Beyond Technique, Toward Content

You start by learning how nature works, and then you have to say something. That’s when it becomes a challenge. It’s also probably the most difficult thing to teach. I find myself repeating: Interpret nature; don’t copy it. When you say that, the students’ eyes go blank. They say, “Didn’t God create nature in all its beauty?” And I tell them the Good Lord got all the balances right: all of nature is perfect, but artists pick out a square to paint—and that’s not perfect. Interpreting and inventing—those are the artist’s tasks. And you do that interpreting and inventing based on a whole lifetime of influences and experiences all stored up in your head and your heart.

My current paintings are made-up entirely from my imagination. That’s how I choose to function from now on. Imagination is vital even in works that are based in reality, not fantasy. Whether I’m in Kyoto or New Hampshire, I always try to have my students paint on location. When you have 15 or 20 excited people looking at the same subject, you end up with 15 or 20 totally different paintings. If they’d all had a camera and had taken a shot, we’d get 15 or 20 prints that looked alike. That’s the lesson: Yes, we can learn technique, but that won’t be enough.

The Freedom of the Artist
You know how many ugly things there are in art today: monstrosities like a crucifix suspended in urine or a portrait painted in feces. When artists today present blood and guts and torture, what I’d call sensationalism, I don’t think it’s another artist’s job to say, “No, you can’t do that.” The artist instead says, “Go ahead and make a fool of yourself. But I’ll show you that it’s not the only thing.” Making art is one of the rare freedoms we still have left. Stalin couldn’t stop artists from making art; neither could Hitler.

Some artists of our present time have made the female figure grotesque. For instance, Willem de Kooning, in his Women series, depicted figures who were expressively painted to suggest the artist’s fear and rage. My current works scream that women aren’t ugly. The same beauty that Rubens saw exists today. Instead of anguish, I’m stressing tranquility and calm. The media hunt for and encourage sensationalism. As a consequence, the public is exposed to the sensationalistic and the ugly, and I’m trying to create something completely opposite, something that represents femininity as beautiful.

Raised in the Southwest in a family of artists, Randy Pijoan studied painting in Denver and in Tuscany, Italy, and has painted in a variety of media. He’s also designed for television, film and the theater, including projects with the creators of the television series South Park. Pijoan’s work can be found at the McLaren and Markowitz Gallery in Boulder, Colorado; Horizon Fine Art in Jackson, Wyoming; Fountainside Gallery in Wilmington, North Carolina; and Hilligos Galleries in Chicago. A six-year retrospective of his gouache paintings will be on display at the West Valley Art Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona, through January 2002.

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