"May 4th, 1970" is one of my larger works. It measures 3 feet high by 4 feet wide. It was done in acrylic paint. Sometimes I will lay out a full spectrum palette to work (cad red, cad orange, cad yellow, lemon yellow, sap green, pthalo green, pthalo blue, ultra blue, white, black, yellow ochre, burnt sienna and alizirin) and other times I use a mixture of what I feel based on the section of the painting I am working on. In this piece, I used the later approach. Now, I do set the tubes of paint aside based on the overall painting so I can be sure that each color mixed comes from the same roots.
But I am getting ahead of myself. In the beginning, after visualizing what I want in the final piece, I do a charcoal outline on the canvas. This is a photo of that initial drawing. This is just a general idea of placement and theme.
After completing this step, I quickly move to getting some values on the canvas. I just look and decide where I want the absolutes, dark and light. I have laid out all the colors I think I will use, so I mix a grey using some of those colors (my grey's are mixed using complementary colors. i.e. red and green or blue and orange or yellow and purple). Once I feel the work, I begin. This is a picture of what the value work became on this painting.
After getting this image on the canvas, I step back and ponder, what area captures me? Where do I go from here? What will be the language I use to communicate the feeling I am seeking to share? I get into color. The soldiers are "bringing the heat". They are also bringing the tinge of hell with them. The students are lost in a reverie of innocence. There is something holy about using your First Amendment rights. So I used a deep cad red with flickers of yellow/orange flames. A pale violet shroud surrounds the students. I add some yellow in top to create a little tension with the violet . This is the next stage completed.
At this point, I am beginning to feel those soldiers. I realize that I want to add a symbol that will clarify whom those soldiers represented so I added an American flag and used a sap green mixture to fill in the uniforms. As is my style, I mixed up some of the colors still on the palette to create shading. These soldiers represent the evil and I do not want them bright and colorful. This is that stage completed.
I took a break here. Listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's version of "4 dead in Ohio". Listening just reinforces the feeling and gives me a better sense of how I want to proceed. The little flecks of flames are not enough. I want to create the sense that these soldiers are marching from the depths of hell. I did a little touch up on them, masks and shadows. I added fire, lots of fire from the bottom of the painting. Fire burning the flag but not even scorching a soldier. Then I added two letter "C's". I used a silver paint and black to fill them in. I hope to gesture that this attitude ranged from sea to shining sea. This was my next pause point.
I stopped here for the night or morning, it was about 4 a.m. and I was a bit tired and needed to refuel. Some paintings are more emotional than others. By now it was early morning on May 5th and at the very least I wanted to toast John Carlson on his birthday. He was the author of the book treasured by plein aire artists, entitled Elementary Principles of Landscape Paintings. Early the next afternoon, I was back at it. I worked on the flames and the flag burning. I began to get into brighter colors on the students. Grey gun smoke was added to the top right around the students fleeing the gunfire and behind the soldiers on the right and left of the panel. Some vague detail was added to the students. I was still trying to get it to make sense when I could not make sense of it myself. This was my next stop point.
At this point, I am trying to create a sense of confusion. That was the feeling on the quad at Kent State. I want to have students portrayed standing their ground, running in panic, crying out, ministering to the dead and yet I want them to be rather faceless. The students were every race, color and creed. They were male and female. They were us. I started on the left and just tried to color them in a rainbow moving to the right purple, blues, greens, yellows, orange, reds. The wounded lay dying with terrified students offering aid. Soldiers perform their duties in a cold, unemotional manner. In contrast, the students are brighter colors with a sense of hope for a better tomorrow. I paused here. It was a needed break.
That break took a bit longer. I had to let what I had completed sink in. It was done, but it wasn't. I needed to tie it together. At this point, I had created a 1970's Tower of Babel. Each little frame told a story, but they each were like a tiny island in a sea of confusion. I had to sleep on this for a couple days. Then, as clear as a clarion call the Muse whispered to me. I went back to the studio and began touching up here and there. I knew what I needed. I just had to find the right energy. Then I took up my charcoal and drew the outline of my link that would take the interdependent areas and tie them together. This was the painting at this stage.
Surely, it must be finished at this point. I left to let it dry. I thought about that day. It was so very similar to the experiences on Route 1 in College Park, Md. By the way, that's where I was. Another of the many young people protesting the Viet Nam War and Nixon's decision to add Cambodia to the mix. The National Guard did not fire on us, but I remember the soldiers, the gas masks, the tear gas, the rifles and the fixed bayonets. I remember thinking anyone of them in casual clothes could have been me. I also remember the fear. What was it? The little things. The fact the National Guardsmen were all white. The glimmer of light reflecting off their bayonets. The feeling in the air that we were no different than the Viet Cong to them. So, I went back down to the studio and added the little things. I grayed some areas and I added a little detail here and there. Then I added those silver bayonets. Stood back and realized. It is finished. If you have read this far, you deserve a prize. The first person that sends an email to me at email@example.com and shares one thing I changed or added in the final version will win a free original matted watercolor painting. This is the final version.