Some History on Painting from the Inside Out

Time Lives Close to the Sea, ink and acrylic on Claybord, 35x70", 2016

Writing about your own work as an artist can be a daunting task, but both writing and reading gives you perspective and makes you dig deeper – whether you publish it or not. I am exploring the subject of decorative art as it pertains to what I do. While my work may come across as purely decorative, I say there is more to the story. Decorative art to me, says that it only has one purpose and that is to adorn walls and match fabrics for example (not that there is anything wrong with that). Since I haven’t taken much time lately to speak about what I do because I am so busy doing it, there is nothing saying otherwise – sounds familiar, right? So, today, I write. 

After formal training in art at Kansas City Art Institute and at the University of Texas at Austin, for the next 20 years (because I did not want to teach art), I worked for Ampersand, an art materials manufacturer and maker of Claybord, my favorite surface for painting – “the mojo is in the clay” says my fiancé John and he is right. The kaolin clay they use is mined from the earth and used in its natural state, ground into a fine dust; surely it has geomagnetic energy. Working for Ampersand, I learned more about art materials than you would ever want to know! I still painted evenings and weekends and showed my work while I worked full time at Ampersand, but found that I needed to work faster and that I needed more time to focus without breaks. Oil paint was not drying fast enough. I was not progressing forward in my search for the right language. My personal life was falling apart; there was not enough time in the day. I finally decided that corporate life was just not for me and that it was time to leave, no matter the cost. I had to go, there was no other way. The art demanded it. I don’t know how long it will last and the fear that comes with that is slowly dissipating. Now that the Ampersand career is in the past, my studio has turned into a full-blown chemistry lab, more or less. I do things with paint you probably should not do (#1 reason I don’t answer questions about my process or offer classes), but that’s part of my creative journey and an environment I thrive in – why not? Once you know the rules, it’s easier to break them.

Although my art career dates back, let’s say, a long time, the work I am doing today began in 2010, around the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (affecting my hometown of Baton Rouge), the death of a close friend and my father’s stroke. These events changed my worldview forever and started this burning desire to do something meaningful with my art, my life. I had lost a lot of the fine motor skills in my hands after having a double cervical discectomy and spinal fusion in 2007. I spent the next several years finding other ways to apply paint and in short bursts which is all I could physically do, and mostly in watercolor because it dried more quickly than oil. I started experimenting with pouring watercolors and inks while limiting my use of a paintbrush – just mark-making, allowing chances and layering color. I had originally visited the idea of pouring oil paint and watercolor earlier in my career and put it down to explore geometric abstraction and hard edge restrictive painting, which appealed more to my analytical side, balancing numbers and math with color and composition…that’s another story! The moral to this story and something I live by, is do what you can do, the best you can and never give up. And then, do that everyday until you have to rest. The chronic pain or other distractions will take a backseat so you can focus on driving.

As I was experimenting pouring and lifting paint, I started to be influenced by and see things emerge, specifically things from my past and present both personal and creative, art history, what I was listening to, reading, current world events, how I was feeling physically and emotionally. I allowed all of it to come in; I was a channel, a pulse, a conduit, I was paying attention to everything. And, what started emerging was a picture of all of those things dropped into a blender and transformed into understandable images that have no words – art that has its own language, familiar, but not. Basically, I started taking my perspective of the world, internalizing it and expelling it into pictures – “painting from the inside out” as Pat Steir says or finding my voice. I treat the titles to the work the same way pulling from music, poetry, definitions of poetic single words I may be thinking of (the dictionary is so great!), art, specific people…the list goes on. Sometimes the title whispers itself to me as I am painting – those are the best. Soon, other people started to respond to the work, seeing familiarity and a gentleness, or maybe just a color or space that they needed to see. For the most part, the images are friendly and non-threatening, suggestive of things like “well of course that’s a flower being consumed by a solvent or an aerial view of the ocean or a section of stone or maybe just light or just being or all of the above”. The other day, I was painting wind! Each picture has a specific story that only I can tell you. I draw what I see, I don't just pour paint and let it be. In the end, maybe that’s not important; everyone has his or her own story. Some pieces are heavier than others and those are the ones that usually do not sell, too dark maybe, but that’s part of life, right? 

A little about my process: When I first began working in mixed-media, natural forms started appearing to me like trees and landscapes, seascapes, all of the things I am drawn to in nature that speak volumes without words. I worked flat, manipulating gravity, pushing the limits of what liquids can do. Standing above a painting allows a unique perspective while working, one of enormity and deep space. I could not quite get to the crux of it all with just one medium; enter watercolor where I would paint and draw out the composition behind each piece. Add ink for color and texture. Add oil glazes to bring it all together and wax to seal the deal. This process takes forever, but surfaces are my specialty and fit with what I am trying to convey in the pictures; they have become art objects (not just pretty pictures) and are an extension of who I am. The message is always the same: peace and struggle, transformation, decay, love, compassion and enlightenment – never loneliness, but aloneness. I see my art as a temporary vehicle or ephemeral like us, but because of my specialized training, I have to prepare my work to last and in some cases, be flood and hurricane proof. For technical reasons, I’ve had to alter my process numerous times, which is OK, I love a good challenge. Every piece is treated differently depending on what I’m seeking anyway. Today, I am steering toward mostly using water media, which fits well since I so often paint about the ocean. 

I could write extensively about each picture, but I am not a writer, only a painter, trying to speak about the big picture and how I got here, this place I am today and where these pictures come from – I’m still and always a work in progress. As I become older, death hits closer to home making both life and art more meaningful, more urgent. My father Edward Pramuk, also a painter, always says “you only need to start a painting with ½ an idea” and he is right. The answer will reveal itself.

Andrea Pramuk