The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Catalogue statement (1972)

Catalog Statement for a solo exhibition at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Harbor, California, December 1972.

When a painting is in the studio - being made or standing around waiting to go out - there is always some anxiety in attendance. I worry about how good it is, and fuss over details that turn out to be unimportant in the long run. After it is gone and half forgotten these things iron out, and I can see it just as a painting, almost as if I hadn't painted it. It is always a surprise, and usually a pleasant one. So, I am sorry to miss seeing this show. I had thought it was to open sometime in 1973 and the December opening caught me in the middle of working on paintings for my next show of new work which opens in January.

I think I can look back on these pictures objectively, through Liberty Garden, from my last show, is rather close in time. If there is a common thread, or principle of change, running through the group it is the changing relationship between drawing (definition by edge) and color (actual color with all the sensual qualities of paint). Color, colored paint, has always been my interest; I have always "felt" with color and paint while painting, rather than drawing, or form, or depiction or illusion. The earliest paintings I cared to show were very simple: a circle or rectangle set slightly above center on a field, or a 3" or 4" colored band surrounding a colored field. The colors were carefully chosen, and usually were pale and grayish, for reasons still not clear to me. I had an instinctive dislike for juxtaposing strong, saturated colors, and I still find it difficult to like paintings that do so without modulation.

Primer #1 and Green Valentine #1 evolved from these austere beginnings. It was a slow and difficult evolution. For every such painting that got painted there are a dozen drawings and models, and the later move to the larger, horizontal, edge-to-edge drawn pictures, of which Singer #1 and Yellow Rose #8 are early examples, took hundreds. I recall taking great pains to "rationalize" the interior of the picture with edges, much more than I do now, though I suppose by now it is more natural and less deliberate. All of the arcs in these early pictures were drawn from the edges, and the arcs of the early horizontal pictures were drawn from the corners only. Once drawn, I worked up color schemes on a small cardboard model, so that one or more hues would "travel" around the painting, changing value and saturation as they flowed from section to section. These systems became incredibly complex; paintings like By The River, Driving Through and Purple Sage have intricacies of change and transferral which may have been more the personal delight of a frustrated mathematician and musician than true aesthetic devices. But the paintings turned out very well, if I may say so in retrospect. I wish I had held a few back for myself.

Despite these pleasures of the intellect I wanted to use paint more expressively, to let out its intrinsic qualities of fluidity, relative transparency, thickness and thinness, oiliness and dryness, and the like. I spent most of one winter working on hundreds of models to this end, and the series which includes Canton Lead finally came out of it all. Colored paint began to dissolve drawing, and this continues today.

I've always kept some degree of visible geometric structure, as a concession to the strength of the edge in a visually flat picture, and also as a device to get more into the painting. Viola Sudan and China Spring were painted with rollers and fish line was tied taut across the canvas as a guide for the broken grid overlay. Louvain Lights and Purple East were made with gauze diapers soaked with thin paint, like big sloppy brushes, and the rectangles "holding in" the wet looking color are the impressions of cardboard templates left on various parts of the canvas while the paint was applied. Manganese, from my 1969 show in New York, has "bars" forming a centered, open rectangle, made by alternately laying down and lifting masking tape as successive layers were laid on with diapers and varnish brushes. Liberty Garden hearkens back to the Canton Lead series; the "regular" part of the picture pushing against the edges, opening space for the random, loosely painted interior. But as I said, this is too recent to let me be objective about it. It is still "settling out."