… I am not very good at visualizing things in advance. I am more a person who responds to something in front of me.
This is from Realists at Work by John Arthur (1983). This is from the studio interview with Jack Beal:
[ … ]
Jack Beal: … That early portrait of Ivan made me change the way I put paint on a canvas.
John Arthur: You’re talking about an early painting, from 1963. It was very expressionistic, Soutine-like.
J.B.: Yes. At the time, I applied paint often by squeezing colors directly on the brush and slapping it onto the canvas. Those paintings have a kind of energy and enthusiasm that still exists in the early stages of my current paintings, but is not so obvious when the form and surface have been developed. But after having that painting around my studio for a few months, I began to realize that the flesh on his face looked flayed, as though I had gone at him with a knife.
[line break added] I realized that I had done a disservice to my subject by allowing my ego or individuality as a painter to distort the image. Each person’s image is important to him and if we have the empathy we’re supposed to have, we should respect that. From that realization on, I have tried to paint people with the same kind of scrutiny that people give to themselves when they’re shaving or applying makeup or that they give to others in conversation.
[line break added] My whole style of paint application changed as a result of that understanding. So when I make a painting of people, I make them the size and shape that they are, with the gestures they use, and in the environment they choose for themselves.
Sondra [Beal’s wife and a fellow artist] says that making a painting, for her, is like writing a letter to someone, with the same kind of personal attention. I’m sending this to you, the viewer. That’s such a loving, simple statement about what contemporary Realism is all about.
[ … ]
J.A.: You have never done watercolor.
J.B.: No. The world’s best watercolorist (Sondra) is married to the world’s worst watercolorist (me). I have tried to do watercolors, but they require a kind of preplanning of which I am incapable. That is to say, I am not very good at visualizing things in advance. I am more a person who responds to something in front of me. I’ve always been a reactive person, responding to situations.
[line break added] Maybe it’s because I had gone to eighteen different schools and lived in thirty-three different houses by the time I left college. I was constantly thrown into new environments, and I learned very early that to develop preconceived notions about situations was very likely to lead to great disappointment. I tried to have an open mind and deal with things as they came at me.
[line break added] In an interview recently I was asked to choose a symbol for myself, and I chose chameleon. Watercolor, I think, requires the ability to be able to visualize very clearly, with some kind of confidence beforehand. I like to work with oil because I can make changes all the way through, I can make mistake after mistake, and rectify the mistakes as I go along.
Jack Beal, Self-portrait with Rudbeckias and Daylilies, 1988