The visually sensuous and emotionally joyous work of Dick Elliott
Copyright © 1999

Art that goes beyond the conventional comes from a deep well inside the artist’s psyche. A defining experience or sudden insight can be the creative source that fills the well, an experience that leaves an indelible mark on the world view carried by the artist for a lifetime. It becomes the center around which visual expression revolves. My epiphany came as I was doing a landscape drawing of the Kittitas Valley. It was during the tenth session, out of an eventual hundred, from a freeway overlook. As I began to notate impressions of the valley floor onto a large piece of paper, I settled into a hypnotic state. This particular day, a Gestalt experience of the presence of the living earth greeted me. In the deepest part of my being I felt the breath and pulse of the earth. Everything I perceived was alive and filled with consciousness. The light from the sun was very much a part of the experience, but the main focus was the profound sense of the earth as alive, breathing, beating, and conscious of all entities encompassed within it. My human awareness was enveloped by this earth’s awareness. All other aspects of the earth; rocks, mountains, trees, flowers, birds, all animals and plants, clouds, water and other humans had their own consciousness and they, too, were a part of this earth awareness that I so profoundly encountered. As I looked down on our valley and saw the city of Ellensburg, the place were our daily lives played out, our mundane human concerns melted into triviality.

The energy I felt that day became the center of my artistic passion. I soon realized the way I was working, as an artist, could not capture these feelings. So a year later, I set down my graphite and set off in a whole new direction. I really had no idea where I was going. My guide was this internal feeling, left from my day on the hill overlooking our valley. A new art form, with new ways of thinking about imagery, light, time, space, and the human drama emerged.

My inclination as an artist is to express myself using two dimensional illusion. In the early years, my art was traditional, coming from the observation of nature. After my epiphany, I understood that trying to express it by capturing an outer observation, would not do it justice. I then set upon a journey to find a vocabulary capable of expressing an epiphany from the inside, how it felt. I do not consider the direction I developed superior to the way I was working before, but it is more effective in expressing what I now wish to say. For clarity, when referring to my current approach to art, I will speak of reflective paintings. Like any conventional painter, I am concerned with the creation of two dimensional illusion using pigment mixed in a medium, in my case, acrylic reflectors.

There are contradictions or tension between the ideas we hold about thought and its polar opposites, the sensuous and emotionally joyous. In order to give credibility to the sensual, emotional, spiritual, intuitive and subconscious, one must enter the world of the rational, reflective and analytical to develop the forms and structures that will communicate the sensual, etc. One may experience an epiphany, an insight that lifts the veil of the mundane, but to develop the forms and structures that will communicate these states of direct revelation, one must re-enter the world of the mundane, manipulate the intellectual structures that we use to create illusions and use these newly created mental frameworks in such a way that the energy and power of the original insight is re-released.

All visual expressions are contained within perimeters of mental structures. No matter how powerful the emotional or non verbal experience may be, the visual expression of it depends on underlying ideas, a framework, upon which these impressions are hung. Realism, the main form of art in Western cultures for the past 500 years is a good example. Realism is based upon rules that govern the illusions of light, color, space and compositional organization. During the late nineteenth and twentieth century, innovations which allow a broader range of expression have been added to these canons. What has driven this expansion is the rapidly changing relationship of the individual to life, society and earth during this time. The old structures were inadequate when it came to express these new world views, so new structures were developed. All art made in Western societies today is compared to and evaluated in relationship to these ideas and canons.

As I began the process of finding a new form that would express the incredible living presence I had encountered that day, overlooking the Kittitas Valley, I knew of no existing forms of expression that I felt were sufficient to the task of capturing this energy. I realized that I would need to discover my own structure. In following my internal feelings, I allowed my intuition to lead. The system I developed to discover and create my canon was based on intuitive groping, like a blind man exploring a house for the first time. As I tried new ideas, I reflected on them, observing how successfully they captured my feelings. The process quickly evolved into a system of exploration. Intuition guided me while an analytical reflective side studied and made decisions that would help point the intuitive towards its next creative act. This volley back and forth between the unseen world (future, unknown, intuitive, emotional, spiritual, and unconscious) and the seen world (past, rational, reflective, verbal, and analytical) led to the development of my art style as it exists today. During this twenty year process, I slowly became more conscious of the underlying structures I was developing. In this talk, I will try to explain the thought systems supporting my visually sensuous and emotionally joyous work.

