Day after day I stand at my easel painting the paintings that must be painted. I also stand before a north-facing window 8 feet high by 10 feet wide that allows light into the studio. To rest my eyes from the intensive, close-proximity work of the painting I gaze through that window so as to allow my eyes to refocus on the surrounding environment at different distances and depths, and in so doing I am a constant observer of that environment. One prevailing realization has come to mind as a result. There is a relentless, brutal, emotionless character to the cycle of nature. Day follows mercilessly after day…season after season. The maple in my backyard sheds its canopy of leaves and grows it back and sheds many thousands of spinners only to have none of its progeny develop. Wash…rinse…repeat.
Why do I mention all this now. Yesterday I finished a painting that had been the object of my attention for 3/4 of a year. Today, I observed the Lord’s Day. Tomorrow, I will stand in front of an empty canvas with all the dread that this represents, and I will be asked by the creative urge to begin again…to conceive and create anew…from nothing bringing forth something. And that urge cares not that I just finished another painting and feel the need to refresh the reservoir of possibilities…that I don’t have another idea worth 9 months of effort. It demands like hunger demands or thirst.
So, tomorrow I begin again.
“Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is finished, and bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
Before I wanted to paint I wanted to write. Though I paint, I find that I still want to write. But I have found that my natural inclination…beyond my will to be or do…inclines me to paint. And I need to paint everyday, and I do paint everyday or nearly everyday. It is a pressure that pushes and pushes and pushes unrelentingly. What I have found with writing is that I relate to the process and the mental structures and creative impulses much differently. There is certainly an ebb and flow, and the more that I push against my particular relationship to it, the more that I sense frustration and futility in my relationship to the process, whereas with painting the pushing is never against the process but is inherent to the process. So, as I get a bit older and my understanding of myself increases ever so slightly, I have found that I am comfortable with letting go…of riding the ebb and flow…in the realm of writing.
And so, I have not written in a couple of months, and I have not forced myself to write for the sake of keeping a continuous and regular journal of my experiences. In the intervening time, I have been working on the completion of the Supergirl costume that I started in February of 2012. I have taken some time to work on a couple of smaller projects, but this painting has taken nearly 9 months to complete. I think that the writing stopped because all the energy and focus went not necessarily into the painting as I was able to paint and write when I first initiated “Anthony of Akron.” What took the energy was the change of mental process that started to occur when I began to realize that I was nearing the end of a project into which I had invested so much of my energy and time.
I found that I not only had to spend the normal energy to execute the work going forward, but I also had to hold back the inclination to rush ahead and finish it. I had to suppress the desire to finish it for the simple sake of finishing it…of finally being done. I had to slow down even more to keep the same level of execution and sense of beauty in execution as my inner impulsiveness was telling me to be done with it. As I pushed myself forward I had to restrain myself. Add to that the simple fact that the more time I spent meant the less my time would be worth should the painting sell. To make a living at this game requires either a great deal of output with corresponding sales at certain price points or a very high price on each individual piece. I know that I will never realize for this painting the money that I need to have made it a fiscally wise decision to embark on its execution over such an extended period of time. Financially, the painting makes no sense. But, I didn’t start it as a financial venture. I started it as an artistic venture with the hope that it would also have some financial component. And so the governing principle of action was the nature of the painting and not the utility of the painting as a financial vehicle. Once the nature of the painting is fully realized, then it can become a financial vehicle as it exists with complete integrity as a created entity.
So, in summary, I didn’t have the energy or the inclination to write as the final stages of the costume painting…(working title: “Then…and never again…and always”) required twice as much energy as it neared its completion as it did at its inception. And I learned a lot about myself…about myself as a maker and about the very nature of the process of making and about my relationship to the different types of making. Now, I just cross my fingers and hope the damn thing sells so I can go ahead and do more stupid things.
A short time ago, I published the image of a painting in progress…a painting upon which I have been working for some considerable time. That painting is nearing completion, and upon completion I will most certainly publish the finished image with the promised accompanying comments. I have found, however, that such extended concentration on one object…meaning, the object of the painting and the object that is the painting…can wear. As much as I would like to not need some sense of resolution…some sense of joy in the process started and finished…some sense of fulfillment in the experience of the vision realized in the work…as much as I would like to be able to do without that, I find that a long, extended painting brings mental challenges beyond even the conceptual ones and the technical ones of a painting completed in a much shorter time.
The way that I imagine it is as follows. Imagine a juggler who has been forced, upon pain of death, never to allow the balls that he is juggling to hit the ground. Some evil wizard has sworn him to such an oath. Now, we all know that such a thing is impossible. Once he stops the motion the balls will fall and the wizard will come to collect on the oath. But the juggler must eat and sleep and partake of all the other bodily functions consigned to the human condition despite the oath placed upon him. This juggler, however, is extremely clever. He has found a way to suspend the balls in mid-air as if frozen by an act of his mind, so that he can step away when he needs to for a bit of a break. He cannot do it forever, nor would he want to. He is a juggler because he likes juggling, but he needs a break from the immediate act of juggling. And so, he holds the balls in a suspended arc just as if his hands were on each side ready to keep them going in their earthly orbit. That too costs him a great deal, but it is a cost that can be born while some of the other bills are paid…eating and sleep and the like.
Well, a long, extended painting is much like the problem faced by the juggler. Every night as the sun sets and my eyes tire and my attention span begins to wane I need a break. I only work when I am working optimally. Otherwise, my human weakness seeks to make compromises that will compromise the final painting. And yet, the painting is not done. I am not done thinking about what the painting needs when I am done being able to work on it for the day. The painting and the needs of the painting…the next step or how to resolve a particular issue…hang suspended in my head. I cannot allow it to drop. And that gets tiring.
So, as I have grown a bit in both experience and (a very little bit) in wisdom, I have found that taking a pause from the extended work for a short time to complete some smaller paintings that I can see through from start to finish rejuvenates my relationship to the extended work. That is what I have done in the small series of works below entitled “Sweet Nothings.” Enjoy!