Wednesday, October 4, 2017

For The Tenderness Within (oil on canvas, 2017)



When my daughter was young, she and I spent a lot of time together, both in the car and on long walks. She would often say to me, “Daddy, tell me a story about when you were little.” There were perhaps a dozen or so stories that I would choose from and eventually, she would ask me to repeat specific ones. Her favorite was the one about the time an enormous snake slithered across a fallen tree that I was walking on right in front of me. What struck me was that, thinking back to my first twelve to fourteen years, there weren’t that many events that really stood out as clear, distinct memories – surely no more than a few dozen. A vast percentage of that time was just an amorphous haze, a smattering of disconnected moments only vaguely remembered. Even more fascinating, at least to me, was the fact that when I was experiencing those events that would become long-lasting memories, I had no idea of their eventual significance.

Memories are always subjective. We remember things the way we want to. Oftentimes, we remember the way things made us feel, rather than the details of what actually happened and we project those feelings onto the events and people that populate our stories. Two people remembering the same event will more likely than not recount two significantly different tales.

Memory plays an important part in my work. I used to do a lot of drawing and painting from direct observation outdoors, but lately, although I still go outside to draw regularly, the images that I create are conjured up in the studio from memories, not just of places I’ve seen and drawn, but from memories going all the back to my early childhood. I’m not so much interested in the memories of how things appeared as I am in the memories of how they made me feel and I like the idea of triggering memories in the viewer that are specific to them. When we make art, we try as much as we can to control the viewer’s experience – to communicate our content as effectively and articulately as possible using visual language – but, ultimately, each person is going to experience the work in a unique way. Even when we come back to a work of art that we’ve seen before, we have a different experience because, depending on how much time has elapsed, we have changed and so have our expectations. You can only experience a work of art for the first time once. Every time that you come back to it is informed by each and every previous encounter. When we engage with a work of art repeatedly, we bring to each encounter our memories of previous engagements with the work.

Artists always have to consider the element of time with regard to their work, even if the work itself is static. Art can represent a person or event from the past or it can allude to something in the future. A work of art is a record of a time in the past during which the artist was actively engaged with both the subject and the materials. Art can demand that we spend a lot of time looking at it, slowly revealing itself to us over extensive and repeated viewings. Art can stay with us in our memory, long after we’ve disengaged from it. And art, like poetry, can trigger personal memories within us – images and feelings from our own story – temporarily transporting us back to a time long since past.

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