It started with pottery sometime around 1974, really. I was an art student taking pottery. One day I was going through the graduate studio and notice the decoration on some plates. It was a simple splash of red iron oxide slip under a whitish-brown glaze. For whatever reason I connected to this stroke of “controlled accident”. It comes from Japanese Zen pottery, the graduate student told me. It sent me out there. I felt a sense of freedom just looking at it. It wasn't that good, his effort, but I got the spirit of the intent. That was what mattered. I started doing it on my pots. I did some raku firings and that was even more invigorating. Liberating. I had found an expression of freedom that allowed me to shed all the constipated forms of art that surrounded me at the University.
It wasn't long into my studies that I broke away from the common form, bowls, teapots, plates, cups, and started creating sculptures. I loved doing slab pots. I was good on the potter's wheel and good at hand-built pots, but form and function in clay sculpture just took me to the slab. I would throw a ball of clay out on the wedging table until I had a slab and then place it on a support form and add another, clay slip in between, joining them, until I had a form. Then I would splash under-glaze slips on the clay. There was a rhythm to this. It was like music in solid form. I felt free. I wanted to be able to control these splashes on the clay better. I started to practice with tempera paints on newsprint. It was cheap student grade practice material. I would show my newsprint pad to friends. They liked it. I got better. I could make the splash curl around the pot where I wanted it to go. Other students tried to imitate me. My instructors would try their hand at this style I was developing in my work. They tossed them.
Stoneware and Porcelain
7 x 11 x 13 inches
It was just a matter of time before it happened. I wasn't just practicing any longer. I was doing paintings with watercolor on watercolor paper. I read everything about the Japanese Zen painting style that I could find in the library. I memorized all the pottery photographs from the Shinto school of pottery that I could find. I did my background work as a student with no real hands-on instructor at my side. I looked at all the action painters' work from contemporary art. They were off doing something else. We may have been going down parallel paths, but their concerns were clearly different from mine. I found out about sumi-e ink on rice paper. I used rice paper for woodcuts in printmaking and loved that paper. I went to a international student day on campus and discovered that one of the booths had art supplies for sumi-e ink on rice paper painting. I bought a couple of bamboo brushes, and ink stick, and an ink stone. I was doing more with this splash than just decorating my clay sculptures. I was banging the walls of the Universe with the spray from my brush.
After graduating from the University with a degree in Fine Art, I moved up to a log cabin in the mountains. I had to walk in a good twenty minutes from the road. It had a fire place. I bought a gas camping stove and carried water in for cooking and tea. I was a hermit. My mother had given me a roll of paper. I stapled it to the floor of the porch and started painting on it with acrylic. It took weeks to complete the painting. I rolled it up. I knew it was too long to ever display in a gallery. I never thought of it as a scroll painting. No one has ever seen it since then. I unrolled it a few times and looked at it but I never showed it to anyone. At least now I know what I am doing. I bought ten rolls of rice paper from a vendor at the Knoxville World's Fair in 1982. He wanted sheets of paper so a calligrapher could write people's names on it in Chinese. I used that paper for years but never once thought about rolling some of it out and making a scroll, or doing a long painting. It just never occurred to me.
watercolor on rice paper
12 x 10 in.
January 26, 1986
A recent conversation back in the winter about my painting style, which has developed beyond how I started out decorating pottery, and a friend mentioned that no one has ever done a scroll in my style of painting. I contemplated this for a few months and could see why no one had attempted this. For one thing, it is a logistical headache. I solved some of those problems back in 1976 with that roll of paper on the porch. That would not be possible where I am living now. I have been painting on small sheets of rice paper for several years and pushed my techniques even further than before. On numerous occasions I've produced videos of myself while working, holding the camera in one hand while painting with the other. The results are more of a performance piece than a documentary. I like it that way. I see this as a dance. One should feel the energy of the body in relation to earth, gravity, physics, zip of the wrist at the release of ink from the bristles. I am dancing. I am alive. I have awakened.
It gets complicated trying to do a scroll painting like this. It has to be a continuous painting. If it were displayed on the wall completely rolled out it would need to look like a continuous painting from start to finish. When an artist is doing a landscape scroll painting he can roll it along with no problem. When it comes to splash, that isn't going to work. Rather than go at the challenge head-on, the best approach is to come around from the side, as in go with what I already know first. Using what I have to work with keeps it even more simple. I have newspapers and old fountain pen ink. It is February. It is snowing. “art_snow” started out in the snow with ten sections of newspapers placed end to end. Blue-black ink happened. The next day red ink happened. On February 23, 2015, black ink happened. Each day in the snow and wind I splashed ink, chased newspapers around with the wind, and documented as much as I could using my iPhone 5c. On the 23rd the wind was brisk and I had to pile a lot of snow on the newspapers to keep them from blowing away. My hands got so cold that when I tried to change the camera settings from video to photo my fingers were so cold that the heat-sensitive screen couldn't detect them. So I stopped taking photographs and took everything inside. Over the next few days I attached the sheets of newspaper end to end with clear acrylic polymer to create the scroll. That was a good dry run at what the challenges were when using what I had.
