Some kids like to take sticks and draw designs in the mud. Others take pieces of chalk and make a line on a wall as they walk beside it. People make marks on paper, or objects from clay, or work on canvas, or express themselves in any material they happen to find. They’re always making something. They do it solely because it brings them pleasure. I’m one of those people. For most of my eighty years, I’ve been making things: jewelry, pottery, prints, drawings, model airplanes, kites, paintings, soap carvings, backyard teepees, and forts. Most of these objects no longer exist, but for me the pleasure has always come from the process. I paint not to advance or retard any social, political, or religious agenda, but because this serious work satisfies me immensely.
I’ve been working on paper for forty years. Most of my pieces created in the last twenty years have been paintings, using water-based paints, on paper made by hand from cotton pulp. Each time I take out a new piece and pin it to my studio wall, I sit and examine it before I make a mark. Each sheet is almost too beautiful to deface. I try to sense the personality of every piece as it comes to me. I look at the edges, examine the speckles, and sight surface indentations. Each piece of paper is unique, although every lot was made from the same pulp, by the same maker, using the same process.
When I’m ready to engage with the paper, I have no plan. I plunge in and make the first, fateful mark. With a pencil, a water-soluble crayon, or a sharpened chopstick dipped in India ink, I begin. Sometimes it’s a slash, or a curving line near the corner. I’m underway. The placement of the first stroke, its width, energy or deliberation, its character and direction, all begin to tell me who I am at that moment. My spirit and energy flow from inside, through my hand and the tool I hold, onto the paper.
The second mark is made in the content of the first, and then an almost infinite number of possibilities present themselves. I make more lines, or extend or modify previous ones. Soon I unpin the paper, rotate it, and reattach it to the wall. I look at what is now a new picture, and ask myself, “Is anything hiding there I didn’t see before?” I continue to work. Sometimes, when I’ve rotated it several times, I sit and study the unrelated lines, the unconnected shapes.
At a certain point, every partially formed picture begins to talk to me. I can almost hear it asking, “Can you see who I’m trying to be?” The image has taken on a life of its own, as a growing child does. One needs to be attentive to its needs, and strengthen its individuality. When a picture beings to develop, I think, “Now that it’s starting to show itself, what can I do to help it realize its character most fully?” It’s then that I pick up the picture’s loose ends, and focus them. I work to resolve the linear skeleton before moving on to the color. When I do add the color, I do it in the same intuitive way I’ve drawn the lines.
Seldom can I say what a particular piece means, but I know when I’m done. When a picture is finished, it leaves my life, just as most children are destined to leave the family nest. The work on it’s own. Its life outside the studio begins. Ah, but that’s a story for another day.
-Richard Polsky, 2012