Well, for now I tend to paint exclusively in oil or primarily in oil with a support of other materials to help develop the facets of a piece. Types of acrylic, use of gesso in a piece, fiberglass resins, marker, house paint, paper pieces, canvas pieces, varnish, myriad textural elements and just about anything else in my studio at the time. I’ve used all of these things, but oil paint remains the primary item for my work.
For one, it is capable of mimic of just about any other paint type. Treated with mediums and assorted mixtures, oil paint is capable to being painted just about any way any acrylic, watercolor, or other artist color material can be used. Knowing that, a few notions unfold. If I can master the use of oils, then any other paint or material can follow. All I have to do is reapply what I know about working with oils that is similar to the medium I want to try, and it can be easy to relearn what I essentially already know. At the same time, it really doesn’t add to my work to switch exclusively to another medium. If you want faster drying time, certainly the use of acrylic makes sense. If you want powdery or soft effects certainly the use of pastels makes sense. I believe it behooves me as an artist to attempt to learn the use of oils to mimic these media. Added skills, an increased intimacy with the intricacies of brushwork and effects, and how to achieve those effects with the challenge of a material that is capable of them but not inherently without the mastery of the artist’s own hand.
At it’s core oil mimics the cave paintings, it is the most fluid and versatile of paint choices. his would seem to be an obtuse connection, if you could see a connection at all from the first statement. There is a vast amount of history with oils from which to draw study, and a vast amount of material support out there (makers, mediums, materials themselves), as well as a vast amount of study material in general regarding oils. when it comes to paint and creating with color, they are the main staple of the art world. I see that as elemental in a certain way. Much like cave paintings, the oldest recorded paintings and visual artistic expression simply made from what a human being saw and desired to express, working in oils has a primal element to it. They are the base and foundation of what it means to paint for the last 500 years. They share with cave paintings, a simple notion of necessity of material. As a cave painter would use whatever base natural color he could find, whether it is charcoal, vegetable matter, iron oxides, whatever was found – oil paints today represent the easiest basic natural thing found with which to paint. What was primal to the cave painter is similarly primary to the modern painter of the last half millenia. Primal and primary in my mind share a very close relationship in this connection. Maybe that is a stretch, but a stretch I can see clearly and clearly not the only valid reason to use oils.
There is also a question regarding the importance of using some parts of what I do as controls in the lab process of my method. Quite frankly I cannot exist without taking on what is seemingly too large, too vast, and too uncontrolled for me to accomplish. It is my nature to see the whole, and most likely to forever be fully unable to grasp it enough to wield and direct what I am destined to see. In the interest of actually having some success with self fulfillment someday in my life, and accomplishing some of if not man of the ridiculous heights for which I strive, I have to set some things within my sphere of control as standards. What this means in relation to oil paint is that it is a control. If you are familiar with basic laboratory and scientific standards, a control is in essence or philosophy a part of an experiment set to be unchanging. A base standard against which other things are measured. If oil can mimic whatever else I can use eventually, well then it serves me well to simply use oils for now. It’s enough to learn in a lifetime anyway, why not have something that can offer so much to stand as a base standard for my work.
When it is mastered to satisfaction, other media can definitely be incorporated. This tends to work as a case by case situation. Which means I am not implying when the day comes that I master the use of oils then I will be free to work with other material. It means when I feel I have full control of what I am trying to do with oils, in a specific work or even a passage of a work, then I am free to look at the validity of other materials as a support for enhancing that work. It keeps the learning process constant, unhalting, and unending. The way I need it to be in order to continue feeding y never ending thirst for progression.
Closed off to changing this until the change presents itself as a need, once again a notion consistent with the method I am committed to employ as my a match for my nature as an artist and as my self.
The next set of questions this poses is “why paint at all”? Obviously I’m putting the cart before the horse in explaining why I paint in oils, as opposed to explaining (or even defending as the case may be today) why to paint at all. Assuming I am not just aspiring to be a painter, but to also be a relevant and modern fine artist with the inherent desire of any artist aspiring to not only set my work to a social context, but to also innovate within that context..
Being what most call a “dead medium”, or the infamous victim of the well known declaration in June 1839 by Paul Delaroche that “from today, painting is dead!”, painting certainly has it’s hills to climb.
But that is for another post. And I will convince you, or at least lay skin onto bone in convincing myself, that painting simply cannot be dead.
- Matthew Adam