What Does My Past Say About My Future?

They say to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.

To look back is a chance to predict where your trajectory goes. Maybe you like where you’re going. On the other hand, if you don’t like that path, you can change course.

Building Bridges

Back around 2002 or 2003 I was working in my first full-time graphic design job out of school. I was doing a lot of driving from one side of town to the other. I was making a lot of road trips, too.I became fascinated with the patterns of light and shadow created around overpasses when the sunlight hits them.

Overpass, 2003. Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches

I began recreating those on canvas in exaggerated color, eventually highlighting the textures and decay in the concrete texture.

I also used exaggerated colors in portraits of my friends.

Jennabeth, 2003. oil on canvas, 22 x 22 inches

I would make reference photos with my Canon SLR, get the film developed, scan the prints into Photoshop, manipulate the colors, and print them on the big color printer at work. Often I would make a grid on my printout to more easily transfer the image onto canvas. That was my process.

Dorm Room Conversations Expressed on Canvas

The urban imagery got me thinking about the impermanent nature of our lives here on earth. I believe God made us to be eternal, but due to our brokenness our bodies are mortal. (God created a way out for us, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

In our hubris, we keep building monuments to ourselves, but nature erodes them. Our grand buildings and structures inevitably fall apart.

It sounds like the stuff of dorm room conversations, and since I was right out of school, that’s about right. (I miss those late-night philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. Those were the best conversations ever.)

Melrose II, 2004. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

Eventually, I felt like I maxed out on bridges. I had made somewhat of a name for myself painting bridges, but I got tired of it and I don’t like painting the same thing over and over, so I felt like I had said everything I could say about it. I got bored.

I wanted to pursue a sort of abstract realism, but never quite got the hang of it. The idea was to make a drawing based on real structures, but flattened them with simple colors in paint.

And the Inevitable Burnout

Nashville365 Series, Number 3: Meade, 2011. Oil on canvas, 5 x 7 inches

I gradually transitioned from bridges to downtown facades and urban scenes, but I got bored with that, too. I got tired of the small scale and high level of detail. Yet in the back of my mind I kept coming back to abstraction, but didn’t know how to make that transition in a way that made sense in respect to my previous work. Why would somebody who paints urban landscapes suddenly switch to abstracts? It didn’t make sense in the grand scheme of my work.

It Took a One-Month Challenge to Get Me to Change

But after not really doing anything for about 18 months, I finally made that jump into abstraction with a month-long challenge. I needed a challenge and trying something new and different was just the thing to get me back into the studio after burning out.

I noticed that my new abstracts look like close-ups of the very concrete on those bridges and overpasses.

In fact, I now will go and take pictures of concrete and plaster and stuff like that that’s all weathered and veined. Only now I take those photos on my smartphone and manipulate them with an app like Mextures and not Photoshop. I don’t draw on the canvas, either. I just start with the paint and get going based on a loose concept in my head. And right now the concept usually centers around color and a mood more than anything.

What’s really wild is those loopy lines from those flyovers are starting to come back. I like the big, long curves of flyovers. It makes for such an interesting abstract form when flattened onto canvas.

What’s Old is New Again

Interchange, 2004. oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

Bend, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches

So I have started incorporating bridge-like structures back into my paintings. It’s been fun bringing this back into my paintings after all these years.

Even though I went kind of “gray” for a while, I’m excited to bring back the colors and forms that got me so fired up about painting some 14 years ago. Fortunately I think this is something I can keep doing a lot longer.

Will I still be doing that 14 years from now? I have no idea. But if the past is any indication, there will at least be some part of that concept in my work.