Paul Behnke on colour, paint and painting

Paul Behnke; Color, Paint and Painting

When I first began to make non-objective work the quality of the paint I used was the last thing on my mind.   I was thinking about scale, what type of supports I would use, and how I wanted to apply the paint. But my main concerns were making a striking image and somehow arriving at a personal visual vocabulary. The paint, itself, didn’t seem important.

Until that point I had been making 5×7 in. figurative oil paintings. I loved, and still love, the look and smell of oil paint and felt that it really suited the subject and format I was working with.  But when I began to work larger and non-objectively, oil paint seemed to throw up obstacles. I wanted to make big work so I needed covering ability and the nature of my process and personality demanded that the paint dry quickly so I sacrificed surface quality and settled on house paint. Cost was also a big factor. I was just beginning to explore and define my process and language so I wasn’t painting any masterpieces. It seemed silly to waste money on supplies when I felt my objectives were unclear.  There were also the romantic stories of de Kooning and Pollock using black and white enamel house paint and they appealed to me.

At first I was painting on unstretched canvas and displayed the work hanging loosely, attached to the wall by grommets.  Later I switched to cradling Masonite and painting on that before finally moving to stretched canvas. I’ve never tried painting on linen but I always hope I will one day. About seven years ago I phased out the house paint and started using propper acrylic paints.  My favorite brands are Golden, Lascaux, Matisse Flow, and Charvin acrylics, depending on the color. My palette is very high key and I tend to favor artificial colors like the ones you’ll find in magazine or subway ads. My colors help create an arresting image and further the impression of anxiety and competition among my forms and between the forms and the areas they inhabit. Most of my colors are straight from the jar with an occasional mixed color showing up here or there depending on what the painting needs. I tend to use only four or five colors in any given piece. As far as additives go, I’ll sometimes add Golden’s GAC 200 and or GAC 500, but for the most part I like to let the paint be itself and not get caught up in trying to force, or fall in love with, a certain surface quality.  The last thing I want to do is to overly manipulate my paint and get locked in to a contrived or studied finish.  I use no final varnish for the same reason. Another brand I use a lot is the Blickrylic line of fluorescent, student grade paint. I use it primarily in the early stages of a piece.  After randomly putting down some quick lines or shapes I’ll take a wooden yardstick and drag a layer of the Blickrylic over the surface. Of course this helps to build up texture but I find that viewing the marks through a layer of paint helps to somehow solidify things and lock them into place. And soon relationships between the marks and forms are revealed that can be capitalized on or done away with.  This gives me a way into the painting- something to start with.

As far as brushes go, occasionally I’ll splurge on an expensive brush but in all honesty my very favorite brand of brushes is the Bob Ross line.  They’re a good quality so they can take a lot of abuse and they hold a tremendous amount of paint. I like the size range and find I mostly gravitate toward the 2” background brushes, the 1” oval and landscapes, and the foliage brushes.”~ Paul Behnke

Paul will be participating in the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation Residency in Oct. 2014. And has a one person show scheduled for 2015 at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in New York. Paul edits the contemporary art blog Structure and Imagery.

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