THE GREY SERIES
By Kate MacKinnon
The Grey Series is a suite of fourteen oil paintings begun in 2006 as an exercise in limiting my color palette. The first six paintings are complete. The original painting was inspired by Japanese brush paintings and the gift of an orchid. Each painting informs the next in the series.
The Grey Series began with a challenge to myself to limit my use of color. I spent some time thinking about historical work that was also created with a limited palette. Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross immediately came to mind. He created his series of 14 paintings over a period of about eight years, letting each painting inform the next. I thought this process a very organic way to work, and also a real challenge to my control freak tendencies. As homage of sorts, I embarked on my own series of 14, emulating Newman's path. I had the hubris to jokingly state that I would finish them much quicker then he. Five years later, I am beginning number seven. The first was inspired by the gift of an orchid, the next by the first and so on.
After stretching canvas over panel, my paintings are worked on horizontally on sawhorses. I mask out the area I am painting, and then layers of glaze are applied and spread with a sponge brush. I use a fast drying medium and mix either dry pigment or a tube color mixture into a very liquid, transparent glaze. I then apply as many layers as is necessary to achieve the density of color and surface that I desire. I use turkey basters as drawing tools when working wet into wet.
My current process grew out of an obsession with industrial finishes and a stubborn and romantic attachment to oil paint and canvas. Ten years ago, I began experimenting with application technique in a quixotic attempt to make oil paint glow like car enamel. I am often asked why I don't simply work in enamel or resin, materials that would more easily yield the result I chase. For me the work is about the materials, and pushing their boundaries. The result has been a sustained engagement with a process that is both meditative and investigational.
The Grey Series is unfolding in an unexpected direction in regard to a long-term and evolving project. I begin to realize the impact time can have on an idea. While my interest and intention remain constant, the way I think about the paintings is more fluid. Because I have not allowed myself to envision the end of the series, only the next painting, I wonder where the series will end up. It is crucial to remain open to the natural evolution of the project. My earlier writings are vastly different from my current thoughts eliciting need for regular documentation.
With the exception of the first painting in this series, the subject of each subsequent piece is the previous painting. I have long identified my work as being about my experimental process and materials, but for the first time I am actively making paintings that are about painting. It feels like a leap in personal theory and practice, for me to let go of the referential world and examine solely the abstracted idea and image. —Kate MacKinnon