Shane Guffogg: The Bay of Naples Paintings
This is an extract from the podcast “Conversations About Art” via VC Projects to listen on Spotify
In this episode, my guest, Shane Guffogg and I discuss his current project, which consists of two
oil on canvas paintings, (6 x 8 feet), and (40 x 30 inches), created for a group exhibition at the Royal Palace of Portici and the Museum of Herculaneum in Naples, Italy. This exhibition is curated by Cynthia Penna and opens on December 10th, 2021.
The curator assigned each of the 6 American artist, an American author who wrote about Naples. Guffogg was given the 19th century historical romance author, James Fenimore Cooper, and the book, Gleanings of Italy. The artist took the following passages for his inspiration,
“The Mediterranean, on the other hand, is unusually blue, and its bays and gulphs appear to have as deep a tint as the open sea.
The bay itself was asleep, with its bosom dotted with a thousand boats, and crafts of different sizes. The deathlike calm that pervaded everything was in exquisite accordance with the character of the entire view. The mountains were dreamy, the air was filled with drowsy repose, while the different objects of historical interest over which the eye rather lingered than glanced, gave the whole the semblance of a physical representation of things past, adorned and relieved by a glorious grouping of so much that is exquisite in the usages of the present.”
– James Fenimore Cooper
“Gleannings of Italy” (Naples, 1838)
In this discussion, Guffogg shares how he created his paintings and the developments that ensued. He further explores how he planned-out the beginning layers of each painting, which were devised from aspects of the I Ching, which was the bases for the patterns. Guffogg spent long periods of isolation in the studio working, which was a necessary task in order to paint in this systematic format. But as is Guffogg’s working style, he had some wiggle room for his intuition to respond to the continuously changing colors and shapes that came out of the countless layers of glazes. The industrious project took two-months and the significance of the conceptual blueprint set down the truth to the inherent outcome. The final composition that transpired from mind to heart, and hand to canvas is astounding. But this was not done without difficulty. Guffogg shares some of the tough stages he went through to complete the finished works. Towards the end of this discussion, I sarcastically ask, “Is painting dead?” Of course not! Guffogg reveals his testimony. Listen in, to hear first-hand what he has to say.
Victoria Chapman is the founder of VC Projects podcast, “Conversations About Art”. These talks are centered around studio practice, art, and the intellect. https://www.vcprojects.art
Below are excerpts from the podcast
[(11:32)] Shane Guffogg: And I love the idea of this random chance that I could then turn into order — into a patterning — because I think nature works that way. And I think we organize our world in that way. Our society is organized; it’s always chaos that we make order out of, you know, the chaos becomes order. I cut these templates using a (utility) knife. And they end up becoming these oval shapes just because it’s a natural movement of my hand. So, I took a little piece of chalk, and I measured out where the corner of the template would go. And I started painting these oval shapes on there, and I did them going horizontally and then vertically. And that was one layer. And then I took the template and reduce the size of it by 20%. And I grid the first template, and then I grid the second template with the same measurements.
So I had an exact replica of the first template, but 20% smaller. And so, then I did a second layer of patterns, both horizontal and vertical. And then I did it again, another 20%. And I did that pattern again. And then again and again. Now, with the big painting, I ended up doing seven templates that go horizontal and vertical. So, 14 layers of patterns. And the last two layers — because I figured out that there were 10 mirrored shapes in the template, there were 10 marks on the 10 oval shapes, and that that was replicated X number of times over the surface, which led to 5340 marks going vertically and 5340 marks going horizontally. Now that’s just the last two layers. So, there were 1312 other layers underneath that. So, the total number of markings, I don’t know, but what happens is that it creates a visual echo. And then patterns begin to form within patterns within patterns. Which is the way nature works, which is the way the subatomic world works. You know, the reverberation of something creates patterns.
[(26:36)] Shane Guffogg: I’ve been listening to a lot working on these, some Philip Glass because he has a syncopated rhythm, the piano starts, and then another voice starts. And they’re echoing each other. I was listening to a lot of that. listening, to the composer I just played for you. The Austrian composer was… (Gyorgy Ligeti) I can’t remember his name. And again, there’s harmony within the discord, the dissidents of sound that’s happening. And that always appeals to me, always attracts me, but I can only listen to that kind of music while I’m painting for maybe three hours tops. And then I feel like I’m about ready to float off the planet. I need to get grounded again. So, then I would put on like, the 80s, New Wave stuff, and/or a Beatles station (on Pandora) or something, just to ground myself. And then I get bored with that. And I’m still painting by myself. And then I think, well, I need to hear some human voices at this point. So, then I turn on these timeline history shows on YouTube and learn about the whole history of Rome or the rise and fall of the Persian Empire. You know, it’s a two-hour documentary that I don’t even watch. I just listen to it. But it’s like I have a companion in the room with me.
[(30:40)] Shane Guffogg: So that painting, the smaller painting. And here’s an interesting thing about both these paintings, which goes back to Monet and his waterlilies, which then goes back to the whole Japanese art form where they would take the background and bring it forward so that everything was functioning on the same plane — there was no middle ground, foreground or background, everything is (on the) surface. And that had a huge impact on the French impressionists, which I think allowed Monet to basically paint the water lilies, and the reflection of the water and the water, and the water lilies and the reflection of the cypress trees. And these weeping willows that were hanging over the water are on the same plane, right? There’s no perspective in there. And that, which is why he flipped out in 1905. And he was supposed to have this major exhibition. And he realized there was no horizon line, there was no vanishing point. And he almost had a nervous breakdown. And he took a knife and destroyed I think 40 of those paintings. And it took him another two years to produce another body of work that he could eventually show. But cut to, there’s a flatness to these paintings because I’ve taken the idea of perspective and pulled it forward. Yeah. And so you’re seeing the background, the middle ground, and the foreground simultaneously on the same picture plane. And that’s interesting. So, then it becomes a conceptual idea.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SHANE GUFFOGG: https://www.shaneguffogg.com