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  • Albert Fung

Breakthrough

My paintings are often bifurcated, that is the upper and lower halves (sometimes left/right halves) of the picture look like they are made up of different stuff and may belong to different pictures. At the same time, there is a cohesion between these parts, a haiku-like abruptness where the twists and turns make total sense as a single image. This cohesive abruptness parallels the twists and turns and the layers of lived inner experience.


So, my pictures often seem at odds with themselves. The image reveals itself to the viewer only after some acclimation. Only upon finding the buried haiku, does the painting look like a picture.


On this particular painting, I had gotten to a place in this work's development where it was highly worked but looked like nothing more than random marks, fits, and grunts. When I paint like this, I am not looking at the piece like a picture. I am not seeing it from above or at a critical distance. I see it the way a mole sees the tree roots, with its nose, its touch: tunneling and sniffing, clawing and crawling forward. I nip and tuck the paint, build and bury; I trace and re-trace the borderlines like singing a melody over and over with different intonation and phrasing.


But by now, something should have clicked. The haiku should have shown itself by now. What's more, I knew something was lurking inside there. "What is holding me back?" I ask. The answer is usually fear and pain. A painting, can have attachments, latent attractions and aversions, that save me from this fear and pain. This is where the preciousness becomes the wrench in the works, stopping the machine from turning. A section of picture looks too good to cover up; I fear that I'll never make something so special again. At the same time, there might be elements like a color or a shape I habitually avoid without examining why.


In this picture, the wrench in the works was a precious passage in the lower half. It was lovely. It was also murky and not relating to the thrust of the work. And, I knew it needed red; it just made sense in a color harmony/visual weight organization sort of a way. But, I habitually avoid red. I used to have a aesthetic/philosophical reason against it; now I just acknowledge I resist its emotional charge.


The thing to do was to wallow in the distaste, in my aversion to red, to the point of feeling emotions associated with and bodily sensation evoked by that color. That taught me which hue to use. And as to where to paint it, that necessitates a paradigm shift: instead of thinking how I could adjust the rest of the painting to accommodate that precious patch; I came to challenge why I often don't want a painting to finish, how I love leaving them in a ill-resolved, murky, half-energy state. I also came to challenge how the bottom halves of many of my paintings are mute, inarticulate, hiding. I had to imagine myself in such a ill-resolved holding pattern. And then, I had to imagine why should want such a thing.


The answer lay here: paint what I don't want to paint, over that thing I can't bear to be without. So that is how this painting stepped over a perilous blockage and now proceeds with its journey.


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©2020 by Albert Fung.