I have been using “squares”—actually freely painted blocks of color—in my work since the mid-seventies, no doubt the influence of Itten whose work and teachings I studied just after art school. My work in the next decade, mostly done with watercolor, included floating squares as well as other loosely painted shapes and lines emulating the first abstractions of Kandinsky and the then current work of Frankenthaler.
Grids started appearing in my work in the early nineties when I did a series of watercolors that combined the elements of color studies with a loose grid suggesting windows in a modernist building at night. The grid and “panes” of color became elements in a series of collages begun in Paris in 1993 incorporating posters announcing musical events (ripped from the walls after the events had taken place).
I have always been drawn to painters of light whose work has a luminous, transcendent, quality, painters such as Vermeer, Turner and Cezanne. In France, I was deeply affected by the glowing light shining through the stained glass windows of Paris’ many cathedrals and chapels, culminating in the overwhelming experience of Chartres. I also became fascinated with the cemeteries of Paris. I took numerous photographs, made drawings, some large paintings, and incorporated my photographs into another series of collages. The loose grid pattern formed by the rectangular graves, monuments and mausoleums, some jutting up against each other, both new and crumbling in these cities of the dead, appeared in my work and still informs it.
In 1997, I spent some months in Morocco and returned in 1998 for a longer stay. The architecture, including the labyrinthian streets, high anonymous walls enclosing gardens punctuated by minarets became an almost subconscious element of my work while I studied the patterns of the intricate zillij tile work, which I incorporated into a series of paintings.
After the serenity of a small coastal town in southern Morocco, my return to studio life on a busy urban street in Toronto prompted a change of working method and content. I attacked the canvas from all sides and started using drips to create a grid pattern which I then layered with loose blocks and smaller rectangles of color.
For me, color is what my painting is about, and the form it takes arises in a very intuitive way, referencing architecture, landscape and, at times, the figure. I’m interested in layering, balance and edges where planes of color meet and evidence of previous decisions remains. For me, a painting is successful if at some time in its making I can surprise myself, step aside, and let the act of painting take over.
My work is a meditation, an effort to distill experience and hopefully provide a satisfying object of contemplation to the viewer.
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email Blaise DeLong