ink on 10 sheets of joined newspaper
22.75 x 234 inches | 57.7 x 586.75 cm
February 27, 2015
On April 11, 2015, a shipment of art supplies arrived and in the box was three rolls of rice paper. I sat and looked at them real hard. I pulled them out and felt of the paper. Sometime in the afternoon the smallest and shortest of the three ended up in the back yard. Wet-on-wet sumi-e ink brush marks and splash went down. The wind played with the paper several times, threatening to turn the paper into a kite. I waited until the ink was dry before rolling the paper up. With a title, date, and signature this style of painting, this approach to scroll making, happened. I don't know if it had ever been done before, but I know it is possible. “Pillow Float” was a lot easier than “art_snow”.
“Pillow Float” scroll
Sumi-e ink on Hosho rice paper roll
8 inches x 20 feet
April 11, 2015
It doesn't take long before the peacock spreads his tail feathers and we get some color in the mix. “Grass Float” brought in the watercolor. It also brought in the process of working on a small section each day. I started out with about three feet of paper rolled out. The next day I rolled out an additional three feet and worked on everything that was exposed, so the previous day's work was tied into the new work so it would appear like that continuous painting that gives the impression that it was all worked on at once. The next day I would roll up the first three feet and roll out three more feet of fresh paper from the other end. This started on April 24, 2015, and ended on May 7, 2015. As usual, over 1000 photographs were taken to document the process. After the scroll was completed I started photographing the scroll from start to finish. The camera on my iPhone died on me, so I haven't completed that process as of this writing.
“Grass Float” scroll
Watercolor and Sumi-e ink on Shuji Gami rice paper
18 inches x 30 feet | 45.5 cm x 9.144 m
Completed: May 7. 2015
Now to think back when things were simpler and manageable, disregarding the dead camera on the iPhone. The camera on the front, I call it the “selfie camera”, still works but that leaves me shooting blind if I point it away from me. So the next roll of paper goes down on the “work space” on the bank out back where the retaining wall provides a natural bench to work on. First marks are made with pencil, then oil pastel. I'm rough on rice paper. Next comes the watercolor. The next day I unroll more paper and do the process. Every other day I add the sumi-e ink to the mix. The next day the previous day's work that got the ink gets worked on, so marks go over the ink. Also, I don't roll up all of the previous day's work that is completed. I leave a few inches exposed. So there's a bit of overlap going on all the way through. It gets complicated. “The Sacred Texts” scroll was started on May 8, 2015. I thought about taking a break in between these two.
Lacking good documentary photographs for this scroll, I decided to scan the progress on the flatbed scanner. Since it is 11 inches x 60 feet I can do this. The scanner bed will take paper a little larger than letter size. Even so, I'm overlapping some to make sure a little of the previous scan is visble on the next scan. There was about 15 feet of work already completed when I came up with the idea, so I went back and scanned that. Now the problem with scanning the scroll as it progresses is that some of the previous day's work is exposed, so I need to scan any areas that got wet. That makes those few inches of the previous day's scan stale. That doesn't bother me. What might make this problematic is the decision to post the scans to my “virtual gallery” on Zazzle.com. If someone wanted to purchase prints of all the scans and recreate the scroll, the prints won't match up perfectly. The best way to document the scroll would be to wait until it is finished. I don't need the stress at this point in the process. So the Universe gets what I'm dishing out.
“The Sacred Texts”
Pencil, oil pastel, watercolor, and sumi-e ink
11 inches by 60 feet
Started May 8, 2015
Completion date not determined as of this writing
Doing a scroll comes with a mental awareness that is different from regular reality. It is bigger than I am. I can't experience the entire scroll at once, not even in creating it. This gives me an experience somewhat akin to watching a movie. I think about the scrolls that are created to be presented as a performance. Children get a roll of paper and draw cars and buildings on it. They roll it up on a stick on either end and put it inside a cardboard box and create a story screen. Once the scroll is rolled up and I hold it I feel how sturdy it is. I think about how people used to use scrolls before there was bookbinding. They are very easy to transport in lands that are arid or with watertight containers. Making scrolls, working with them, and looking at them gives me a sense of connectedness to humanity over a long period of time. Looking forward, there is information in these scrolls that will transcend time. My style of painting transcends language barriers. It transcends physical reality. The information is just as tangible, will be tangible, to anyone for an unknown period of time on this planet or anywhere else where visual physical information is perceptive. It is bigger than me. It is bigger than all of us. I love science fiction. I could write a novel about any of these scrolls making a journey to the stars and beyond, used for a star map, liberating ego-bound seekers, and once in a while used in a “story screen”. In this movie star travelers use scrolls to navigate with. In this physical realm, we are the star travelers waiting for our maps to be replaced. I'm working as hard as I can. Love.
Oliver Loveday © May 21, 2015, 2 am EDT
For more information about my art work, please visit Loveday Studio.