Monday, July 31, 2017

Days Like These (oil on canvas, 2017)



One of the most difficult aspects of the art making process for me is the necessity of having to face one’s true self and the stark contrast between the innate perfection and the inherent flaws that we will inevitably find therein. When we attempt to execute something that proves to be beyond our abilities, we are forced to confront our technical limitations. This confrontation could potentially cause us to either work harder to overcome those limitations, look away and ignore our technical deficiencies whilst continuing to work in the same manner, or capitulate and stop trying to make art altogether. I have never liked the word “talent” as it suggests a natural technical facility that one is born with. My experience has shown that ability comes, not from an inborn gift, but from long hours of study and practice in the face of continued defeat. If there’s a natural gift, it’s merely the tenacity that enables one to keep working despite repeated failures.

In addition to the technical deficiencies that every artist must confront, if we want to make work that is original and authentic, we have to find the strength to be ourselves and allow that to come through in the work. This sounds simple enough, but when one has spent years (or decades!) learning by emulating the masters in their chosen medium, resisting the temptation to hide behind someone else's ideas and personality can be be a formidable challenge. And when we make work that is truly authentic, we are essentially putting our inner selves on display before the public and risking both ridicule and (possibly worse) indifference, either of which can prove to be a significant blow to the artist's self-esteem, potentially hampering one's ability to continue working. We also risk excessive praise and adulation which can oftentimes be an even greater obstacle to our development and productivity as we struggle to live up to what we perceive as an unattainable expectation of greatness.

Sometimes, if we've worked hard and consistently, good work happens, but not without the inevitable failures – the bad drawings that litter the studio floor and line the trash cans and the paintings that no one ever sees while they make their journey from our easel to the landfill – that cause us to not only doubt our choice of vocation, but even our personal value. Indeed, being truly authentic in our work is one of the greatest obstacles that an artist must face. It certainly is for me. When I took up art again after a hiatus almost twenty years ago, I went through periods where I was terrified to go into my studio for fear of facing the demons that were in there. I still feel that way sometimes and only through sheer will and dogged persistence do I keep working.

Someone asked me once, "How do you know if you're an artist?"

I replied, "Try as hard as you can not to be an artist and then you'll know."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Waiting On Sunday (oil on canvas, 2017)



When I was eight years old, prompted by a short-lived interest in pirates, I borrowed a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, illustrated by N. C. Wyeth, from my local public library. I was immediately enamored by the images that punctuated the story. My favorite was the one of the blind pirate, Old Pew, ambulating down a path in the moonlight with his probing cane extended out in front of him as he gropes in the darkness for his missing comrades and his tricorne, which sits in the foreground in the lower right corner. It’s a brilliant painting, perfectly composed and executed with admirable skill, but what captivated me the most was the emotions that the image was able to elicit from me as I gazed at the image.

Visual arts can communicate myriad messages, concepts and ideas. They can educate and inform, entertain, shock, inspire, move us to think differently or take action, preserve the past or predict the future. For me, though, (and this, admittedly, is my personal bias) the most important function that art serves is to manifest the complexities of one’s feelings and emotions as something tangible, to be shared with others and to preserve those ephemeral and intangible abstractions indefinitely.

The arrangement of the forms, the color and value choices, the means by which the work is executed, the subject (or lack thereof), if executed with skill and sensitivity, can have the power of the greatest poetry and lead us to the sublime. (If you’ve ever stood in front of a painting and been moved to tears as I have, you may know exactly what I mean.) A lofty aspiration, to be sure, but that is what beckons me out to the studio each and every day.