Abstract Painter David Skillicorn, based in New York and Massachusetts was kind enough to take the time to answers the following 4 questions via email. Being an artist in the early stages of my journey; I have tons of questions and recently I read through David Skillicorn’s artist statement and it sparked my curiosity.
Exert from David Skillicorn's Artist Statement
"I believe that through focused intensive engagement while making a painting, it is possible to imbibe it somehow with a residue of spirit, an intangible essence that gives the work a sense of presence."
Question #1 - Brent Skillicorn: In your artist's statement, you've expressed a captivating notion: "it is possible to imbibe it (the painting) somehow with a residue of spirit, an intangible essence that gives the work a sense of presence." This thought provokes a deeper exploration of what you mean by "a residue of spirit" and "intangible essence." Can you elaborate on this?
Answer #1 - David Skillicorn: Overall, this is not specifically conscience or rational. But I do believe it. SO, I am not consciously saying to myself, well, I'm going to imbibe this work with spirit and give it a sense of presence.... I just believe if I get my mind completely out of it, and just "channel" creatively in the creation of the work, that this just happens automatically. I almost have nothing whatsoever consciously to do with it.... its just a possibility that the more my mind is removed from it, and the more I'm just present, engaged and completely into the work.... how could it not manifest itself somehow with some sort of feeling that becomes part of the work?
Question #2 - Brent Skillicorn: Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say, "a residue of spirit, an intangible essence?" Are you saying that during the creation process, you are connecting with spirit and if so, is this a conscious or unconscious event in your opinion? Would the definition of "spirit" in this case mean a higher power? Could it be theist - belief of the existence of a god or a creator of the universe but natural laws determine how the universe plays out. Or spirit could also refer to Jesus, Buddha or other religious/spiritual figures as well as the Christian concept of the holy ghost?
Answer #2 - David Skillicorn: By spirit I mean something felt, much broader than any theistic entity.... although many people by referring to Jesus Buddha etc are saying the same thing. For me it is just, a felt spirit.
Question 3 - Brent Skillicorn: Next I'd like to know how, in addition to practice and patience, you're able accomplish this? Does getting into, the flow state, or deep learning play any part and if so, can you share some of the things you do; like having a quiet space; clearing out freetime, listening to music or working in silence etc. And this is separate from motivation; I'm asking about your state of mind or consciousness while you paint.
Answer #3 - David Skillicorn: Well this is an important question. And I think through practice and patience, learning to completely let go , getting your mind completely out of the equation (other than using your mind to bring in all the techniques you've acquire)... this is the fundamental challenge, and perhaps hardest thing to teach or understand. I think Lucas had it right with the whole "may the force be with you" kind of thing. It is a complete letting go of expectations, performance, standards what have you, and completely giving in to just trusting you instincts to take you along where ever it might go. Now that is not to say I completely go willy nilly in each painting. No, I've set up very specific techniques and processes which I go through on any given series, but within that, while I'm actually doing the work, I am just flowing along and letting my intuition be the guiding principle without for a second questioning it. I've learned that whenever something pops into my head about do this, or do that, or try this color or that color.... I immediately just do it, and don't ever look back. This is the main thing, and I don't think it has ever let me down. I'm not spending a lot of time fussing over should I do this, or should I do that.... I'm just opening up and doing the first impulse that comes through strongly.
“The whole time I am utterly engaged and letting my intuition be the primary driving force, although I am also using my training and experience to make hundreds and hundreds of decisions along the way as well.”
David Skillicorn: Yes it is a fine balance. I would say the best analogy is breathing. We don't think to ourselves, ok, no take a breath. Ok, no let it out. Yet the mechanics of it are essential to surviving.... but we just to the mechanics, in and out, in and out, over and over without consciously thinking about it. Its the same with painting ideally. Where all the materials you've learned about, and all the techniques you know, are just engaged and employed throughout the process of making a painting, but almost without thinking consciously about it to literally, like breathing. Instead, this other phenomenon of intuition and channeling are the primary driving force, remaining open, without questioning or thinking about it, and just doing the work. The techniques just happen along the way because you know them so well and don't need to think about them.
