“’El Diablo’ (pictured, top) began as an attempt to paint a giant ceramic bowl on a beach. Hopefully one day I will be able to pull that motif off, but in this instance, I was not. I worked on this big bowl with little crabs crawling all around it for about a day until I realized it was hopeless. This was not going to work- so I turned it around to face the wall and got really annoyed about the whole thing. Another giant canvas I was going to have to take off the stretcher, then stretch and gesso another one. It always breaks my heart a little when I can’t get it on the first try- but of course it happens all the time.
The next day I went to Pearl in the morning. I thought, ok, if I’m going to re-stretch this one and start over, then I’m going to get some really bright colors. I bought a bunch of nice paints- with a lot of very bright colors I hadn’t tried before- in particular an amazing orange I was really excited about. I also got some canvas.
When I got to the studio, I turned the canvas back around and studied it. What exactly was going on here? What did I see? I turned the canvas from horizontal to vertical (it’s 7×6 ft), and something clicked. That big bowl shape could be something else. Everything around the bowl (palms, crabs, clouds) was kind of working now that it was vertical, but the bowl had to transform. But into what? I immediately saw an owl- I kind of wanted to paint a big owl. But hadn’t I recently read some article somewhere about how owls were going to be really cool to paint this year, like cats were last year? Well then I’m definitely not painting an owl today. What else do I see? I saw a big mask. I’ve always wanted to paint a mask but felt like I shouldn’t because many artists before me have painted them. But I could really see it. This was going to have to be a big mask, and if it didn’t work, oh well.
I had to scrape away a lot of the wet paint that was there from the day before. Then I could almost immediately see where everything was going to go. I sketched it in- starting with the eyes and nose, naturally. Then I just started filling in big areas with color, beginning with orange. It was the most amazing orange I had ever seen, and I know that what goes really well with orange is turquoise, so I filled an area in with turquoise. Really quickly the mask took shape with bright wet paint, and looked really at home with the foliage and crabs all around it, even though they were sideways. I just left them as they were. Everything just kind of solidified.
It was a mask just floating there in the night. I was really attracted to it- it didn’t matter to me that it made no sense floating there. I imagined if I was walking on a tropical beach at night, the smells, the sounds of the waves and foliage blowing, and I happened upon this big mask floating in front of me. The mask was scary, but welcoming, and I was attracted to that. I added some stars in the sky and other details but wanted to keep it simple. By the night time I was finished. It almost felt as though it had painted itself.” –Ryan Schneider