Sunday, October 21, 2018

Fall and Rise (oil on canvas 2018)

I know some people who really enjoy painting. They find it relaxing and therapeutic - a positive outlet for creative expression. Sometimes they will tell me that they aren't able to paint as often as they'd like to. They enjoy it, but just don't have the time. Business before pleasure, as the saying goes.

I feel that way about reading. I really enjoy reading, but lately I find it difficult to fit it into my schedule.   Painting, on the other hand, is something I don’t have difficulty finding time to do. I made it a priority many years ago and has become an integral part of my routine. I honestly can’t say that I enjoy it, though.

Whilst working on this painting, I found myself, as I often do, lamenting to the people close to me about how difficult and draining it was. I usually find myself comparing the process to being in some kind of battle or physical conflict. I recently hiked to the summit of Mount Katahdin here in Maine. Katahdin is basically a mile-high pile of boulders and reaching the summit requires a grueling five-mile trek over rugged, rocky terrain, the last mile and a half, the Cathedral Trail, being essentially a vertical climb requiring the near-constant use of all four limbs. Once at the summit, my hike took me across the treacherous Knife Edge, a mile-long arris of jagged rock with steep drops on either side, to Pamola Peak and then a three-and-a-half descent over steep rocks (actually the most difficult part of the hike) which brought me back to my car almost nine hours after I'd left. All of this was a walk in the park compared to making a painting. Seriously.

I had summited Katahdin via this route before and, although the unpredictable weather can make each hike a unique experience, I essentially knew what I was in for. At the base of the Cathedral Trail I encountered a few would-be hikers whom I knew were not going to make it to the summit. It's a physically demanding endeavor that requires strength, agility, stamina and courage in equal measure. The majority of deaths on Katahdin are not caused by falls or exposure, but by cardiac arrest, and the mountain won't let you on the summit unless you earn it. Painting, at least for me because my work involves a great deal of improvisation over the basic structure, is the same way. Bringing a painting to fruition successfully requires knowledge of the language of visual form, command of the materials, dexterity, imagination and the courage to take risks. There have been a few rare instances where paintings have come together fairly easily, but more often than not, it's a great struggle and I find myself engulfed in the work for days or weeks, wondering if the image is ever going to coalesce, and hounded by the fear that I might finally have to concede that I'm not fit to be a painter.

Paradoxically, although the process for me is extremely demanding, as well as physically and emotionally exhausting, I still want the finished painting to look as if it came together very organically, with minimal effort. One of my favorite words is "inevitable" and that's exactly the quality that I strive for in my work – that every color, every dab of paint looks as if it were meant to be exactly as it is. Trying to reconcile this objective with my process of working improvisationally and not knowing what the finished image is going to look like until I it's done is a challenge I face every day. But I do it, not because I enjoy it, but because I could never find peace of mind if I didn't do it. I tried for years not to be a painter and I failed miserably at it.

There are days when I'd rather be climbing mountains.

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