I am currently reading M Train, by Patti Smith. After reading Just Kids, about the extraordinary young life Smith led with Robert Mapplethorpe, living in the Chelsea Hotel, and trailblazing as a musician, it is a relief to know she has days like the rest of us mortals. Like when you’re walking down the street and yesterday’s dirty sock falls out of your pant leg. Oops.
Anyway, M Train is, in part, about the pull and drift amidst the creative process. When you don’t know what to write, the mind will sometimes jump a train. Smith’s ruminations as she goes about her day-to-day life become the kernel of the story, beautiful remembrances of places, people, and books.
William Kentridge said the real work happens in between major projects. Looking back at times when I was making work I intended to sell, I was always playing and experimenting on the side. Most of the time, these experiments were a failure and I would hide them away, embarrassed and ashamed. Now, experimentation is becoming the norm in my work, including the work I actually want to show the world. These gestures and bits of visual language have been gradually colonizing everything I do. When I look at my work, more and more, I see myself looking back at me. At the same time, the body is very disjointed, like something ripped apart and stitched back together wrong way round.
Will it always be this way, or is this me finally finding my mature artistic voice?
Am I grown up yet? How about now?
At any rate, I’ve come around full circle and I’m painting in oils again.
And I feel a lot freer doing so these days. Gone is the fastidiousness of realism, but in letting go, I got a little bit back in the way of alchemical magic. So, here are some of my experiments. I bought some canvas panels to use so that I wouldn’t treat them too preciously at first, which was a great decision because I dove in with abandon.
In Art and Fear (which I recommend to anyone struggling to be an artist) the authors address whether it is okay for artists who paint realistically to experiment with abstraction and vice versa. Why does it seem like there’s an inviolable wall between these two traditions? Especially when so many artists have done both successfully? I think many artists fear their portfolio will be labeled unfocused or they will be misunderstood dilettantes who “haven’t found their voice yet.” But the nature of creativity should keep you searching and experimenting for a lifetime, shouldn’t it?
Looking at it that way, maybe it’s best to never grow up.
The authors of Art and Fear recommend finding common threads, such as a common palette, to unify your body of work when trying out different modes of expression. I believe I’ve done this both consciously and subconsciously. I have decidedly favored certain colors over the past two or three years: pinks and cool reds and purples, grays of every description, bright light greens, and in almost everything, deep blues, Prussian, pthalo, and aquamarine. Whether I paint in gouache, watercolor, acrylic, or oil, this is my palette.
I lost a whole weekend to this work — which didn’t feel like work at all –and I began a larger piece for the Unterhammer exhibit in the spring. Here it is in the early stages.
I’m just excited for another weekend to arrive so I can go back into my studio and work/play some more!