There’s been some debate over the shapes my paintings have taken in the last few months.* Essentially it always comes down to “Is it necessary?” Curving a plane is obviously a significant choice made by the artist (aka me). And there are a multitude of ideas and choices that have lead me down this particular, peculiar track.
Canvas specifically has a beautiful tension to it once stretched around a curve. This tension exists in every well made canvas, but it is less apparent to the eye. Because it doesn’t want to stretch perfectly evenly on such a shape, it lends a unique warp to the existing visuals rather than needing to create some form of distortion less organically. Using a very simple and conventional 1pt perspective on the surface easily portrays something off putting about the space while still retaining a bit of ambiguity.
Paintings and pictures of landscapes, cityscapes and other places (more specifically those on the realist end of the spectrum) have a tendency to act like a window the spectator peers through into this other place. (This idea draws upon some of the research I did for my dissertation.) The perfect right angles of a canvas and the widow-like nature usually works. But this is something different. I want them more reminiscent of a thought or a flashback. Similar to sight (and Rob Pepperall’s work, and the work I did last year) thoughts memories, visions, and dreams never have square edges. The curved canvas lends a liminal aspect to the piece. It is a piece in transition: between object and painting, between dream and memory, between time and space, between place and non-place. It’s all these things and none of them (it’s Schrodinger’s canvas).
In making and painting them, I’ve found that they are strangely both inclusionary and exclusionary in the same moment. The perspective invites the spectator in to the space created while the canvas itself curves away from them. Both familiar and other, they play with the eye and our desire to see a full picture. They question the way in which we inhabit a space by subverting the expected. I don’t believe any of this would come across the same way where they painted on some other surface.
I am by far not the first to paint on something unrectangular. The tondo has been in use since before Michelangelo.
Edward Clark experimented with shaped canvas from the 30’s through the 60’s. He stated “..all great artists can only do what they esteem to be right. No matter how it appears at first, it will always be beautiful.”
I could give a full list of others who’ve painted on irregular canvases, as well as those like Rauschenberg and Anselm Kiefer who bridge the gap between sculpture and painting. I merely do something similar to achieve my own means.
*It’s only a few compared to the multitude who like it, but as of yet it I still believe that their opinion matters. Not that I actually take their advice often, but it is still worth my consideration.