Negative Space

Negative Space 31 x 17

Negative Space (Mixed Media/Acrylic 31″ X 17″)

Negative Space
Early in your progress as a landscape artist your goal is simply to paint recognizable objects. Then you want to paint them well, so people are amazed at how “real” they look. After some time and effort you move on to using personal style and abstraction to move things away from photographic clarity while maintaining a clear sense of the identity of the object or scene. Thoughts about “style” and “expression” become part of your creative process. It is when you are at this point in your artistic development that you can make a very beautifully rendered and well executed mess… because of one big mistake.

When working on a painting, everything on the surface can appear to be going well, while in fact, you actually have a huge mess on your hands. Up close on the easel everything seems to be just right. Everything is beautifully rendered and the colors work great together. Yet, when you step back and look at things objectively something is… off.

What could possibly be wrong? You study the painting and turn it this way and that, looking for clues. Then it hits you.

You forgot to pay attention to the areas of the canvas that you are not painting in great detail. Artists call this “negative space”. Negative space is the space that surrounds the main objects in a painting. Negative space defines the boundaries of the primary elements and helps balance the composition. If the negative space is not in harmony with the objects in the painting, the painting is a mess even if everything is painted beautifully. The problem can be subtle and hard to identify. Worse, in order to fix the problem you usually have to change or eliminate a part of the painting that you have spent a lot of time on, a part of the painting that you are heavily invested in, a part of the painting that you think is great.

Life is also like that.

If you have everything you think you want and your life is unfolding according to your plan and yet you are still unhappy, maybe it is time to take a look at what is going on around you and within you. In art, as in life, you have to pay attention to the “Negative Space”.
Image and text © 2015 James Golaszewski


Myra’s Ghost

Myra's Ghost 36 X 24

Myra’s Ghost (Mixed Media/Acrylic 36″ X 24″)

Myra’s Ghost
As humans, we are blessed/cursed with the knowledge that our days on earth are finite. The curse of it is that we always have a ticking clock somewhere in the background of our lives, and we never know how many ticks are left. The blessing of it is, this sense of unease and unknowing leads us to ponder the abstract questions of the universe. Questions that we would not otherwise explore, questions about why we are here, why we are self-aware, and what is our purpose. If we are rational enough to realize that we are not the center of the universe, inevitably this line of thought will lead to thoughts about God. And by asking these questions, we find some, but not all, answers. We come to know of God, but not the why or how of God.
On a more personal scale, because we know our time here is limited, we wonder what will remain of us after we are gone. What effect will we have had on the world, what memory will linger, what stories will be told. The best we can hope for, I think, is that we somehow move things along in a positive direction, that the world is a better place because we were here. To accomplish this, we do not have to do anything fantastic or newsworthy. All we have to do is do what we can, where we can, when we can.
Anyway, about the painting. Near my home there once was a grain elevator known as Myra Station (before I go further let me stop right here and acknowledge that some people spell it Mira, but extensive research – I talked to a bunch of old farmers – verified that the correct spelling is Myra). The grain elevator, the curved road that embraced it, and the railroad tracks that served the elevator, were removed many years ago. If you go to the site today there is absolutely no evidence that the grain elevator was ever there except for a small easily overlooked sign on the corner. And yet, I was recently looking at a current map and I noticed Myra Station was still noted on the map. My curiosity was piqued, so I looked at several other maps, GPS databases, and the Internet. Myra station appeared in all with no indication that it had been removed. Literally gone but not forgotten.
I thought a painting of Myra Station would be a fitting way to express my thoughts about the transience, and lingering effect, of our existence.
Typically I do not paint exact representations of specific places, and this is no exception. Instead of painting Myra station exactly as it appeared I chose to paint an idyllic representation of an old-school metal clad wooden grain elevator. Hopefully those who remember Myra station will grant me this poetic license.The physical manifestation of Myra Station is gone, but Myra’s Ghost lingers.
Image and text © 2015 James Golaszewski

Union Station Blues

Union Station Blues 30 X 20

Union Station Blues (Mixed Media/Acrylic 30″ X 20″)

Union Station Blues

This is a painting I did several years ago, “Union Station Blues”. It is a fairly straightforward representation of the Union Bus Station in Champaign in 1980.

