Friday, January 28, 2011

About Working in Series

I have spoken before about working in “series” and that is what I am doing now. I have seen this operation apparent in the work of other visual artists and in artists of other disciplines. I believe that the impetus behind this repeated reach for the same or similar vision is born of never quite succeeding. It’s about reaching that peak after pushing the boulder up the side of the mountain only to have to start the trek again. That’s a dismal picture of a quest that is often actually a good hike. The boulder only occasionally rolls all the way back down to the foothills. Those are the days when we ask ourselves  “What for? Why am I doing this? What makes me think I am a painter?” Or some variation of the above. We have our resident demons. And then there are those delicious moments when something looks just right and we see ourselves as ten feet tall and capable of miracles (until the next day when we become critical again).

I know this experience is shared because artists speak of it and write about it. Self doubt is ever present, more for some than for others but evidently it belongs with the creative effort and may be an essential part of it. Some humility might be a good thing.

That is what I see in the “series” operation. It is the tangible result of the quest for the impossible vision, the miraculous realization, the creative dream come true. But, luckily for us, when the whole of a series is together and finished, the producer is usually sated and ready to go on to the next push. Never completely satisfied but somehow that’s just fine. Wouldn’t want it any other way.

In the words of T. S. Eliot: Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity. 

The above image of a quartet is part of the “Structures” series currently being pushed up the side of the mountain within my studio. This body of 32 paintings is moving along well, not quite ready to be called “finished” and not quite perfect. But the next group will be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

About Truth

Yesterday I answered questions put to me by an astute interviewer. Before writing this week’s blog post, I went to my computer to look at what topics I had written about in the past. Repeating oneself becomes even more of a danger as we grow older.

I read over some of my old posts and saw that some of the questions that I answered during yesterday’s interview, I had regarded differently as little as a year ago. I aspired to honesty in all instances but the responses were not consistent. Since not much time has passed I can’t attribute the changes to newly acquired wisdom; I have to think that they are about the moment and the mood. And sometimes whether or not I have had a glass of wine to loosen my thought processes. (En vino veritas.) I’d rather not consider myself flakey since I often speak of issues or subjects I hold dear and give serious thought to. No, it’s more like looking from a different angle. Maybe even stepping into other shoes at times. In conversation, it is often the first thing that my brain lights on.

A question posed to me yesterday was “What is art?”. It takes some arrogance to answer that one and I have done it publicly now twice. (Not counting the intemperate comments made in party situations which I hope nobody remembers.) My carefully worded response would be that art is what connects us to our humanity. Yesterday I said it was a response to a human need. I suppose that truth can take many forms depending on who is expressing it, and where and when he/she is at in history and geography. Truths can be in conflict with each other and still they are truths — at least for the speakers. I have at times convinced myself of something that was in accordance with my perception of the world and of how everything works (or should). That kind of self-deception usually leads to a sorrowful enlightenment when reality sets in. 

When responding to an interviewer, I will say whatever comes to mind that seems right at the moment. If I am writing, I will contemplate and go back to the issue in question and fine tune the wording and the thinking. Which is closer to true? Damned if I know. What is true is that it matters. Honesty matters but truth is an abstraction. 

Frank Lloyd Wright said: The truth is more important than the facts”.

The image above is Nocturne, ©1997, Acrylic on Paper mounted on Canvas, 23" x 70". It is a particular favorite of mine.

Friday, January 14, 2011

About the Time It Takes

I have been asked many times about the time it takes to make a painting. The answer is that it varies a great deal and another answer is that I really don’t know. I have written a couple of times about work started twenty or so years ago which I am finishing now. I have had that experience before, of putting something aside because I am not sure of where I want to go with it and it’s usually about not feeling capable of fulfilling what I see as its potential. And then one day, kind of miraculously, I look at the work and know exactly what it needs. I feel able of carrying the work to a satisfying resolution. My guess is that the learning that happens as one plods on plus some clarity that comes with time make the magic. I also wonder if at some level the brain is just doing its work while one is at other tasks. That would be nice.

These works that are coming together now are still not easy but they are clear. I know what I want from them and feel sure of the path I am taking. But there is always that shadow of uncertainty, that question that hovers behind the vision. I believe I will forever be haunted by the desire to create something that will be universally embraced, so perfect in its appearance (remember, visual art is about appearances), so strong and effective, that it will bring my viewers to rain abundant praise on me. And of course these masterpieces would be best-sellers.

Okay, got a little carried away there; fantasy has always been my preferred leisure activity. To get back to the original question of the time it takes, I would have to say it takes a long time and a lot of determination and maybe a little bit of madness to produce a work of art worthy to be called such. A lifetime of trial and effort and one after another of works that are not quite the miracles that one is after. It’s a really nice lifetime.

The image above is of more of the current works in progress. These have had some of their final embellishments, but not all. They measure 26” x 20” each and are painted and collaged on a heavy etching paper.

Friday, January 7, 2011

About Structure

I am totally engrossed in the project I am working on now in my studio. While I like writing this blog, it is hard for me today. To stay focused where my interest is, I will write about it.

This project is the one I spoke of in the blog post About Yaddo; I am finishing some pieces started more than twenty years ago. I spent several days making a working studio of what had become a kind of exhibition space for my December open studio event. I then sorted these twenty-seven 26” x 20” promising beginnings into cohesive groups and hung them to look carefully at what I had.  In the week just past I added collage elements to all of the originally painted pieces. What comes next is some illumination which is about brightening the lights and deepening the dark areas. And then, and this is most important, providing these pieces with some structure; I don’t like “floaty” elements in my work. 

That leads me to contemplate the need for structure in my life. Putting it into a painting, which I do by means of lines which anchor the separate elements into a two-dimensional asymmetrical network, leads to an image in which the separate elements are connected and supported. The structure of my days, my beloved routine, brings a sense of calm. If my quest for inner and outer peace is always a challenge, I can make it  happen in my work. A significant blessing.

The image above is a partial view of these works in progress. I have coated them with a transparent medium which is receptive to pencil and pastel and these will be the final materials used on what will have to be called “mixed media” works. They started with acrylic paint, were given some collage components and now will be polished with line and light. Julia Childs, before she entered into health consciousness, often gave her recipes a final embellishment of heavy cream or butter. I will do something similar here.