Creation from Chaos: The Residency Experience

The residency experience that I have to offer depends on the occurrence of the unexpected, creating a situation in which students may be surprised at the emergence of their own ideas. I begin by randomly marking up a paper or canvas surface, showing how to achieve a variety of marks using various techniques; I invite students to say what the marks remind them of, and as I hear suggestions (It looks like a dragon! I see a horse!) I'll demonstrate how to use a flat background color to “carve out” an image, defining its edges and separating it from the surrounding marks until all present can see it. The background colors will make shapes of the remaining random marks, which will suggest further images which will in turn be incorporated into the painting.

It is now time for the students to create their own “interesting chaos” and try out my methods for themselves. They are invited to use the techniques I’ve demonstrated (dropping paint-soaked string to produce lines, staining folded or crumpled canvas or paper, using gel medium to create texture or transparency, printing with found objects, etc.) or to invent their own to produce a variety of surfaces. As they use flat colors to define their discovered images, I emphasize the importance of decision-making that results in large, noticeable changes on each student’s surface. Each person is encouraged to follow their own impulses, responding individually to whatever suggestions their surface has to offer. 

These paintings reveal large differences from person to person, and I believe that this is just as it should be.  I am not interested in teaching someone to make paintings like mine, but rather in the creation of artwork unique to each student’s sensibilities.

Many residencies have involved collaborations among many students to create large-scale murals, and often make use of found objects to create a relief so that students may gain experience in the use of tools as well as learning about design, composition, and color interaction.  These projects are often curriculum-based, supporting studies in the sciences, history, or social studies.  One residency resulted in a 10’ X 40’ painting depicting the history of the community.  In other residencies students have created rainforest environments, scenes of a prehistoric past, and visions of the distant future.  Everyone is encouraged to share of ideas and support one another.  Each person’s contributions are vital to the success of the efforts of the group.

Students should take from their residency experience a confidence in the untapped resources of their minds; through this process they have “happened upon” their own ideas, new even to themselves.  They have undertaken a project without knowing where it would lead and brought it to completion.  Members of a collaborating group can see for themselves what may be accomplished by working with others in a spirit of creative, friendly cooperation, in which new ideas are always welcome.

Click here to continue