The Artist Paints a Picture — A Tribute to Elaine de Kooning

(Walking in the Light, 12“x12”, mixed media on canvas)

In 1948, artist and writer Elaine de Kooning was hired as an editorial associate by Art News, a highly respectable visual arts magazine that, to this day, features articles about art and artists and reviews of their gallery shows among other art-world happenings. Deeply entrenched in the New York art scene at the time when Abstract Expressionism established itself as a prominent artistic movement, Elaine’s suitability for this role stemmed from her dedicated studio practice and critical acumen in assessing her own painting and that of others. Of the many articles she wrote for publication, her series The Artist Paints a Picture stands out as one of her best. In it, “E. de K.,” as she referred to herself in her early reviews, visits an artist in his or her studio and discusses a painting in progress or a current body of work, often allowing the artist to simply talk aloud about process and ideas while working on the image itself. Inevitably, the pictorial development of the image raised certain questions or suggested particular concepts or beliefs relevant to the history and contemporary development of painting itself, which Elaine then brought to bear on her article. The result was an open window unto the minds and practices of contemporary artists and the critical discourse surrounding their work, written for fellow artists, collectors, gallerists and an artistically inclined public.

As an artist and writer myself, I feel a kinship with and an indebtedness to Elaine de Kooning for her pioneering work in both painting and art criticism, and seek to honor her by authoring a series not unlike The Artist Paints a Picture, in which I follow Central Oregon artists in their creative process. Common to the artists I interview is representation in the local gallery scene so that the public can actually view the work of the artist about whom they just read. Uncommon to these same artists is everything else — subject matter, materials used, style — an intentional diversity designed to offer the reader a glimpse into multiple forms of artistic expression as the series unfolds. Without further ado, the first installment of this series appears below. Enjoy!

Michelle Lindblom on Intuitive Painting

“I can’t force an image, even if I try to have a plan.”- Michelle Lindblom

Retired professor of visual arts at Bismarck State College and longtime abstract image-maker, artist Michelle Lindblom brings a vast amount of experience to her paintings, prints and collages. Despite the wealth of knowledge available for Lindblom to consciously draw upon when creating a work of art, she instead paints primarily according to intuition. Her images, both large and small, are typically comprised of a limited palette of modulated colors and flow in undulating forms and lines. Gravity is often evidenced as drips of diluted acrylic paint pull the viewer’s eye downward and cloak in a transparent veil any unsuspecting colors in their path. The result is one of mystery and movement, obscurity and clarity.

Something of a buzzword today, many artists, including myself, lay claim to the “intuitive artist” tag, but what does this really mean? Some believe it represents one deeply in touch with their feelings while others consider it a mask for a lack of understanding of and training in the fundamentals of artistic practice. Both possibilities beg subsequent questions. With respect to the former, one may ask, “How does the artist manifest this intuitive sensibility in her work?” With respect to the latter, one may ponder, “Does it really matter how skillful or trained an artist is as long as what he or she produces pleases the one viewing it?” Responding to the perplexing question of intuition, Michelle offers the following:

“For me, intuition is trusting yourself and the environment around you. It has nothing to do with a particular goal or endgame. It’s a kind of letting it go. Of course, intuition comes with experience. It doesn’t mean you have to be 60, like me, with years of experience. Somebody who is 25 can have a great deal of intuition. It depends on their experiences and how they’ve adapted and reacted to them. I’ve done a lot of different things in my life, and those experiences are fodder for future revelations, however they decide to come out. Intuition is part of your subconscious. It involves things you’ve experienced that you may not be aware of but are wise enough or comfortable enough to allow them to surface.”

Quality of experience appears to factor into Lindblom’s evaluation of intuition as much as, or perhaps even more than, quantity of experience. And it’s not so much the particulars of the experience that matter, it seems. It’s the education in those experiences, the takeaway, that informs the intuitive response. Fortunately, as Michelle explains, years of study, regular practice and teaching have ingrained the basic principles of art so deeply within her that she need not think of them as she works, which allows her intuitive nature to express itself more fully. For those without miles of practice behind them, their intuition remains less developed, what Michelle calls “immature intuition,” a less refined “gut reaction,” if you will.

So what happens with the work when the intuitive response is allowed to flow? Perhaps a bold, gestural mark is suddenly made or a particular color is mixed according to what feels right (yellow is one of Lindblom’s preferred). This seeming whimsicality does not, however, happen without some sort of framework intact. In her printmaking efforts, for example, Michelle sets forth a palette of a few colors she’d like to work with and surrounds herself with an arsenal of materials, from fabrics to flora, from which to choose. As she creates, she then picks with little contemplation what feels right to use in that particular moment and allows subsequent decisions to be made according to the direction that the image suggests rather than according to a predetermined plan or envisioned result.

Turning to the painting currently on her easel, I ask Michelle to explain what is happening in this image. “I have no idea!” Michelle exclaims. “This is an older piece that I began to rework. It’s still at its ugly stage.” Typical of her artistic practice, Lindblom surrounds herself with her art, enters her at-home studio and decides what to work on that moment. Perhaps a recent painting needs revisiting, she discovers, as she views it with fresh eyes. Perhaps an artwork has been with her for many years, and she senses an impulse to rework it or to obliterate it completely and start again. Anything goes. No attachment. Trust. Not simply works of art, Michelle Lindblom’s paintings and prints reflect a philosophy of life.

To view Michelle’s art, visit Red Chair Gallery in Bend, peruse her website at, or schedule a studio visit.

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