! Autumn is an image of experience, woven with my paintbrush! As my college profs back in the 60s said, “JUST FEEL IT!”
Texture can be about the sense of touch, or the illusion of it. When I painted On the Road Again and Golden Afternoon, I created literal texture with my oil paint colors by thickly applying that paint with painting knives. I could have used brushes and very thick paint, but with painting knives (which come in various sizes and shapes and resemble small trowels) I was able to vary my edges from hard to soft, achieve thin lines as well as large surfaces, and create many variations of the texture sizes and directions. Besides, it's an amazing experience to mix various hues in oil paint, scoop up the paint thickly on the bottom of the knife, and spread the buttery substance like icing on a cake! Then that paint can be layered, scraped, texturized, or even sculpted! Palette knife oil painting is extremely tactile, giving not only the illusion of three dimensions but also the reality of a bit of the depth portrayed in the painting!
In one of his interviews, the famous painter Andrew Wyeth shared, “I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the textures around it….” That statement relates to the “texture of experience” that Willem de Kooning wrote about. Wyeth was famous for his drybrush watercolor and egg tempera paintings. His paintings gave the illusion that if they were touched, one could feel the roughness of an old board or the sharpness of a broken seashell. Yet in reality, the surfaces of his paintings were absolutely smooth to the touch, due to his substrates, materials and techniques. In drybrush watercolor and egg tempera, texture is suggested with either small individual strokes laid down thinly in individually hatched lines, or scumbled (rubbed) into multiple layers. When I painted my autumn watercolor titled Blue Water I used both hatching strokes, and a few washes of color. I think of the words of Edgar Degas who declared, “Painting is easy when you don't know how but very difficult when you do.” That's simply because painting is like anything else in life–knowledge expands and deepens any subject! The more you learn about drawing and painting, the more fascinating, enriching, and difficult it becomes!
The writer John Steinbeck described my thoughts about an autumn day perfectly: “A day… is not one thing but many. It changes not only in glowing light… but in texture and mood, in tone and meaning, wrapped by a thousand factors of season….” That's what I attempted to show in these three paintings. I hope I have occupied nature, as Matisse suggested.
Of course, painting is not the only art to employ texture. We see texture in the harmonies, melodies, and rhythms of music. We see texture in clothing design, landscape design, architecture, sculpture, furniture design, and nearly everywhere else in our lives! Our voices have texture. Our clothes have texture. Texture affects our emotions and allows us to experience a personal response. If art is the colors and textures of our imaginations, can our awareness allow us to enjoy the texture of our lives even more? YES! I think I’ll go paint another woodland scene with a lot of texture!
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 publication of InSide the Back Mountain.