Chasing Rainbows / by Gary Perrone

I enjoy expressing myself and it is helpful for a visual artist such as myself to verbalize my creative process and offer a glimpse into a creative mind. In addition to the change of perspective it provides the artist, it may reveal something that is relevant to the viewer. Writing provides an opportunity to hear my inner voice, outside my mind, and helps me find creative answers. Much of my art creation occurs in solitude, and although music is an ever-present stimulus, I myself am usually silent. Even so, my analytical mind continually presents possibilities, scenarios, strategies and questions. The key questions always seem to be, Why would I paint this and will anyone want to buy it?

 
Arranged Colors by Gary Perrone. 2019 Watercolor.

Arranged Colors by Gary Perrone. 2019 Watercolor.

 

For me, a painting is a very complicated thing. I am not typically an adherent of random creativity, preferring a viable idea behind whatever piece I plan to create. The same discipline and training that allows me to be an effective art director comes into play in everything I do – especially painting. When I start a new collection of paintings I am faced with the challenge every artist faces of what to paint and how. I first started painting in 2000 and then it was more important for me to invent an original way paint a canvas than make a social statement. 

I became an adult through the 1970s and 1980s and then nearly became a statistic when I was diagnosed with HIV in 1987. That information has influenced many of my life’s decisions. Not only in terms of my survival but also in terms of fulfilling a purpose. As someone who identifies with LGBTQ people, I find there is plenty in our world to comment about politically and socially. Now, twenty years since my first paintings I see that a real contributor to my well-being has been my focus on art that invokes the tranquility I experienced while it was being created. It seems my purpose has always been to create art pieces that will bring beauty and joy to others. Two years ago I left behind much I had worked for decades to achieve – a career, a home and security – to dedicate myself to that pursuit.

 
Color study.  Gary Perrone 1982. Gouache.

Color study.
Gary Perrone 1982. Gouache.

 

The journey led me to rural northeast Texas where I became familiar with the region by way of a friend with whom I have visited over the years. Away from the surprisingly busy town center the countryside can be tranquil, which is what drew me there. My friend and I have taken long bike rides fifteen or twenty miles out of town to tiny public cemeteries that are tucked away in obscure locations. Sometimes the county roads and farm roads are devoid of other humans. Everything seems vast and it is easy to believe I am free. Many of these cemeteries are perched on remote hills from which the vistas are awe inspiring especially in the springtime when every color seems to exist in some form. 

I came to realize how important color is for me and my first inclination was to paint the landscapes and precious wildflowers. The creative hangup for me is that of the literal interpretation of nature. I find greater artistic satisfaction in creating a piece of art that offers my unique perspective. Still, to me there is something strange and significant about the Civil War era grave markers and I did a series of watercolor paintings depicting some of the odder details, which I found technically exhilarating. As I moved to painting forests and fields and prepared to attempt the flowers, barns and streams I kept thinking about a local group of artists I had come to know. They routinely paint these rural subjects and I am generally impressed by the quality and refinement of their work. However the idea of painting something original tugged at me and I became opposed to painting things that are too literal or similar. The idea to create a series of art pieces based on the color spectrum emerged as I realized the significance of the light spectrum in nature. Particularly in real life scenes where every color of the spectrum is clearly represented. While working on the watercolor paintings, I used a wheel-shaped watercolor tray. After several weeks of painting I gradually arranged the colors prismatically. I have always marveled at the prismatic color that appears in things like crystal in sunlight and when I looked at the wheel-shaped paint tray I could see in it all of life and nature in a form that seemed beyond elemental and musical. There is something about painting color progressions that appeals to me and after a succession of watercolor studies I painted Prismatic Nature. Since then I have been inspired by the challenge of creating artwork that engages all the colors of the rainbow.

 
A color spectrum that appears in my studio on sunny mornings.

A color spectrum that appears in my studio on sunny mornings.

 

It is not only that the color spectrum is present in everything we see but also that its physical appearance as a rainbow is a symbol of equality, humanity and natural perfection. In its fleeting reincarnations every imaginable color is there to behold. This inspired me to paint Congregation. The concept for it comes from the memory of a place we rode to called Bridges Chapel. Between the chapel and the cemetery there are several large metal tables below a cluster of tall oak trees. It was winter and looking up at the sky through the bare branches I thought about how different each of us is. Yet all part of one humanity – all containing red blood and with the same basic human needs. I thought about unity, acceptance and belonging – and how many are denied those things.

As important as color is to me in fulfilling my creative expectations so too is geometry. By geometry I mean the elemental structure of things. For instance, reflections within a faceted gemstone or interlocking branches in the canopy of a pine forest. I find these things easier to understand once I have visually determined their elemental structure. The same holds true for a crowd of people or a field of wildflowers. In looking for the geometry of a scene I gain an understanding of its components and locate a path to abstraction. In the Color Spectrum Paintings my intention is for the geometry to be the object itself. These images are not necessarily derived from nature but exist as unique expressions of form and color. My own peculiar rainbows.

Antigravity   (Detail) by Gary Perrone. 2019 Acrylic.

Antigravity (Detail) by Gary Perrone. 2019 Acrylic.

In the midst of writing this essay I shunned the keyboard and proceeded to paint a large canvas with a landscape that has been lodged in my memory for some time. There is no photograph, only a small watercolor rendering I had done from the same memory, of a field of yellow and white flowers descending from a dense forest. It contains only a narrow slice of the full color spectrum. At times the creative process is akin to being possessed! Now, three weeks later I ask myself, what was my intention? More and more my creative scheming centers about how to create art pieces that are meaningful to me and compelling to others. After all, I must sell my work in order to continue doing what I love.

My intentions become even more important as I consider selling my artwork. Creating paintings that are commercially viable is vital, but equally so is creating paintings that are thought provoking and visually arresting. That demands a focused intention if the finished piece is to fulfill my own expectations. Many times, in the course of a painting or even after it is complete, I wonder if what I see before me is really what I had in mind. The branches in the painting Congregation are an example of this. I drew four unique configurations of branches, which I intended to arrange in a circular array and which would represent the color spectrum. The process required retracing each of the four drawings twelve times. Once the array was successfully transferred the entire branch structure was painted at least three times over. After I was done there was no question in my mind that I intended this painting.

 
Prism   (detail) by Gary Perrone. 2019 Acrylic.

Prism (detail) by Gary Perrone. 2019 Acrylic.

 

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