July has been hiatus month for me. My wife Sarah is an artist as well and I gobbled up the lion’s share of studio time these past few months getting work done for my show with Harold Klunder (at Flesherton Art Gallery until late Aug.). It is coming on three weeks of no painting and the various aspects of hiatus-ing, both pro and con are becoming evident.
Things get done outside of the studio. Not by me, except for a lawn mow or two. I mean, by Sarah. So far she has built a huge bookshelf (it had been nearly two years without seeing many of our books), finished our taxes ( I am unable to face them), weeded the vegetable garden and designed herself a new website. Oh, and she weened the girls too. No big deal. So, my hiatus has certainly provided opportunities for domestic advancement. And of course, I have been able to spend days with all three children in the yard and lolling about lazily in the living room. Good things.
But what does the hiatus do for the artistic mind? For some it would be torture. I know a few painters to whom the hiatus is anathema. Whether due to obsession or work ethic, some artists simply cannot take breaks unless forced upon them by geography or tragedy. For me, there is refreshment in stepping away. I can see what I’ve done over the past months and reflect on it in a different state of mind. I can critique my work with less anxiety. It is done, there will no more strokes. I can let go and let the critical chips fall where they may.
Is it always refreshing though? Not necessarily. It can also be vexing. If a break lasts long enough, I start to forget what it is like to paint every day and begin to feel alienated from the whole process. It becomes apparent again that it is actual work – that from beginning to end, a painting is a series of decisions and commitments. I am not complaining. I love working in my studio. I love the process. But for those who think that every artist has a dreamy floating-on-a-cloud kind of day every day in the studio? I wish.
One of the hardest things about returning to the studio after hiatus-ing is the kick-start back into action. After twenty years (woah) of doing this, I still feel like a nervous child approaching my rolling palette table. What colors? What to paint? Can I still mix? I need more reference material. The doubts tend to creep in whilst on hiatus. What if I suck? What if I always sucked and I’ve just been lucky to get by? Will my fraud be discovered? Is it over? Shall I apply for a server position and polish my manners to mine for better tips?
No. Not a chance.
I don’t know what I’m going to paint yet when I get back in to the flow. I don’t know what I want to paint. I have boards waiting. They look at me with their eager, burnt sienna toned surfaces as I walk into the studio and head for the chest freezer to get hot dog buns. They wonder what the hold up is. What’s up, dude?
I’m coming, I’m coming. I’ll be there soon and we’ll see what happens. Ok? Geez.
Since I have committed myself to blogging all regular like, and since there is really nothing earth shatteringly new to write about, I thought I’d simply expound on what goes on in my head while working on a demanding piece.
I am in the middle of a painting of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park (a place that we of Drawnonward have returned to several times) that has been hugely challenging so far. Every time I make a breakthrough and start to feel the spreading glow of understanding, I reflect on it and realize that I have made bad choices early on and must essentially re-paint nearly the entire surface to bring it into line with what I have in my head.
Sometimes I choose to paint something so complicated and so intricate that during the process of materializing it I develop an almost adversarial relationship with the composition. I fall asleep with images of unresolved areas dancing about in my head as if taunting me. And while working, I need to step away far more often than with a more easily approached image, take a few deep breaths and remind myself that it WILL be done, eventually.
Right now, this Canoe Lake piece (detail of said piece above) is bending my mind and egging me on at the same time. Get ‘er dun.
I do though, occasionally wonder what it would be like to be an abstract painter – being free of the perceived shackles of representative imagery. I imagine painting with abandon and gusto – moving about the surface with a quick furtive passion that knows no bounds…. Of course, the reality is, that artists of every stripe worth their salt, struggle with their pieces in a myriad of ways. The process I imagine to be so free and joyous might instead be just as laborious and mentally taxing, if not more so. There a few abstract painters whose work I truly admire, but when it happens, I am in awe of the ability to make something of nothing. It is alchemy.
But ultimate freedom means endless possibilities, which means one must make choices to end up with something cohesive. All of my experiments with going abstract in the last few years seem to me to have glimpses of something worthwhile, but I have yet to discover the ‘quicksilver’ feeling in that realm – when your brushes and palette agree with your hand and mind – but I do keep trying when the feeling strikes. Who knows? Maybe in my fifties or sixties I will leave behind representational painting and paint fully in the abstract and be released from the slavery of realism, but for now I will allow the images that dance around at night to keep dancing until the tune changes and a new beat demands new moves.