Brent Skillicorn: Here I read that first you are "utterly engaged and letting my intuition be the primary driving force..." This makes total sense to me because this is the way I myself create art. At his stage, I am "grinding away" and working on improving my art skills, and experimenting using different tools and techniques which relates to the second half of your statement, "...although I am also using my training and experience..." I also agree with, "make hundreds and hundreds of decisions along the way as well."
Exert from David Skillicorn's Artist Statement
"From the very first mark on a canvas; or even before that; which colors; these numerous decisions become unconscious learned habits over time as long as the artist is practicing constantly and looking for ways to improve with the space and materials they currently have."
David Skillicorn: There are times, where I have to switch and think consciously about materials or colors or whatnot. and then I switch back to the other mode of being very sensitive to the intuitive impulse and letting that flourish.
Exert from David Skillicorn's Artist Statement
"Openness and freedom are the key."
David Skillicorn: Yes, openness and freedom are the key. The fantastically great artist Philip Guston once remarked in trying to explain this: "A good day of painting is when (metaphorically), everyone else gets out of the studio so I can work. My assistants, my critics, my gallerist, my wife and everyone else. A great day of painting..... is when I do too.
"I know the work is done when I stand back and it hits me all at once as being resolved visually and having a strong sense of presence about it."
David Skillicorn: Again, I am tuned to listen to my intuition, and usually for me it is loud and unmistakable. So when I look at the paintings, its just is clear. Done. Another way to look at it is, there is just nothing left to adjust or fix. Nothing is jumping out at me as wrong, or needing tweaking. Often I'll look at a piece I think is done, and something will bother me, that needs fixing. When all that is gone, its done. I can be very helpful to not see the piece for several days to get some distance. Then look at it all at once. In an instant I usually see what is wrong, and what to do.... or, its resolved and done. But I do this instantly, again intuition I completely trust in the split second where I'm not over thinking it, just responding... that is the most powerful indicator and moment of truth for me to analyze it.
Question #4 - Brent Skillicorn: Can I ask if some of your earlier paintings were busy? I know you said you used to work in tiny details and later went way big with large canvases. I have been encouraged to start working on larger canvases (if I want to attempt to show my work to a gallery owner one day). I actually am interested in larger canvases but they sure do take up a lot of physical space!
Answer #4 - David Skillicorn: You have to go through thinking about it a lot as you are learning materials and techniques, trial and error. but eventually you'll potentially get freer and freer as described above. Its a question of removing your mind from the process and just going with the flow through you. Larger can be interesting as the gestures are quite different and it opens up whole other avenues of exploration. I clip large canvas to big pieces of cardboard at this point, and then when the painting is done, just roll them up together so they don't take up any space.
In this online interview, I had the pleasure of delving into the creative mind of abstract painter David Skillicorn. His thoughtful responses provided invaluable insights into his artistic journey, revealing the depth of intention and emotion behind his work. The conversation reaffirmed the power of abstract art to connect with audiences on a profound and emotional level, leaving us with a newfound appreciation for the enigmatic world of abstract painting.
"I am drawn to abstract painting because it is the most challenging, holds the most mystery for me, and in the end, the most magic. In the simplest of terms, the work is a celebration of pure color, texture and form. For me, these paintings are not "about" something, or "art objects" per se, as much as they are an opportunity to set in motion the imagination in the viewer, and trigger an emotional response.
I believe that through focused intensive engagement while making a painting, it is possible to imbibe it somehow with a residue of spirit, an intangible essence that gives the work a sense of presence. This can be felt by a sensitive viewer and moves the work toward the realm of art, as opposed to decoration or craft. It's a prospect worth pursuing with each and every painting.
"My process is one of applying paint liberally, carving and digging back into it, and building up layers. Through this process of application and excavation I would say that I “find” a painting as much as “make” it. The whole time I am utterly engaged and letting my intuition be the primary driving force, although I am also using my training and experience to make hundreds and hundreds of decisions along the way as well. Openness and freedom are the key."
"I know the work is done when I stand back and it hits me all at once as being resolved visually and having a strong sense of presence about it. In the end, I hope the work conveys something that is not so much experienced with the mind, as felt with the body.... in an intimate, visceral, and contemplative way."