The Impossibility of Painting is Merely a Feeling

Thoughts and reflections on the practice of painting.

Category: Uncategorized

Ashes Round the Yard

birdsweb

Pair, oil on canvas, 48 x 66″, 2018

Ashes Round the Yard began with an urge to shift my work towards a more improvisational process. This impulse was based, in part, on my observations of my then six-year-old son, and the realization that my current methods lacked the urgency and directness that I envied in his drawings. As the work progressed, I began to understand that the animals, landscapes and simple architectural constructs that appear in these paintings might constitute a fictional world where it was possible to reflect on predicaments in the real world.

The images take as points of departure my immediate surroundings, such as rooms in my house, my yard, and especially my children’s paraphernalia: the pattern on a baby’s sleeper, finger puppets, stuffed toys, kindergarten sculptures. The paintings depict ordinary objects that reference mundane existence, but that also evoke my own, often contradictory, relationships to family and fatherhood: responsibility, love, frustration, aspiration, regret, aging and the passage of time. The imagery also suggests to me a kind of search. The animals are guides and surrogates, both showing the way and lost themselves, the landscapes both threatening and holding the promise of new paths.

fortweb

Stronghold, 48 x 36″, 2018

Although the work stems from my domestic life, I don’t think of it as autobiography. The situations in the paintings point to the pressure of the “other” on the “self”, a dialectic that in turn throws longing, attachment, and loneliness into relief. Some of the images edge the territory of kitsch, and although I may find them embarrassing at times, I use them without irony or sentimentality. In making this work I am trying to build a bulwark that I can raise against my own cynicism and detachment, an antidote to numbness. These conditions are in no way unique to my life, but instead seem to be pervasive. I hope that in the encounter between the images and their somewhat crude material embodiment, between viewers and the paintings, that the dragging undertow of everyday life might be set beside glimpses of more its more luminous qualities.

summoned_web

Summoned, oil on canvas, 47 x 36″, 2018

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Been a While

It has been a little more than three years since I published anything on this blog, and about the same amount of time since I finished any writing at all. During this hiatus my life has had a few turnarounds and the studio work has undergone corresponding shifts. Writing has necessarily had a lower priority, but I have begun to miss the activity and discipline of trying to put my thoughts into some coherent form. Although my journal has continued, there hasn’t been much happening in there that I would want to foist on a public, however small.

In any case, I have decided that it might be possible to take this platform up again, as a way of submitting some of my thinking to an audience other than myself, in the hopes that its weaknesses and gaps might be put under some pressure and expose aspects that need revision. I realize that there may be no such audience, and that the posts may be just crumbs on the water, but if you are reading this, you have my thanks and my hope that you will find some value in the writing.

 

nothingmore_web

Nothing More, ink and flashe on found and pasted wrapping paper, 41 x 30″, 2018

 

 

Trust

Painting studio critique room, Anderson Ranch, Snowmass, Colorado, 2015

Painting studio critique room, Anderson Ranch, Snowmass, Colorado, 2015

Some of us are lucky enough to have a few fellow artists or a mentor that give us consistent and rigourous criticism of our work. But too often, the brutally honest comment is withheld in favour of the polite and understandable need to avoid alienating your community. After all, many of us have worked hard to assemble a group of like minded peers to soften the sense of isolation that accompanies work in the studio.

In a critique situation, many things are at play: the insight and judgment of the critic; your own understanding and investment in your work; your confidence, or lack thereof; the critic’s interest, or lack thereof; everybody’s ego; the general level of openness and comfort with the discussion at hand. For me, the central element in a successful critique is trust. Without it, the process is at best futile and at worst damaging.

This is true both when the critic is another person, or when it is the artist themselves, in the assessment of their own work. The critique dialogue is about subjecting assumptions to hard scrutiny, through relentless  questioning, and unpacking of ideas and confusions. The conversation ought to be aimed at the illumination of the work, and most importantly, identifying ways to make the work, and the artist, better. Without trust, that dialogue can easily sour to defensiveness, evasiveness, cynicism, crushed egos, hurt feelings, loss of confidence and will.

Trust and respect are deeply entwined with each other in this process. To me, trust is the ability to be in a vulnerable position with another being, or yourself. The potential to be hurt by someone else, or by the person inside you, is a present danger when the ideas and aspirations that you hold most dear are being taken apart and ruthlessly probed. Respect, on the other hand, is the ability to take trust and shelter it gently, with an understanding of its fragility. It is also admiration for a person’s actions, integrity, and how they meet the world.

These are mutually dependent and reciprocal qualities, and the ability to extend them to others rests on the ability to extend them to oneself. The loss of these qualities is easily achieved, and spreads like a stain to one’s work and life. Re-building self-trust and respect is an arduous process, with no guarantee of success, but I have found that going back to the studio and starting the work again can be a good place to start.

work in progress, 2015

work in progress, 2015

 

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