Part of the fascination they hold involves Spencer's technique. Dynamic swaths of color capture the motion of dizzying eddies, but they aren't the result of the gestural brushwork of action painting. Spencer's creations often take months to take shape, composed in stages with a detailed sense of realism. His works have a smooth, uniform surface. Blended edges lend the overall compositions a softness that is at odds with the often violent imagery.
Spencer's paintings have a narrative quality, but the stories they tell are open-ended. Vernal Equinox, a recent large-scale painting of a man and a woman traversing a windswept, snowy landscape, lacks the bold, energetic movement of the Whirlwind Paintings but not their feeling and power. The couple seems to struggle against the wind. The man carries a bundled lamb cradled protectively in his arms. The woman carries a bundle too. It could be a child, but the face cannot be read from the brief glimpse seen through a thin opening in the blanket. They rise from an outcropping of rock, the sea behind them. The image could represent life's efforts at seasonal renewal, the role of the parent in protecting the innocent, or the struggle of the young for survival in a harsh, merciless existence.
"One of the major themes is emergence, and another is couples," Spencer told Pasatiempo. "Many of the monotypes are configurations of couples. I'm not concerned with the meaning of it. There's always meaning there if you perceive it. My work always ends up being about a spiritual evolution, if you will. These pictures are sort of like moments of passage through barriers like the ego prisons we make for ourselves."
The meeting point of land, air, and sea is also a consideration in Spencer's art, and his abstracted dramas often unfold on a kind of psychic landscape where nature threatens to overwhelm the figures. They have a feeling of allegory, particularly in more representational works such as Vernal Equinox, and have the timeless aspect of myth. "That's a function of my interest in history, which is a history of mythologies," he said. The man and woman in that painting could be the animated spirits of Adam and Eve, cast from Eden, still wandering in search of refuge across the dreamscape of the human soul. The artist is able to capture a mood in his compositions without having to situate the action at a particular moment or event in time. "All those things live in my brain. I do thumbnail sketches, and they often become these paintings. Really, I see action, and I see groups of figures and stuff going on, and that will develop. In the process of that evolution, I realize what the thing is about."
Despite the sweeping, gestural curves of motion and abstraction in most of the exhibited works, Spencer's pieces recall the lush, light-filled paintings of
Spencer's art suggests primeval forces locked in eternal conflict, the earliest drama repeating itself in an endless round. The imagery is at once familiar and alien. "It's not usually the stuff that people want to look at," he said. "People don't want to see. They want to believe that their vision of the world is the vision of the world. My work, just by its nature, calls that into question."
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