Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting


In the most lovely rejection that I have ever received, the galleriest involved set me thinking when he wrote of my pieces,  “…I find many of them really perfect.”

I was intrigued by how much food for thought this simple comment gave me.

Perfect still means…well, perfect. And yet the word has acquired a bad connotation in some instances, becoming almost not PC. We are frequently chided for trying to be perfect; that the effort to perfect something is a bit rigid; and that perfectionism is soul-destroying (and probably elitist).


My process involves laying in a slightly transparent layer of paint during which time I find my composition and colors; move shapes this way and that; paint things in and paint them out and maybe paint them back in again differently, or elsewhere. After this layer dries, I continue with a second, making any needed changes that I didn’t catch the first time, and creating richer color, more complex edges, deeper blacks, and subtlties of surface and shape.

This second layer feels as if I am polishing the piece like a gem, bringing out the luster and so making visible the intricacies of composition, shape, color, and edge that weren’t fully developed before.

So yes, I am indeed trying to make my painting perfect. The process is done when the whole and  every part of the piece hit my eye just so and vibrate to deep satisfaction, pure joy, or uninterrupted absorbtion as the eye travels around the canvas.

This version of perfection (and of course there are others) is a process of refinement. In my version, the compositions and shapes are  softly flattened, and detail is reduced. My feeling about minimalist work is that what is there must be just so because there is not a lot of detail to distract the eye.

SandflatswithCloudbank copy

While reading the introduction written by my  brother-in-law Harold Augenbraum for his recently published book,  The Collected Poems by Marcel Proust , I was struck by his closing observations, including that the poems “…were not rewritten many times, and they represent a shortening of the distance between creator and reader, not a lengthening”.

Mulling over this concept, I asked myself why a creator would want distance between themself and the reader/viewer. Surely we don’t want to hold our audience at arm’s length?

The answer is to create a space, a sort of moat, where our viewer can plunge in and participate. A leap must be made not just from creator to audience, but also from audience to creator. This open space, though, in my case, is actually created by the process of refinement, which allows all of the parts and aspects of the painting to unite to invite the viewer in to spend time.

SundrenchedSaltmarsh copy

There are probably as many permutations of perfection, through refinement or directness, as there are artists and creators in other fields. I love hearing discussion of how they strive to arrive at their perfect.

8 responses

  1. Wilda

    In my mind’s eye the image I want to paint is already realized, just waiting to be exported to the outside world in paint. Yet with every stroke the vision starts to steal away, taking color, composition, and feeling tone along with it. It’s a tyrannical type of “perfection” that guarantees failure but tempts one to try again. The way out for me is to set the visions aside and just paint — and let the work achieve perfection on its own terms–or not. When it falls together it is perfect, no explanation required.

    May 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  2. Wilda, I once asked that question on FB—do you ever try to execute a fully imagined artwork? Because I read this in novels occasionally, and don’t find it realistic. Only one friend responded yes, and he had accomplished this only once, and it was remarkable to himself, too. So yes, I agree with your conclusion—the artists perfects a piece by interacting with what is there, in a continually changing process. That’s what makes it so engrossing, and why we love (and sometimes are frustrated by) it.

    May 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm

  3. There are approaches to painting that leave everything to the mind of the viewer and approaches that leave nothing unsaid. Each, of course, is valid, as is everything in between. For your particular style, Christie, but not necessarily for others, it is as you said, “A leap must be made not just from creator to audience, but also from audience to creator. This open space, though, in my case, is actually created by the process of refinement”. I am reminded of haikus, many of which in their forced brevity do not describe, but simply open a door to an experience or concept. The reader must walk through the door to fully appreciate the haiku. It seems to me that that is similar to what happens with your paintings – and as with your paintings, a haiku is quite often polished and refined at length, because of the necessity of saying so much with so little. I think that your approach to your work, your desire to refine and polish, works very well for you. I question only your symbology: You do not create a moat, which discourages if not disables contact. I believe you create a door that one can, if one chooses, walk through to enter the world of your painting. And at your best, the viewer need not only see that world, but can feel the mist, smell the wet pavement, and shiver at the oncoming clouds.

    May 18, 2013 at 7:05 pm

  4. Thanks for all of that, Judith—I love the haiku analogy. And I did indeed dither about using the moat metaphor, since typically a moat does not invite one in. But I decided to leave it to underline the idea that each piece carries space around it. So perhaps it is a very nice moat, with warm water and a grassy bank leading to it and then your door into the painting!

    May 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm

  5. I was especially fascinated by your introductory sentence about the “loveliest rejection you’ve ever received”! How wonderful to realize that within even a rejection, there are worlds to uncover that can be enriching – and not to just feel “rejected”!!!

    Perfection is indeed a word that holds many meanings – I love your illumination of how you hold it. And yes, I’m sure that each painter, each artist in any medium will have their own ideas about when a piece is finished, perfect – and thus time to stop and let it live on it’s own.

    Thank you for your thought provoking piece – and for sharing some of your ever beautiful, perfect artwork Christie.
    Mary Anne

    May 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    • Thank you for your lovely comments, Mary Anne.
      Yes, that rejection was actually a very hard one, because it was so complementary and sensitive that it made me want to be in that gallery even more!

      May 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

  6. Perfection is something that is hard to imagine because we as humans are always taught that we can only strive to be perfect but somehow always just fall short of. Yet if we are to embody our total divine selves then we are perfect in every way. There is no such thing as being too perfect. Is a flower too perfect? I think not…….as artists we create and the art of creation is seeking perfection.

    May 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    • That, Gloria, is another great conversation. We strive to better ourselves, and that is a wonderful process, and yet we are also, as you say, already perfect. So we are holding these two truths that appear to be contradictory.

      May 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm

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