"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?"
Difficult questions to consider if you’re an artist attempting to explain something visual in words.
A short time ago I had the fortunate experience of working with an individual who was an enormous asset in identifying the underpinnings of my new work. Her name is Alyson Stanfield and together we went through an interview process that led to the completion of my statement. Here are the spontaneous, unrevised answers.
When do you remember first making art?
The first piece of art I created was a color pencil drawing of a pet parakeet, named Buzzy. Buzzy was a parakeet we found in Lavallette, NJ, while on a family vacation. I was about 7/8 years old. I was laying on the floor of our superintendent's apartment on 228th St., in the Bronx. I felt such a feeling of accomplishment. To this day I recall how simple and free the drawing flowed.
What were the experiences like?
It was a wonderful experience. The free expression, the surprise and admiration from my family, that a 7/8 yr. old kid could produce such a likeness.
What compelled you to return to art throughout your life?
I returned to art throughout my life out of a need to create.
When did you first consider yourself an artist?
I first considered my self an artist when I was a candidate for an MFA at Lehman College, in the Bronx.
My concentration at that time was in sculpture. I was welding steel and was asked, by my professor, Salvatore Romano, to participate in a group exhibit at Ward’s Island in NYC. There were many artists, both professional and student. The exhibit was sponsored by the Organization of Independent Artists. They asked artist/teachers to recommend MFA candidates to participate. I was one. I was filled with a great sense of pride and accomplishment when asked.
The sculptures were to be site specific, and I had to create a piece near a small chapel. I loaded the piece; about 7-8 feet tall onto a pickup I borrowed from my brother and drove down the FDR, thinking to myself, what are these people thinking about the sculpture? Once on the site, I dug a hole and sunk it next to the chapel. The emotion I felt was indescribable. To see a piece I created, in an exhibit with Carl Andre and others. A short while after the opening a very small blurb appeared in Art in America.
I participated in a second group exhibit in NYC and at some point, either before or after the exhibits, I was recommended for a Fulbright. It is interesting that this recommendation was from a watercolor teacher.
When did you first consider yourself a professional artist?
I first considered myself a professional, when I was able to dedicate full time to creativity and started referring to my self as an artist. I sold some work, but did not consider my self a professional artist.
Since the days of my Lehman experience, much has changed. While I was a student, I was and still am married to the same beautiful woman. We had two children then and three now.
I spent 20 years as a police officer. During that time I accomplish two goals and received one degree in criminal justice and a BA +30 concentrating on art. I retired, became a real estate agent, insurance agent and stock broker. The later being the last time I worked for another entity. Yet, I always found some time to create.
I was unable to weld steel, because I had developed
Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease that greatly increases ones sensitivity to light and substantially reduces one’s visual field: Mine being less than 10 degrees. Subsequently, I stopped welding and returned to painting.
I joined some local art associations and began to produce watercolor paintings in a representational style. I never felt comfortable painting in this way. Heretofore my commitment was to abstraction, expression, gesture and color. I felt restricted, confined and packaged as an artist that was creating to satisfy the taste of others. I returned to my passion and reclaimed what I had abandoned. Since this personal renaissance, I rediscovered Vasily Kandinsky and his commitment to color, sound, plane, line and piece of music.
My introduction to Kandinsky came when I was a MFA candidate. An artist/teacher and someone I consider an influence on my work, Salvatore Romano, suggested that I read “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” I read it and refer to it and Kandinsky’s other writings again and again.
His focus on the “sound” a painting makes, color and musical instruments and notes, composition and its many forms, line and its effect on the plane and how it too alters and adds to sound. His work comes solely from within. Not representational but abstract totally pure paintings, that generates the sounds and nuances of a musical composition.
His color is unconstrained, emitting either the dissonance or harmony musical compositions. Line and shape add to the composition by softening or intensifying the tensions created within the plane. The effect his work has had on mine is immeasurable. The idea that color and musical notes can unite to create a painting is a path I am following.
Who have been your artistic influences?
