calvin burton

Relief paintings, 2016

I build each relief painting around a drawing, a continuous contour that transverses the rectangle of the canvas in straight and curved vectors. Each segment is determined by connecting critical points of interest that I read at close quarters in the surface: textures, edges, corners, intersections – what I perceive as the “grain,” starting with the patterns left by the oil primer (which I generally apply with a palette knife). Like a dot-to-dot, I connect these points chronologically (in the order that I find them). I don’t allow lines to cross over each other, because I want to keep things flat and avoid the illusion of space – I don’t want the drawing to become anything. Someties I hit a dead end where the next point of destination isn’t clear, forcing me to improvise a leap to get back to the trail. These leaps are like hiccups in a meditative process – they disrupt my surrender to the embedded terms of the painting (its own terms), and make space for me to impose my conscious will, to preside for a moment over the outcome. The drawing relates intuitively to the scale of my body in relation to the painting, its segment lengths informed by the length of my fingers, hands, forearms, shoulders, and torso; the angles and curves follow a geometric logic derived from my physical range of motion. With the contour I travel the painting and simultaneously trace my travels, leaving a kind of map (with a 1:1 scale).

The contour becomes a structure to work with and against – it creates porous boundaries, and pockets where color can collect in shapes. Through its engagement with the drawing, a color will sometimes start to behave like a shadow, and I find myself flirting with the possibility of representative space. Shadows are normally understood as effects of light (and dark), which leads to a narrative situation (the light is coming from here; it is this kind of light, it is this kind of space), and I make an effort to halt this process. Any budding narratives dissolve into tactile color relationships, so that the conjunction of forms enables not a narrative but a presiding rhythm.