19 November, 2009


Umber River, Upside Down

The River Series is a collection of pastels that I painted specifically for the Sausalito Art Festival in September, and is currently exhibited in Kirkland, Washington through January 4th., 2010. These paintings adhere to a few simple ideas that are concerned with formal qualities. If you were to describe them as representational, you would be less than right. On the other hand, if they remind you of a specific place, you would be right on track. This "instability" is fully intended - they are meant to toe the line between abstraction and description.

"A song is anything that can walk by itself." Bob Dylan

Light River Reflections, Upside Down

Below, I lay out the formal concepts that I used in the River paintings, but I would say that almost any set of ideas would have worked as long as they were recognizable as a thread throughout the series. That's why it is so important for the artist to get a one person venue. The viewer needs to connect the ideas of the whole.

Here are the threads I wanted:

  1. Dark areas (dark secrets) that I used as eye magnets.

  2. A fairly even value spread - which means that a range of values are used from very dark to somewhat light.

  3. A drawing approach - line and value compositions; bare process versus resolution.

  4. Intense color passages, because that is a signature aspect of my work.

River Aine, Upside Down

The process I followed in the River Series did involve an actual place as the starting point. I stood on the bank of the Little Hoquiam River and absorbed what impressions I could, and took some photos. I worked up several drawings, in graphite, charcoal or pastel. A few were taped up on my studio window and viewed with light passing through them. I looked at them on my computer screen as well. Finally, I spun the images from memories, and worked from the specific to the general - I wanted your river, not mine, to be foremost.

"If the picture has a countenance, I keep it." deKooning

Here are some more observations about the series:

  1. I used landscape formats, which is an easy formal way to portray realism.

  2. Low points of view were favored, which makes the river scene easier to apprehend.

  3. I didn't want direct light sources - no blue skies.

  4. Some classic compositional tools were employed, in order to create easier access into the picture.

  5. The water became a place for abstract play.

Readers of The Colorist have noticed that I explained the River Series posts with music videos rather than with words. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, it was an oblique and not-wordy way to expand on the pictures, and two, I could link the river theme to river songs and suggest a unity to the series. Incidentally, there was a list of qualifications to the music videos, too. Live venues and sincere performances were the main themes.


Bob Lafond said...

Casey, If I only had your text without the images, I confess that I might at a disadvantage, but the paintings stand extremely well on their own.


Yellow said...

These inverted images work really well in their own right, and the explination of your concept and rules is enlightening.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for even reading, Bob and Steph.

I wasn't in the mood to write a wordy explanation for content and process, but one good thing is that I did refresh my experience of being in the studio with these works back in the summer.

SamArtDog said...

Color thrills me; reading your blog helps me understand why. Even when you're not feeling wordy, the art and music say so much. Deep concepts like "dark secrets" simply expressed make for a very rich impression. You ARE the river.

Kelly M. said...

Intriguing how your inverted images work just as well -- obviously more abstract but still vibrant, dynamic! When not focused on the "river" aspect, we tend to scrutinize other elements more closely -- color and textures -- and yet the "flow" is still there, too.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I am eager to enter the Living River Juried Exhibit. And hope for some fine competition. For information check out www.mckenzieriver.org and visit www.jacobsgallery.org

Eden Compton Studio said...

These have been thought provoking posts Casey! It is motivating me to finally sit down and write about the content of my work. Though, I fear you may be more articulate than me!

Casey Klahn said...

Sam, that is a very kind thing to say.

Thanks, Kelly and Diane, too.

Eden, it was hard, but I think the process of rewriting helped. A handicap was the 3 months or so since the works were finished - I had to relive the studio thoughts that I never wrote down.

Jala Pfaff said...


petra voegtle said...

Fabulous work Casey! These are my thoughts about conceptual ideas too although my work is completely different from yours.
You are good at making abstract work more tangible and comprehensible

Brian McGurgan said...

I've come back and re-read this post several times, Casey and the thought that you brought to the river series has given me much to reflect on. Most immediately, it's challenged me to give more thought myself to the ideas and objectives that tie together my own work.

Seeing the paintings upside was striking. I had noticed obvious similarities between the paintings as you posted them individually but shown together and upside down, the value patterns in each composition seem more pronounced and consistent, bringing the series together in yet another way. Did you look at these pieces upside down while you worked on them?

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks, Jala and Petra. Sorry to not respond earlier, btw.

Brian, I appreciate your careful reading. I didn't look at them upside down, but that's a defect of my studio set up. My ceiling in the trailer is low, and the mast of my big easel touches. That means my tray is low, and I use clamps instead of the tray - anyway, often I'm just taping my la carte on the big surface of gator board. As it happens, today I made an extra effort to turn my image while working on an abstract.

I don't know why the Umber River turned out so well even upside down, but it probably has to do with paying close attention to the abstract patterns when I drew the study.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

Casey, I love the way you used music to say what might have been limited by too many words. The music allows expansion.

Connecting the darks and your way of feeling the color inspires me to play with abstraction more. Thank you for sharing your process as well as the lovely results.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for reading so closely, Katherine.

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