Paul Cezanne - Cezanne’s watercolors are perhaps the most powerful and evocative of the Impressionists. I like to think that his use of color and form has influenced my paintings. The color patches in his work create an abstract rhythm within the composition. In "Flask, Glass, and Jug" he places a knife on an angle to create a feeling of depth. The “line” of the knife not only created depth but also a tension within the composition.
Mark Rothko - I can remember seeing the Rothko exhibit at the Guggenheim and remarking how his work had a spiritual quality. When I looked at his paintings, it was like viewing a stained glass window in church. His work emitted a very distinct sound or vibration. His sensual use of pure color fields evoked a religious experience.
Johannes Itten - When it comes to color, Itten and his theories have played a major role in my work. His twelve part color circle is a linchpin in my present direction. I take his color circle and superimpose it on the Circle of Fifths. The subject of my work becomes either the ii-v-I chord progressions or just an isolated chord.
Vasily Kandinsky - has become the greatest influence on my work. His ideas relating to color, music, composition and the total abstract quality of his paintings have impacted my work significantly. I rediscovered him after struggling with the representational direction my work had taken. My comfort lies in the abstract, the non representational world of emotion, feeling, expression and vibration.
How does your work relate (connection, relationship to art that has been produced in the past?
My work is grounded in the expressionism of Vasily Kandinsky and the abstract expressionism of the 20th Century. These artistic movements released the artist from the distractions of the representational or recognizable in art and permitted the artist to explore attitudes and emotions through nontraditional and non-representational means.
How was the artist released from the distractions of the recognizable and representational?
Until the early 20th Century nature was the focus of the artist. His Landscapes, portraits, sculptures or still life paintings were offered to his patrons or public in diverse styles and techniques. However, no matter whom the artist was, primitive or Picasso, the subject was a representation of an image placed before him by nature. The artist’s aim became the reproduction of nature and the many approaches he used to demonstrate his artistic aptitude.
Each movement in art was the foundation for the next. From Ancient Classical, to Impressionism to, Dada the subject was dictated by nature. Method or style eventually became artist’s motivation.
In addition, Color Theory did not really enter the “picture” until Michel Eugène Chevreul, a chemist, developed his "simultaneous contrast" of colors, which was to have a major influence on the Impressionist's use of color. However, the “skin” or outward appearance of nature remained the dominate focus for the artist.
Perhaps the most influential and original artist of the Twentieth Century was Vasily Kandinsky. He focused on not just seeing nature, but also experiencing it, without relying on the objects nature has placed before him. Color was just as expressive and powerful as sound. He was asked in an interview: “How did you arrive at the idea of abstract painting?” and his answer contained with the following “...I envied musicians, who could create art without “narrating” anything “realistic…” A major influence on Kandinsky was Itten’s teaching and theories on color. Both taught at the Bauhaus and Itten, unlike Chevreul, was an artist.
How do you accomplish this?
My aim is to make art that evokes both auditory and visual responses. It unites the chromatic relationships among the twelve key signatures of the
Circle of Fifths in music, with the chromatic relationships of color in
Johannes Itten’s Twelve Hue Subtractive Color Wheel.
How does it relate to art that you are seeing in your community, exhibitions, or in art publications? What is similar?
The work I am seeing are primarily representational pretty pictures, devoid of emotion.
What do you consider to be unique to you?
The primary inspiration is springs from my emotional state. People I know and meet have no part in the process. One artist that may spark a painting would be Kandinsky. The sounds of a jazz recording, a specific note on the piano would also inspire me.
How has your art evolved in the last 20 years? 10 years? 5 years? 1 year? 6 months?
Twenty years ago my art was anchored in sculpture. I sculpted metal and utilized scrap and auto parts: fenders, axels etc. It was abstract, gestural and a lot of fun.
My work ten years ago, when I did create, was still in the abstract, but as a result of RP, I was not able to weld.
Five years ago, after becoming legally blind, I turned to painting. I used watercolor because of its immediacy. I joined local art associations and my work became more representational. Representational subjects creped into my work because it was what the majority of the organization was doing and selling. I was not happy. I felt confined, restricted and not true to my self.