At that time there were no cell phones. There were telephone booths on every corner in commercial areas. I remember when I did this painting I was reluctant to include a touch-tone telephone because some telephone booths still had dial telephones and I thought including a touch-tone telephone would make it look too “high tech”… Time has solved that problem.

At the time, the Union Bus Station in Champaign was populated mostly by college students, senior citizens, people with limited incomes, shifty-eyed drifters, prostitutes, homeless drug addicts, and petty criminals. Every taxi cab was a Checker Marathon sedan (some were classic yellow, some were green) with a back seat big enough for 12 college students and a trunk bigger than the back of a UPS truck. Coffee vending machines dispensed just two kinds of coffee (lava hot, and lava hot with white stuff) into a paper cup with “ear handles”.

And now… everything in the picture is obsolete. There are no more phone booths because cell phones killed ’em (I am not sure how Superman deals with this). The Union Bus Station is gone, replaced by the “Illinois Terminal Intermodal Transportation Center” (good luck working that into a blues song). The Checker Marathons are long gone. Now it is more common to see a a Prius taxi. Maybe the Aztecs were right about the world coming to an end. Modern coffee vending machines now have more possible choices and combinations than a strand of DNA, and I have not seen an “ear handle” cup in years. I am afraid they are extinct. Maybe the “American Pickers” will find one somewhere. Or, maybe, one will be brought in to the “Pawn Stars”… think they have a paper cup guy that knows everything there is to know about paper cups?

At the time, I painted “Union Station Blues” because I was working nights and I wanted to create an image that portrayed the film noir “after dark” side of life.

You know the scene – 0300 (three AM to civilians), a cab driver with a back-story parks at the curb and stops in a phone booth for shelter from the cold wind, a cigarette (menthol, to kill the smell in the booth), a hot cup of vending machine coffee, and then a quick phone call to a mysterious woman. Not his wife. Maybe someone else’s wife. He is waiting for the bus from Chicago to arrive in hopes of drumming up a customer so he can make enough money to pay the rent, which is already 2 weeks late. He thinks about the bottle under the front seat. Only enough left for one stiff drink. Drink it now? Maybe save it for later when the five AM “what have I done with my life” panic usually hits. While he dials the phone his thoughts wander to his last customer, who was she, why was she crying, why did she have him drop her off in an alley, what was in the purse that she held so tightly, and who or what had her so frightened? Maybe life. Maybe it was life that scared her. He understood.

Just another verse for “Union Station Blues”.
Image and text © 2015 James Golaszewski


Survivor 36 X 35

Survivor (Mixed Media/Acrylic 36″ X 35″)


One of the most surprising things I have learned during my lifetime is that being a survivor is not something that happens to you, rather it is a decision followed by effort. There was a time when I thought being a survivor meant that something bad happened to you and it did not kill you. You survived the event, therefore were a survivor.

Not so. There is a huge difference between living through something, and surviving.

Being a survivor has three components. First, you have to live through something that had the potential to cause serious harm. The harm could be physical, mental, and/or emotional. That is the easy part. Next, you have to decide that whatever it was that hurt you will not define you, limit you, control you, or keep you from living a happy productive life. Third, you have to work at making that happen… every day. That takes strength and courage.

This painting was inspired by what I have learned about being a survivor. I have chosen to use the predictable and reliable cycle of the four seasons to illustrate the ongoing process of survival. This work is set in the time of year at the very end of fall, when the excitement of the harvest is nearly over and the very last of the colorful autumn leaves are desperately clinging to the mostly bare branches of an old tree under a muted golden sky. On the surface, it seems as if nothing but the bleak cold winter lies ahead. However, every fall the universe makes a promise that despite appearances to the contrary, everything did not die, life continues below the surface… and the cold will not last forever.

Image and text © 2015 James Golaszewski
“I’m a little wounded, but I am not slain; I will lay me down to bleed a while. Then I’ll rise and fight again.”

― John Dryden