Robert Bingaman spent an estimated 200-some hours completing his large-scale painting, “Nevada,” but thanks to a time-lapse video he produced, you can see the whole thing unfold in just four and a half minutes. In this interview, the local artist gives us a peek into his creative process and the video he made to document it.
In short, to have a “record” of the painting. A lament of mine is that something is always permanently lost in the completion of a painting. It’s important to move quickly through a composition, because painting takes so much time. But painting is an enchanting process.
“Document your work” is a mantra that gets passed around to young artists endlessly, and it’s good advice most of the time. As I was doing just that last summer, I realized I wasn’t documenting my work, I was documenting my finished objects. For pragmatic reasons, we need to document our finished objects, not our work. But “work” is a verb first, in my mind. The paintings I make are athletic efforts. So the expression got me thinking, what if, for my own pleasure, I could document all the wonderful little moments between beginning and end?
The process of finishing can be grueling; constantly revising portions of the composition to a point of resolution, spurning passages of paint and color that are wonderful in and of themselves, if a negation to the ever-forming goal of the project. No matter what turn the content takes, my technical goals with paint are rather traditional; everything needs a reason to exist. Every “stroke” needs to serve something. If it doesn’t, it needs to be fiddled with.
The best way I could think of to share these infinite (and infinitesimal) moments is by presenting them in the fluid context to which they belong, time. I wanted to reveal the tedium involved in preparation, the rhythm involved in a composition’s progress, and even the lack of rhythm—the off-beat anxiety—of work that is unresolved. The video doesn’t show every “how”, and certainly not the “how-longs”. But it is a reminder of the process to me, and a hint to others.
What did you use to shoot and edit the video?
I used a Canon EOS 20D SLR digital camera to take still photographs, then dumped them, rather rudimentarily, into Apple’s iMovie software on a Mac.
Did documenting the process make you self-conscious in any way?
Very much so, especially early on. I was well aware of my end goal of sharing a video for anyone to see on the internet, and every time I heard the shutter snap I was aware in the same way that you might be with a webcam feeding your image directly to the web. This was tempered by the knowledge that I could later edit out any individual frame (I ended up using them all) and the weird notion that showing paintings is difficult in the first place. You are showing the public something that has been very personal and solitary for a long time—your subconscious hangs on the walls. The regular intervals in which the camera captured this slight horror eased the process in a way, in its tiny, constant doses.
Who is the lady that appears in the shot from time to time? A character in the life of the painting? A personification of the visiting muse?
She is my wife. She’s in the video because she is a part of the process. I’d be sitting there, tired, not doing anything, and she would come and say “wow,” or “what’s wrong?” or “get going.” For one reason or another she is often the reason I stop working, and often the reason I start again, so it makes a lot of sense to see her now and then.
Why did you choose to score the video with this Dan Deacon song? What else do you like to listen to in the studio?
Dan Deacon was the obvious choice because I listen to him so much in the studio. Bromst, his album from 2009, is a perfect studio album because by listening to it one has a choice: embrace the music’s tempo and physically involve yourself with your work, or get out. When I felt like getting out I played that album.
Starting out you cover the canvas in several different layers of paint before sanding it down. Why do you paint so much stuff on the campus if it’s just going to get painted over in the end?
Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about that. It illustrates a fascinating gulf between artists and people who appreciate art from a distance, simply because it’s not an uncommon thing at all, and yet it mystifies everyone but painters. What I am doing in those stages is first sealing the linen by spraying and brushing PVA sizing into the weave (PVA is a substitute for rabbit-skin glue). This seals off my taped edges and gives the linen a more uniform and less porous surface. From there, I paint 10-15 coats of gesso (primer), with sanding in the latter stages, to create a fine surface that is unlike most anything. Many painters do this, and hyper-realist painters take it to even greater extremes by creating a truly flawless, uniform surface. My surfaces aren’t perfectly flawless, but that’s not what I’m after.
Is that blue stuff that shows up on the canvas tape? What do you use that for?
Yes, it’s masking tape, or “painter’s tape” as you might see it in the store. I use it to paint clean edges quickly, especially when I am using paint with a watery, transparent consistency. I first use powdered marking chalk to draw my straight lines, then I lay tape over them, then I seal them with medium. I love tape, always have.
Does time appear to pass differently for you once you enter the studio?
Yes, it moves very quickly. I sometimes can’t believe that working diligently on a small element of the painting took me an hour or two.
How many hours of work would you estimate the 4+ minutes in the video covers?
I really have no idea. I’ve started tracking my time in the studio since the beginning of the year, and if I use the time I’ve measured since January 1 as a guide, I would guess around 200 hours.
Have you thought of any other creative ways to document your work on future projects?
Yes I have. But they’re secrets.
(this interview originally appeared on March 19, 2010 in KCFreePress.com)