A little over 3 years ago, the inner began to come back, because I wanted it back. I wanted the freedom to create and feel my work. I began introducing torn paper and experimenting. I was ecstatic. I rediscovered Kandinsky and Itten and haven’t looked back.
What has stayed the same?
Primarily the need to hear a painting when it is finished has stayed the same. My search for the vibration in my work has not changed.
In addition, my overall approach to art and the creative process has pretty much remained the same. There are times when I will create 4-5 paintings in one week and times when weeks will go by before I start again.
What has changed dramatically?
My subject and palette has changed dramatically. My subjects are conceptual and often spontaneous rather than concrete and planned.
My palette has been reduced to the primary colors. I mix whatever color I need from the primaries.
It is always “a yellow, “ “a blue,“ or “a red.”
What are common threads?
The common threads would be color, gesture and sound/music.
How have you felt about your art along the way?
I was always comfortable working in the abstract. Then, I was ensnared in the pretty picture period; the need to create paintings that pleases the masses. Now, I am finding my voice and if the work pleases the viewer fine. If not, that’s okay too.
How do you begin an artwork?
Sometimes I will place a blank paper/canvas on a table and it may remain untouched for a number of days. When I pass in front of it, I may stop look at the white surface and continue about my business. Then, all of a sudden, I stop what I am doing and pick up a brush and begin a composition. There are also times, particularly now, when I will hear a piece of jazz and begin a composition in the current series I am involved in.
What inspires you to start it?
My emotional state, a jazz recording, a specific note on the piano.
People I know and meet have no part in the process. One artist that may spark a painting would be Kandinsky.
Then, what is the first step? Is it a drawing? A photograph?
A single mark?
The first step may be a drawing, a jazz progression, a point or I may just wet my paper and begin to paint.
Do you plan your work in detail before you begin?
Yes and No. I may complete a drawing or sketch to lay out a composition in order to listen to different lines or shapes. Or I may dive right into a painting. One could say that what are planned are the specific colors that correspond to the notes on the Circle of Fifths.
How do you physically go about putting a work of art together?
My work is on paper. I will place my paper on a piece of Plexiglas and in most cases wet both sides with a sponge. Naturally, excess water will be removed. Sometimes I will cut shapes or line into a piece of contact paper to achieve a harder more formal edge or just draw right onto the surface. There are many instances when I will physically tare paper and then paint the surface of the torn piece and “stamp” it onto the surface.
I have created totally using this “stamping” method and then look for images or ideas in the work. Once I see an image I will bring attention to it by either outlining it or laying another color against it in order to illustrate
My pallet would be dictated by the musical chords in a jazz progression or the single chord. The Twelve Hue Subtractive Color Wheel would then be superimposed on the Circle of Fifths and the pallet would be chosen. I will listen to the progression on the piano.
Is this a process understood by the majority of people? Or would it be helpful for you to define it somehow?
No. The process is one of joining painting and music. The Colors are dictated by the location of the primary colors on the Circle of Fifths. Example would be Yellow on top the Key of C, Red on the Key of E and Blue on the Key of Ab. Once this is done a jazz progression or chord would be chosen from one of the keys. Each note will then correspond to a primary, secondary or tertiary color
Do you approach a traditional medium in a unique way?
At various times or in the beginning of the work, while laying down color, I will take a torn piece of paper and saturate it with color. I will then place it on the picture plane and print it. This is done while the paper is still damp or in some cases wet. I will use acrylic or watercolor or both.
Are there any emotions you are trying to elicit?
What are the formal qualities (line, shape, color, texture?
Ideally, one would look at my work and come away with a feeling of joy, harmony and sometimes dissonance I want them to not only view the paintings but also listen to them.
Etc.) you would like people to recognize?
The qualities I want them to recognize are how line and shape and color impact on the sound of the painting and that any variation in those elements affects the composition.
What do you want them to say about your use of materials? Or your subject matter?
I want the viewer to come away from my work commenting on the color, sound and musical quality of the painting.
What would you really like for people to say about your art?
I want them to say that Rondina’s innovative approach to Kandinsly’s thoughts on music and color has joined music and painting. The visual and acoustic characteristics in his work provide the viewer with a memorable experience.