Next blog; the economic schizophrenia of the working artist.
‘Til then, enjoy these fleeting summer days.
This is a piece from one of my favorite spots on the whole planet. Alva Lake in Algoma. I have not actually been to this spot since the late 90’s, which seems unbelievable in itself, but it is a place that lingers. So, when my computer (which has all of my reference photos on it) was acting up by shutting down randomly, I decided to mine my old photos for a blast from the past. The act of painting a place I hold so dear in my memory was strangely melancholic. Where did the time go? Nearly twenty years has past but I can still smell the air by this rushing stream. I can still remember clambering up the rock face to see what was on the other side. And the nights in the cabin with the other artists discussing the days endeavors were some of the best of my life. I wonder if some random viewer will someday pick up on that vibe that is pressed into the surface of the board. I know that someday we’ll return to our little lake in the middle of the wilderness. Will it have changed as much as we have? I understand that logging roads can now take you straight in whereas we were dropped off at mile 72 by the ACR (Algoma Central Railway) and had to bushwhack a few kilometers to get there. In the winter, which was when we first visited as a group of artists, the train dropped us off and we made our way with toboggans full of beer, meat, whiskey, dried and canned goods, and paint boxes loaded with enough supplies to stay for a month, which we did.. [audible sigh]. I think I’ll write a separate post on that whole affair, but for now I wanted to give some back story to this piece. A sweet spot, indeed.
Happy almost summer, everyone. I find it hard to believe that June is here and our twin girls will be a year old each in a few weeks. A year of twins. Twins with a three yr. old to boot. If I was so inclined, I’d write a memoir or a novella and try to reclaim some of the memories that are already slipping from my sleep deprivation addled brain. It has been a crazy year – the hardest but also the most beautiful. From many a midnight madness with two sleepless, colicky babies to cozy, lazy Sundays in front of our cherished wood-stove, the experience has been big and deep and wide. I know that I always felt that ‘lucky’ feeling underneath all the angst over extended periods (like, 6-8 months) of sleep deprivation and painfully few days in the studio making art while our debts grew and grew… It was sometimes hard to find that fortunate feeling, but like a subtle percussion track underneath the full-on bombast, it was there and kept me in touch and in time with my ever widening experience as a Father and Husband. I am truly lucky and after a hard winter of trials and tribulations, I can more clearly count my blessings. I have an incredible and seriously lovely wife, three wonderful children and we somehow managed to find a piece of paradise here in the Beaver Valley where we have lived for the past two years.. And maybe most amazingly of all, we are supporting ourselves with our art. This is something that I never, ever forget to feel grateful for. This is the dream, ya know? To be an artist and not have to go back to waiting tables or god forbid, telemarketing. I guess I’d do catering if I had to, but I digress. I’m feeling like thanking every single person who ever bought a painting from me over the past twenty years. I’m feeling like sending a family picture with a card and a thank you note to say that the act of buying art is important in many ways. Most germane to my post here though is the fact that every time I sell a piece these days, it means that the dream is alive and quite honestly, that there will be food on our table and electricity flowing into our modest home. Also, I like to thank all my friends who have had to, for the last several months, listen again and again to my interminably sad-sack and inevitably sleep dep. related reply to the question, “so, how are you doing these days?”. I’d now like to say that I am doing well. Very well indeed. Thanks for asking.
As it turns out, art is good for your brain. Neurobiologist Semir Zeki did an experiment in which subjects viewed various works from famous painters. Some were found to be pleasing while others were perceived as “ugly.” Zeki did brain scans and found that increase in blood flow was directly proportional to how well-liked a painting was. Viewing art that you really love is like falling in love, chemically speaking. And art can, according to recent research from Germany, delay or negate age related decline in brain function.. Ok, ok, that study was about making art, but still.. Art helps us live better lives. Simple.
Now that spring has sprung it is high time to get the blood flowing through your brain to whatever areas needs work after some prolonged winter drudgery. So, forget about Sudoku for a night and come see new work by 4 painters who all work full time to bring happiness to your brains through your art-hungry eyes.
Collective Horizons will be showing new work for one night only. PLEASE VIEW THE ATTACHED INVITE FOR DETAILS. Hope to see you and your art lovin’ brains there.