Winslow Myers began his series of diptychs in 2002. He achieves his own special architecture by means of compositional contrasts that use industrial and organic motifs, playing off the magisterial diagonals of bridges or receding tracks against overlapping strips of tree masses or mountains. The viewer’s eye is held in tension between a strongly integral surface pattern that underlines the cross-conversation between the two sides, and areas that encourage leisurely recession into layered depths. Not only different seasons or weather or times of day, but diverse points of view, looking up or down into vertiginous spaces, allow him to play with quasi-cubistic variations on academic perspective.
He recalls one of his teachers, Walter Tandy Murch, saying that every artist takes a risk that the work will come off, will achieve a life of its own beyond mere rendering skill. In fact a work may exhibit more vitality by means of its awkwardness and directness, because accidents or mistakes often provide unforeseen enrichment. Myers spent his formative years on the Maine coast, and his enthusiasm for John Marin’s rough spontaneity gave him his initial sense of the possibilities of painting. He recollects that the special creativity of Braque, an artist he holds in the highest esteem, was pushed in new directions by the fact that he couldn’t draw in the academic sense.
Though they do not resemble the action paintings of someone like James Brooks, with whom he studied briefly in New York in the 1970s, Myers’s diptychs emerge from what is essentially an action painting process that retains the representational, or re-presentational, element he finds more compelling than pure abstraction. They are birthed from a collagist assembly of fragments, some drawn from life, some photographed, some improvised from imagination, in a continuing dialogue by which the work is discovered in the course of making it. Placement, scale, perspective and color decisions are adjusted throughout as the conversation with possibility continues. Each work is an attempted “passage,” with no final arrival possible, toward a painted distillation of the interdependence between all things and beings.
The rationale for choosing the diptych format is straightforward: It presents interesting compositional challenges and opens up novel possibilities for the contrast of motifs. Pierre Reverdy, writing about Braque, said something that defines my intention better than I could: “The poetic image is born of the bringing together of two more or less distant realities, between which only the spirit grasps the relationship.”
“Passages”—because the word allows a multiplicity of associations with changing seasons, voyages, the passing of time, and contrast—in the sense of, say, the difference between tropic and temperate out of which Wallace Stevens made poetry. Stevens asserted something that one hopes will always be true: “These arts that are so often regarded as exhausted are only in their inception.” The “inception” element, the excitement, comes from every paint decision on both sides of a diptych being made according to the simultaneous capacity of forms and colors not only to describe the familiar, but also to cohere in patterns that allow the viewer to experience the two sides as one.