I have painted many buffalo. I really enjoy their shape size and symbolic role in North American history. I have painted buffalo, or American Bison, in several ways, from realistic to abstracted bordering non-objective style.
For me the realm of abstraction seems to be the answer to my artistic search and journey at this point. I find that in this world of abstraction I can have the option of self-expression as well as having some grounding in reality. That sounds kind of spacy, but I like to give myself freedom and options to my work, and abstraction has a lot of freedom and options.
This particular piece was an enjoyable piece for me to try, not wanting or needing to follow any rules of convention and just to let the painting happen. I gave myself the freedom to just do and make something with no preconceived ideas.
I am pleased with the final result. I believe this painting to be truly unique and interesting. At least I haven’t seen anything like it out there. Sometimes a unique work of art is just confusing and uncomfortable to be with. My goal with this painting, as with most of my artwork is to be of interest and have people want to look at it, perhaps spend some time with it, and perhaps even better have a positive experience by viewing it.
In the following article I will discuss some particulars about the piece. This is in no means the only ideas that can come from the result of the piece. I hope that anyone who sees it will bring their own experience and find or feel what they see.
Process of the painting and mediums used.
I began this piece with canvas stretched and primed. I then added thick gesso ground. The brush I use to apply the gesso is an old brush that has some clumped up hair, missing bits, and just a gnarly old thing. This gives the gesso a random texture with lots of groves, edges, and unexpected swirls.
I work to have a lot of texture to the ground of the work. I find that it is challenging and rewarding to work with. I often find the finished result will have some interesting visual interest with the randomness of this beginning texture.
For this piece, I wanted to have a tactile experience. Meaning that I wanted to work with my hands directly with it. So, I drew with charcoal to begin with. I have always enjoyed charcoal for drawing. Charcoal allows me to have some nice crisp lines and allow some good variations with the value. Using charcoal on the highly textured ground really gave an interesting effect.
Charcoal is a very malleable substance and can be rubbed right off the surface if you are not careful. After I drew with the charcoal, I sprayed an acrylic clear medium on the charcoal drawing. I used several coats to permanently fix the drawing down.
Then I used an acrylic stain to coat the entire surface. The process was to thin down some acrylic paint and apply it liberally to the surface. I used a spray bottle of water and would drip on some thinned paint and would spray it with the water bottle. I would allow the paint to drip down and get caught in the grooves and crevasses of the surface.
I used only one color at this point. I like how the paint was random in its dripping and bunching and thinning, while keeping a harmony by being one color to begin with. That dichotomy of randomness and unity is intriguing for me.
I then decided to add thicker red acrylic paint. I applied it with a brush and didn’t mix the paint at all. It is straight cadmium red from the tube. I love the brilliance of cadmium red. The large red shapes seemed to feel appropriate with the piece. The red shapes become powerful but supportive, not overbearing. Again an interesting dichotomy in my opinion, the powerful color and large shapes taking a more supportive role .
The final element was pure titanium white acrylic paint. I used the white for the buffalo, or American Bison. I love the opacity of the white paint, and the stark unity it creates. The white buffalo have none of the randomness of the rest of the painting. The titanium straight from the tube took a few coats, but it gave me the desired results.
As I said, this painting had no preconceived idea or notion. I let the painting just happen. When I take this kind of process it can be difficult to know when the thing is done. You can often end up overworking a piece and losing the good spontaneous parts of the piece.
I remember in school one of my instructors, Richard Hull, had something to say about this idea. He said that he needed to hire someone to stand behind him with a hammer and threaten to smack him when a piece was finished. I think perhaps there are quite a few paintings that could have used this technique.
Anyway, I was ready to keep going on this piece. I really was enjoying the process and could probably work on it having fun for years on end. I however got to the point it is at now and the feeling I got was that it’s done. I tried to think of more I could do to it, but it just kept feeling like it was finished. I decided to let it be and let the piece live.
Why the combination of media?
I generally stick to one medium with a painting. If I start in acrylic I usually stick to acrylic. If I start in oil I generally stick to oil. I chose to mix it up to give myself a new experience. I think that for me as a creator, I can get stuck and stagnant. Using a different medium, or combining mediums gives me as an artist some new unexpected experiences and results. Sometimes the result is one of frustration and confusion, but often the results are interesting and rewarding.
Limited color pallet
The limited pallet of this piece came out of just letting it happen like I said before. Often on my work I use every color under the sun. This piece was a departure that let me do whatever I wanted. It was interesting how the feeling of the piece was just this limited warm pallet. I think it give the piece a warm earthy feel. It is simple and powerful.
The simplistic color pallet also lets the large shapes have a good role in the composition of the painting. The large bold shapes are supported by simple color and stark value differences.
Ideas of symbolism
Whenever you incorporate a buffalo in a piece is invokes the idea of symbolism. The white buffalo especially has symbolic meaning in Native American and Canadian Aboriginal culture.
I like the juxtaposition of the dark figure or shape in the background and the smaller stark contrast of the buffalo.
As far as symbolism for me, it can vary a little. I can liken the dark figure to ancient people. I can liken the background figure to myself or modern humanity. I can liken the buffalo to deity, ideas, or vice versa. I find that multiple interpretations can apply. I really appreciate abstract art for that reason, it can mean different things to different people.
Available for purchase
This piece is available for purchase. It is charcoal and acrylic on gallery wrapped canvas. It is a larger piece that is 72x48 inches. The price is $9000. Feel free to contact me through my website for purchase.