Paris Paintings Series

The Agony and the Ecstacy (My awakening)

The following are excepts from a chapter in Verna Brady's Book "My Search for the Real...A Visual Odyssey." This chapter of the book (p. 5-9) chronicles her transition from realism to abstract expressionism, under the tutelage of George McNeil. It provides a greater understanding of the process an artist goes through in expressing what is totally personal to the artist, something "interior," rather than what is seen exteriorly in (strict) realism.

The full book can be purchased here.

More on her Paris experience.

Verna in Paris School

The harrowing struggle I went through in Paris, which culminated in a breakthrough for me, is described below in a chronological sequence of the paintings and their accompanying experiences. My reason for retelling my experience is to help others understand that responding to abstract concepts does not necessarily come easily or without exposure to an artist's theories. My hope is that this book will provide both.

paris painting 1

Paris Series #1

"In the first two sessions of classes McNeil lectured with intensity on Hoffmann's theories--the "push/pull" of colors in space, tensions, dynamic equilibrium, and the plastic autonomy--those perplexing words I had encountered for so long. He also spoke about his own concept, the need to "interiorize." Another bewildering idea to add to the rest!

The following day McNeil had arranged various still life set ups and asked that we spend the period in our accustomed manner so that he could see what we were capable of. (Paris Series #1)"

paris series 2

Paris Series #2

When we walked into class the next time, the set-ups had changed from objects to crumpled pieced of colored paper, bags, bits of cloth--and we were thrown head-long into painting an abstract! He told us that as long as he left an object there, that's what we'd paint--we'd never see the "push-pull," the tensions in space. We were given that one period to produce a painting. Such agony! I stood there in dismay. How could anyone "make something" out of that mess? But I was given no choice; so I floundered...and knew how terrible it was! (Paris Series #2)

paris series 3

Paris Series #3

Next day, hallelujah!...the still lifes were again! But alas, not for long. McNeil told us to begin in whatever way we wished and he would go around the class to help each one of us.The set ups were left intact until he had spend time with each student. Since he was so dedicated and intense, this took quite a few periods. When he got to me, I felt like I was practically finished and that it was pretty good--but no more venturesome than my first. McNeil stood there for a few minutes looking at it and finally said,"You paint very well and have a personal stye." Ah, ecstacy! Then he picked up the palette knife and scraped off just about all the paint I'd put there! I was shattered! He picked up a brush, started mixing colors and laying them on the canvas, and talked about the push of this and the pull of that. Finally he turned the brush over and used the handle to draw in a tiny shape of the pot that had loomed on my canvas. He told me that was the size it really was and again stressed the space, tensions, and "interiorize." I listened intently, but my poor befuddled brain felt his words land like heavy rain on dry ground--they didn't seem to penetrate. (Paris Series #3)

paris series 4

Paris Series #4

The day after McNeil had completed his initial tour of the class, we were again greeted by his abstract still lifes and told we'd see nothing else for the remainder of the sessions. He also said he would begin to go around the class again. I had already made the decision to accept the challenge and try to "interiorize"--try to see in this strange new way, and so, as I painted, with one ear cocked to what McNeil was telling each student--hoping to glean whatever help I could from the overheard advice. He purposely spoke loudly enough for the whole class to benefit from his teaching.

In canvas #4 I struggled with working with the shapes and colors before me. A little better than #2, but still pretty lousy!

paris series 5 In canvas #5 I began feeling the swing of the colors but was still floundering.

paris series 6

Paris Series #6

By #6 I was opening up--I actually could see the tension the colors were exerting on each other. The blues were pushing down, pulling up; the oranges were pulling out. Suddenly the raindrops were sinking in and new growth was springing up within me!

paris series 7

Paris Series #7

In the next two paintings I was so wrapped up in all the new realizations going on within me that I was oblivious the both McNeil's words and the class. It was during the course of painting #7 that McNeil got to me again and suggested the quiet area on the left. He sat and talked to me at length, asking if there were places at home where I might exhibit and telling me he had done all he could for me--that I was on my own now and all I had to do was work hard and do a lot of painting. What Ecstacy! --to hear him say what I had felt but not dared to believe!

paris series 8

Paris Series #8

Later, from a classmate, I learned that McNeil had been standing behind me for a long time watching what I was doing "with a strange look on his face--like he was trying to figure out how you were seeing that." Surely my logical mind could not have exxplained what I was suddenly able to see. What was going on withing me was at a very deep level...I had, at last, "interiorized!"


copyright Verna Brady1989