Ross Simonini interviews the artist, Chuck Webster on the process of making his painting “No Negative Style” (oil, spray paint and oil on wood panel, “60 X "84, 2013). See the final painting and the in-progress images above. Look at more of Webster’s work at his site and at Dallas Art Fair alongside the work of Forrest Bess and Chris Martin.
THE BELIEVER: The painting you began was radically different than the painting you finished. is this usually how it goes for you?
CHUCK WEBSTER: It’s rare, but in this one I started off with one idea and the idea collapsed. I wanted to blow up a small drawing, which looked strange, as if the painting was trying to own up to something else besides itself. Too fussy. I like to work until the painting has gained a degree of self-knowledge, and tells me something. That one said, "Uhhhh…. not happening.” There are a few messy moves missing in between, but i ended up with the yellow background after a few work sessions and a large amount of reducing, staring, refusing and turning around to the wall. I usually get 75% of what I want initially, and then there a large amount of see above, followed by a final few, brave moves. I often to reject a lot of my favorite stuff because I have so many ideas that I can easily make four paintings in one. the picture always breathes better after I clean out unnecessary “chatter”, and find soemthing that makes sense simply.
BLVR: What do you mean by “self-knowledge”?
CW: The painting is starting to transform from set of raw materials into something else. As I work, references and new ideas will pile up, and ill try new things, like “oh perhaps red”, or “move this line over”, and so on. My goal is to work until the work starts to refer to nothing but itself; whatever easy references there could be fall away. It’s a living, breathing, knowing thing. It’s a combination of known and unknown things, of knowledge and mystery.
BLVR: Do you ever feel regret after you’ve painted over a picture?
CW: Oh yes. It happens all the time.That’s a big test, knowing when to stop. I think that’s partly why I keep a lot of surfaces around, in order to distract myself from destroying something that might be good, but I dont know it yet.
BLVR: So distraction is a good thing for you?
CW: I think so - I like the idea of looking at a picture through a filter, though another kind of narrative. I love to flip through books or play DJ. I often come up with the perfect idea for finishing a picture while walking the dog, going to galleries or watching a movie. There is a place in my brain for a painting flipbook, where the pictures stay and wait for a title or solution.
Attention is a very curious and wonderful phenomena. Near the end of a large picture the others fade and I’ll finish it with a few hours of concentrated attention, where I am thinking, feeling and doing at the same time. The picture has done its job and it exists, separately from me. An exchange of energy has taken place.