The artist describes her Rorschach-like paintings. "Evidence of a fleeting subconscious state of mind."
Tabula Rasa, a Latin term meaning “scraped tablet,” or “clean slate,” is the absence of preconceived or predetermined goals; the mind in its empty state before receiving outside impressions. In epistemology and psychology, Tabula Rasa is a theory that individuals are born without built-in mental context and that therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception.
In art, the blank canvas is a tabula rasa. A clean slate waiting for the artist’s brush. How the artist approaches that clean or blank slate is what intrigues me. Is that initial stroke intentional, mindful, deliberate? Or is the first mark made with no apparent goal or subject guiding the process?
This is where realism and abstract art part ways.
Gestural, or action paintings are done intuitively, with the artist’s focus not on what is being painted, but how it is painted. Rather than applying paint in a controlled, premeditated way, the paint is applied intuitively, physically, and energetically onto the surface. The process is the focus, and the goal is to express rather than depict. The painting is the testament of that action, a recording of the gestures made, a visual history of an instant in time, an act of primal truth.
Artists bring our emotional state with us into the studio. Sometimes I feel like the 1973 Sally Fields movie Sybil, wondering which personality is going to show up! When working on a studio piece I can be impatient and aggressive at the canvas, on other days I may move more slowly and deliberately, contemplating each brush stroke. At times I question myself. Am I clear with what my intention is for a painting? Am I struggling to find my voice in the work? On good days the painting seems to effortlessly paint itself, and other days it is a problem child sent to a corner (literally) until it behaves. It’s good to be aware when you find yourself in trouble, that it is usually your own banging and clanking that is drowning out the quiet path that is there patiently waiting to show you the way. Sometimes you just need to take a break and give some space between you and the painting.
That is why I love doing my tabula rasa paintings. There isn’t time to get in the way. They come from a purely honest, truthful and unfiltered place.
I use French-made Arches 140# Cold Pressed Paper that I precut into squares. The process of separating the glued block of twenty 15 x 30 cm sheets, measuring and cutting them in half with an X-acto knife, is repetitive and meditative. It’s a relaxing and mindless job. Once done, I have forty 6x6 inch blank slates waiting for me to show up. I limit myself to ten tabula rasa paintings a session.
I make myself a latte or maybe chai tea, and put on whatever music seems to fit my mood. Philip Glass is a favorite.
I cover my large rolling palette with butcher paper, pour black India ink into a shallow bowl and choose from my collection of handmade Japanese Sumi brushes.
Looking at the blank square before me, I take a deep breath to clear my mind. I moisten the brush in clean water, saturate it with ink and quickly apply ink to paper - no thought - a single rapid gesture - done.
The result is an expression of the moment. An instantaneous gestural painting made without conscious thought or intention, buffered from reflection or critique. Subject to a kind of Rorschach interpretation, they are evidence of a fleeting subconscious state of mind, now gone.
Tabby Ivy is a painter living in Bigfork, Montana. Painting came late in her life. Her studio is a converted golf cart garage which is a sanctuary for working and reading her extensive collection of art books.
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