Thursday, January 25, 2018

One More Pretender (oil on canvas, 2018)

Oftentimes, when people find out that I am an artist, they ask me what kind of art I make. I find this a difficult question to answer, probably because I like to think that my art is unique and defies categorization as a “kind of art”. Ideally, I’d like to be able to show them a painting or two and say “This kind of art!”, but that usually isn’t possible. So I find myself struggling to describe, in as few words as necessary, what it is I do – no small task considering that my work, my process and my intent have evolved/morphed at a snail's pace over the course of several decades and are the result of countless hours of study, practice and constant self-evaluation. I usually end up saying something along the lines of “abstract landscape paintings” or “landscape paintings that are very abstract” or “abstract paintings inspired by the landscape”, which usually results in a somewhat confused look on the listener’s face as they try to link what I said to something else that they may have seen that would fit my description. None of these answers are very accurate. Indeed, I do get a lot of my inspiration from the light, atmosphere and forms in the landscape, but I am much more interested in color, gesture and evoking an emotional response in the viewer purely through visual form. Although I’m usually more than willing to oblige anybody who will listen with a free visual arts lecture (Anyone who knows me will attest to this!), most people, when asking me what kind of art I make, just want a simple, straightforward answer.

The term “abstract” is, in itself, misleading and confusing. All art is abstraction – a thing that represents something else. A painting of a horse is never a horse. No matter how skillfully it is rendered, it will always be nothing more than paint. There are myriad ways that one can suggest a horse through visual form. Even writing the word HORSE out on a sheet of paper with a pen is essentially “drawing” - using carefully composed lines to suggest to the viewer/reader something that isn’t actually there. As artists, we are required to be masters of deception. We manipulate our materials in such a way as to elicit a response from the viewer by manufacturing an experience and causing them to think they see something that isn’t really there. We learn the fundamentals of technique through the practice of making our materials appear to be something else. The more convincing or “realistic” an image is, the greater is the deception required on the part of the artist.

Personally, what I strive for in my own work (and what I look for in the work of artists that I admire) is authenticity. I struggle with the concept of trying to be authentic whilst engaged in an activity that is ultimately about deception. Trying to find a balance between honesty and illusion can be a challenge. This is the nature of many of the arts, not just drawing and painting. Actors are able to affect us by convincing us that they are someone else. We laud them for their “authenticity” which is really a lie. The novelist shows us truth by telling us a story that is a fiction. But true authenticity comes from within. The greatest actors bring something of themselves to their performances and the greatest stories have their roots in the life experiences of the authors.

Visual artists learn technique by copying nature and without technique there can be no fluency, but as I find myself wanting to be more real and authentic in my work, I realize that I have to look less and less outside for inspiration and must strive, instead, to find ways of transforming that unique essence that is inside of me into visual form. The truth is – the more “realistic” looking a work of art is, the more dishonest it is. Abstraction, subjectivity and vulnerability are the keys to real honesty in art.