Big, Bigger

When we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) we were fortunate to see an exhibition by German modernist painters. It was a delight to see the work of a particular favourite,  Anselm Kiefer. These paintings are BIG. “Big paintings” are a particular hallmark of modernist art. I’m talking about physically big paintings, and not the quality of the work, though in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, those two things were often conflated.

Seeing these paintings kicked off a desire to make large paintings ,again. When I was a student in the 1980s I created some very large paintings. Big Red, below, is 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide. The piece was created entirely of bits of paper and spills of acrylic paint. These paintings had no backing and you can imagine what a nightmare they were to hang.

Big Red
Big Red, 1987, collage construction, 8′ x 4′

When I began to paint in encaustic, my work became smaller in size. In Progress,  2013, encaustic on panel is about 40 x 30 inches.

In Progress 2013_v1
In Progress, 2013, encaustic on panel, 30″ x 40″

This week I finished this egg tempera painting. It is bigger than the sketchbook, and alterbook works I’ve been showing you, but nowhere near as large as In Progress.

Pointless, Iterations series, egg tempera on panel, 20 x 16 inches


One more thing. A loyal reader, Regine, commented that the altered book paintings I posted  last week made her think of quilting. I don’t quilt, but I’ve long recognized that my work has an affinity with quilting. Here are two collage paintings from the 1990s that show a strong link to piecing quilts.


You know what’s funny? Size doesn’t matter with digital work at all, at least not in the three dimensional way.  If you have enough pixels you can see the work any size you want. Think of an iMax screen and your cellphone screen.

3 thoughts on “Big, Bigger

  1. Even with Art College 40 years in the rearview mirror, I still get a twitch in my left eye on this topic. Our painting professor’s personal work definitely ran to abstract works. With this apparently in mind, he mandated that the minimum size of any painting we created was 4 feet x 4 feet.

    This worked fine for abstract painters. The majority of my classmates were only in the Art College department because their Mommy & Daddy insisted with an iron hand they attend college. These kids jumped into art very much as the lesser of evils. Any creative passion was faint, if extant at all. To them, dropping paint balloons from a stepladder on to a canvas to make abstract art was easy fun. 8′ x 4′ sizes were the only way these glorified play school doodles gained any gravitas.

    Meanwhile, the handful of us who had a yearning towards more representational painting were a beleaguered minority, struggling to fill 16 square feet or more with recognizable details. It made for LONG, exhausting hours. We essentially taught ourselves while the professor and his abstract disciples flung paint at each other.

    One of my time travel fantasies is to go back to that college and coach my novice young self to have firm, diplomatic conversations with the professor, insisting on equal time and consideration for my artistic vision/needs.


    1. I love the idea of going back to my younger self to encourage some skepticism of what I was told. Even at 30 I was about as naive as you could get. I knew there was more to making art than doing portraits of my children, and yet, I often felt cheated because my love for figurative work was considered so yesterday. We’d evolved beyond it. Ha! Mistake. Mine and theirs. Thank goodness I loved making art then, and I still do, and now finally I seem to be old enough to put aside my training and value a myriad of art forms.


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