In the January/February 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, we showcased John Salminen’s realistic evocations of the city that are rendered in watercolor. Salminen also paints in the abstract idiom and for those pictures he uses acrylics or mixed watermedia. Here is his explanation of how the two bodies of work—realistic depictions of the urban scene in watercolor and abstract expressionist paintings in acrylic and other media—complement one another.
I do move back and forth between the two styles. When I’m looking for urban street scenes that will become realistic paintings, as I look through the viewfinder of the camera, I’m always looking for that perfect design or composition. Usually when I get the photographs back, they’re close but not exactly what I had envisioned, and I have to take, for example, some figures from another photograph and incorporate them. When that process of planning the composition is done, I have a pretty good idea of how I want that painting to look. The painting process becomes a slow march toward this known goal.
When I do a mixed media abstract expressionist painting, however, I have no idea where that painting is going to end up, and it always comes as a surprise to me. It’s the painting that dictates its own course. So the two processes are similar, but the end results are very different. For the realist paintings I have a very clear idea of where I want that painting to end up; in the abstract paintings, I really have no idea what the painting is going to look like when it’s done. The processes complement one another beautifully, and the abstract painting, pure abstraction, strengthens what I’m able to do when I paint realistically. What I’m forced to do with the realistic painting ends up being a technical contribution to the abstract painting. I think the two styles, even thought the end results look very different, in my mind at least have become a continuation of the same process.
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