I would like to take a few minutes to develop a visual model. I see myself with two faces. One looks towards the future, the unknown world. This is the face of intuition. The other face, looks into the past, the known world. This is the rational and analytical face. To become complete, we need to be aware of both faces with constant interaction between the two.
  Light defines the world. In western art, light has been used in two main ways. First it illuminates the painting. This light exists outside of the bounds of the painting. Its function is to help the viewer perceive the image in a fixed manner. In Western art the definition of a painting could be: a moment in time that never changes. This moment is preserved by an arrangement of light absorbing pigments. When the painting is well lit, the image perceived should always be the same. Creating an illusion of light in space and time is the second use of light in Western art. It is used as an object, another aspect of the picture. There is no real light present. Pigments create the illusion of light emanating from within the painting.

Light is a distinguishing component of reflective painting. The light expressed is not absorbing light, but lively light. The aliveness is imbedded into the very fabric of the piece. The “paint surface” is made with acrylic reflectors, creating a living light surface, not an illusion of light. A light-active reflective surface operates quite differently than light absorbing surfaces generally associated with two dimensional work. The source of the light radiating from the reflectors is outside the reflector painting, but its function is more than just illumination of the painting. It is the primary light source which is captured by the secondary light source (the reflectors) and sent out to the viewer, giving the impression that the painting is plugged in, internally lit. But since it is a secondary light source, it is in constant motion, depending upon the primary light source and the activity of the viewer. A living light piece has a thousand faces.

One of the major aspects of the universe and our life in it is change. Everything is in a state of constant of flux. Western approach to painting can only imply the fluid nature of nature by alluding to it. By transforming the surface of paintings from light absorbing to light active, one can simulate the fleeting and ever-changing character of the world. The transformation of a painting from “a moment in time that never changes” into a reflection of the constantly changing nature of the universe is a defining aspect of my work. A reflector painting is not one point in time, but an infinite point in time.

In traditional Western painting, the viewer is asked to be a spectator. One views the finished artwork from an acceptable distance and the artwork tells him what to see or how to respond. He is not asked to participate in what he sees nor in creating what he sees. He is on the sidelines and the painting is the game. It is a view of life incorporating a schism between the action of life and the viewer. The knowledge is in the painting and not in the viewer.

In reflector art , the viewers become involved in creating their own encounter with the art work. The dialogue between the light active reflectors, the primary light source and the viewer is interactive. By the viewers movement, the perception of the painting changes. This dialogue puts the viewer in the center of the perceived universe. He is not a spectator but an active participant in what he experiences. The knowledge is in the viewer as well as in the painting.

Color is light broken down into its parts. The eye perceives color according to the wavelength of the light. Light containing the full color spectrum is perceived as white. When no light is present, the eye perceives black. White light is broken down into basic colors, the primaries; red, yellow and blue when using paint, with projected light, however, yellow is replaced by green. As these primaries are combined in either light or pigment, all other colors are created. When I worked in paint, I purposely limited my colors to the primaries. Reflectors come in colors of red, amber, blue, green, and white, a limitation that fits my vision. Combining these primaries with each other and with the changing light conditions of the reflectors creates an expanded number of perceived colors. Primary colors also tend to be seen as light or dark, the lights are white and yellow, the darks blue and green. Red is the gray that moves between the light and dark. I compose using the contrasting nature of the primaries. Because the surface is light active, the perception of the colors in relationship to each other also changes. At times blue or yellow will seem recessive and with a different light they will come forward, seeming to be the closest to the viewer. This push and pull is one of the functions of color in my reflector paintings.

Dots are the principal units that compose my paintings. As the dots are organized on a field, the images emerge. Dots are also one of the fundamental expressions of energy. It signifies a point of radiance. From a distance, a galaxy becomes a dot. Upon closer inspection, the galaxy is composed of millions of stars, each their own dot. A solar system like ours, upon a closer look is composed of not only a star, but also planets. Each planet is also a dot. As we explore the earth we find that it is composed of many centered units of life. Each unit, a man, tree, fish, etc., is a dot of radiant energy. A dot contains many smaller dots and it is also a part of a larger dot. Points of radiant energy move up and down the scale, macro to the micro.

I organize dots on a field or grid. The basic principle of the grid is that every dot on it is equal to every other dot. No dot is superior or inferior to any other dot. They all express the same magnitude of individual radiance.
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