Introducing My Senior Thesis

I’m a senior at Washington and Lee now, which means I’m working on my senior thesis project. What is a senior thesis? Put briefly, I have to finish a series of about 15-20 works. The goal is to develop a cohesive artistic vision through those pieces, and to be able to articulate those ideas through a statement. As both a painter and a printmaker, my series right now is a combination of works on canvas and monotypes on paper. 

Monument I.  Monotype 41"x29".

Monument I. Monotype 41"x29".

In my work, I keep returning to the ideas of sacredness and mystery in visual form. What makes an object visually sacred? When does a person begin to see beyond the canvas and paper into the spiritual world? What kind of visual cues does it take to make that process begin in the mind and which cues are most effective? I’m interested in the conversation that happens when a person looks at a work of art and is suddenly made aware of another reality.

There is much more I could say about those ideas, and about spirituality, but to keep things short I will simply state that I operate within the assumption that our physical existence is only part of the truth about who we are. 

Monument I,  detail (top middle).

Monument I, detail (top middle).

I enjoy the surprises and complexities that come through layering and repetitive process. I usually begin my work with a firm image or symbol from the natural world. Then I find ways to alternatively obscure or simplify the inspiration. I manipulate the image by extracting formal elements I find appealing. The end result has its basis in reality but is carefully constructed to center around visual elements that hint at the more, the spiritual.

Diamond II.  Monotype, 41"x29".

Diamond II. Monotype, 41"x29".

The process of monotype is extremely intuitive. I paint layers of paint on a single sheet of plexiglass. I then scratch marks, roll with brayers, mix chemicals, scrape with a squeegee, or otherwise alter the paint. Next, I place a sheet of paper on the plexiglass. I run the paper and plate through a high-pressure press, and the result is a detailed, one-of-a-kind print on paper. I can alter the thickness and tack of the paint, the wetness of the paper, and the pressure of the press to create different results. I can even print woodblocks or other painted images onto the plate. Finally, to really explore the unexpectedness and subtlety of the material, I use the same plexiglass for all of my prints, printing over and over and over again. That way, colors and textures reappear from previous prints. I love when a print has elements that surprise me; it creates for me a moment of awakening when I realize that the art has an unintended power of its own. 

Evergreen.  Monotype, 41"x29".

Evergreen. Monotype, 41"x29".

They are quiet prints, and sometimes they don't cooperate with the viewer. I want you to spend time with them, to have the conversation that they invite. Maybe you aren't drawn into them immediately. By nature, I think we have different responses to the invitation to be quiet. That doesn't change when we approach art. 


Symbols II  and  Symbol III,  Monotypes, 41"x29". 

Symbols II and Symbol III, Monotypes, 41"x29". 

 

My ideas are still in process right now. My technique is such that I stumble on more successful ways of achieving my ideas by trial and error. This means that I'm working on a few related projects at the same time. One of those is my Symbols series that you see above. The idea here was to pare down the complexity of my prints into simple but powerful symbols that have the same ambiguous staying power as my other prints. They take advantage of the sacredness of text and language. Symbols II and III are almost an 8, Z, S, 5, &, or any number of symbols, but not quite. I don't think of them as postmodern; quite opposite, they speak to the power of the invisible, the immaterial. 

Spire.  Oil on canvas stretched over plywood, 8'x4'. 

Spire. Oil on canvas stretched over plywood, 8'x4'. 

Just last week, I returned to painting. I'm trying to apply some of my same processes on a monumental scale. This painting, Spire, is my first attempt. It's currently in progress, and I'm documenting each stage to make another post later. I have many inspirations for my work, but here I'm specifically drawing on Rothko's scale and quietness. After I layer multiple times, the end result will be a much softer piece, and you might not even be able to see the spire at that point. I'm looking for that stage wherein the painting is in limbo between the transcendentally spiritual and the invitingly familiar physical states. I want these pieces, whatever direction I end up going, to act as a veil upon a deeper, richer existence. 

Rejected prints. 

Rejected prints. 

Ryan