Sunday, February 4, 2018

Devil Sings the Blues (oil on canvas, 2018)

When making art, I have learned that it’s best to focus on the process rather than the end product. Years ago, I would, like many artists, engage in the act of “making art”. I would have an idea for an image, do some preliminary work and then set out to bring the image to fruition, i.e. manufacture the art. Sometimes I would succeed, but other times I would find myself in over my head and unable to realize the image that I had in mind, usually resulting in an crippling blow to my self esteem followed by a brief (although seemingly very lengthy…) period of discouragement and inactivity. What I eventually realized was that if I just work all the time, without worrying about manufacturing art objects, the art inevitably happens.

Notwithstanding, a lot of bad paintings and drawings happen, too. Thus, I find it fairly easy to destroy a lot of my work and many paintings that I spent hours, days, weeks, or even years working on, end up getting pulled from the stretcher bars and summarily sent to the rubbish bin. They’re not precious to me and, although I’ve been discouraged from this practice by more than a few people, I am happy to be rid of them to make room for new work and to recycle the stretcher bars. (As an aside, I have twice found myself with a painting that was scheduled for imminent destruction, only to have someone fortuitously approach me wanting to purchase it and, on one occasion, I had to tell a potential buyer that a painting they wanted had already been destroyed – luckily, they bought something else!) If I kept every painting I ever did, I would need another building just to store them!

A few weeks ago, I pulled an old painting off the stretcher bars and was going to throw it away, but I realized that I really liked what was happening in the bottom 6 or 7 inches of the canvas. So, I cut (with a considerable amount of struggle, I might add, because I use very thick, heavy canvas, coat it with four layers of gesso and then apply the paint in an impasto style with knives – no match for an ordinary pair of scissors!) the section that I liked off and saved it. A piece of it eventually became the inspiration for this image, which I like much better than the original painting that begat it.

Focusing on the process instead of the product, as I mentioned earlier, allows for this kind of serendipity to occur. I simply work – drawing, painting, looking, experimenting, reading, revising, etc. – as much and as often as I can (sometimes a bit more!) and allow the art to grow organically out of the process. Rather than expecting to make art and finding myself disappointed when I don’t succeed, I just work all the time and occasionally find myself happily surprised when art happens. I don’t know if this approach would work for everybody, but it works for me and I know that it results in images that I never could have produced any other way.