REHOBOTH - Amid the completed, semicompleted, and never-to-be- completed works in the Rehoboth studio of Dennis Congdon sits a small Royal typewriter. At first it seems out of place, but talk a few moments with Congdon, whose large-format oil and acrylic paintings are brush strokes sandwiched between layers of pigment sprayed through hand-cut stencils, and you begin to understand why it fits right in. Congdon, 48 and a professor of painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, begins his explanation, and process, with what he calls "the grand tradition" of great painters:
"Picasso is my first love, straight the way through, but these days, I've been looking at a lot of bits of landscapes, tufts of foliage, that are in the margins of all kinds of painting. We're just back from Italy, where we saw lots of paintings of saints and martyrdom. There are these brilliant figure paintings, and I'm into these bony and stony bits of landscapes at their feet. I've been thinking about saints in the wilderness, like St. Francis and St. John the Baptist. There's a wonderful connection to what in our country would be an Emerson, to get out alone and try to figure it all out. To journey out into the land - a connection to the land - is something that I want to paint on.
"I draw [a design] out, and when it's ready - I can make a lot of corrections, white things out - then I can cut it [into stencils]. Then I take them onto a canvas or birch panel - the latest ones are on birch panel - and then proceed to spray it and begin, or continue, painting.
"[Why not just use a brush?] Attachment to the process is an evolving matter, just as the process is itself. What the stencil component of the process offers is a kind of detachment that I think of as a key part of why these are contemporary landscape paintings. There's a detachment, a speed to the paintings that I'm exploring at the moment. It makes works that I hope are engaging but hard to cozy up to.
"[I like that] because, in part, I'm working in a world that's shiny and advertising-dominated, catch and release. People move right through that world. How does that grand tradition encounter that sort of digital stream? I don't know, but these stencil paintings are the spot at which I muse.
"I'm not a person who would like a return to the days before antibiotics, certainly, but the dominance of the imagery streaming by has affected the very way I'm working. . . .
"When I write to my friends, I do so on one of my several typewriters, and not on the e-mail or the spell-check machine.
"Stenciling can, on occasion, involve [mistakes], a certain slippage that can all be good."