I very rarely paint an animal in its environment, preferring instead to recontextualize the animal (usually in an abstract or non-objective space) in order to inspire the viewer to consider it differently than they otherwise might. Sometimes, however, the environment in which I observed the subject is such an integral part of the initial inspiration, I have no choice but to part from my own norms. Such was the case in “Last Lines of Light.”
Since moving to Tucson, Arizona, in 2019, I have been amazed by the quality of the light, particularly the last line of late afternoon summer light, which often paints the desert in sublime and glowing shades of pink, orange, or even red in the last few minutes before the sun goes down. I will often watch these moments from my deck, and though the views of the Catalina and Rincon mountains are the obvious place to focus my attention, I have often found my eye wandering to the doves roosting on the telephone lines that run behind my home. There is something utterly beautiful about seeing the typical taupes and greys of these doves transforming into gloriously saturated pinks and golds in these final moments before twilight. In a way, this piece harkens back to some of my very earliest “contemporary wildlife” paintings, in which I eschewed the conventions of painting an animal in unspoiled nature and instead allowed the geometry of manmade objects to enter into the composition. This would ultimately prefigure my use of purely abstract geometry in later work.
Beginning in 2019, I started a series I called “String Theory,” which focused on birds perched on otherwise flat lines against abstract color fields. Though this series took its original inspiration from Barnett Newman’s “zip paintings,” some of these pieces are definitely evocative of birds perched on power lines. “Last Lines of Light,” could easily be read as almost a proto-String Theory piece, if one were unaware of the chronology. Ultimately, the relationship between these pieces illustrates how, for me anyway, ideas are rarely explored in a purely linear way. Though I like to think my work is always recognizable as “a Denman,” I don’t go through phases where I insist on painting in a box of my own making. There are always parameters, of course, but I tend to work on multiple threads at a time. They all relate, but not necessarily in a strict, A leads to B, leads to C kind of way. I have always approached each painting as a unique set of problems to be solved, which necessarily requires me to part from my own orthodoxies from time to time in order to execute each painting in the way that will best express my inspiration and visual and conceptual intentions. “Last Lines of Light” is very much a part of my current body of work, having been approached with techniques I hadn’t even conceived of in my youth. In feel, however, it stands very much in its own category.