Sunday, July 17, 2016

The private lives of paintings

Summer's Child
40 x 30
sold to the right people

There are many reasons why I paint, and they are all about me.  I paint to explore concepts like movement or stillness, play, joy, and childhood; or to explore phenomenon like light, colour, texture, and visual vibration.  But, unless it's a commission, I don't paint with an audience in mind.  That way lies the madness of trying to appeal to an audience that I don't know and certainly can't predict.

So it's sometimes a surprise to be pulled out of the insular world in which I create only for myself and learn that my work speaks to the people who do me the honour of buying it.  Sometimes it surprises me with what it says.

"Summer's Child" sold last week to a vacationing couple who recognized their son, as he was as a young boy, in it.  Apparently the resemblance is uncanny.  Their son is no longer living, and the painting, which they saw in the window of Rendezvous Gallery, spoke to them with such force that they bought it and are sending it to their distant residence.

First, the coincidence of this couple even catching sight of the painting struck me as staggering: they live half the world away, but happened to be passing this particular gallery on a day that this painting happened to be hanging in the window. The window display in a gallery changes regularly; sometimes paintings are in storage and not on display at all.  The couple could have turned their heads to look at the ocean as they walked rather than in the window.  Or they could have chosen to walk down another street altogether.  But something brought the painting and these people together in a way that seemed fated.

But beyond this magnificent coincidence, I was struck by the fact that my work communicated something that went beyond anything that I was exploring when I painted it.  When it left my studio, the painting became its own entity, independent of my intentions.  It now has an energy and a kind of life that, while it originated in my studio, has little to do with me.   When I consider a painting finished, it stops speaking to me and I move on to another one, but these works go out into the world and are found by just the right people - often the only people - who will hear what they have to say.

That communication can take a short or a long time to happen, and I'm lucky to have gallerists that believe in me and are willing to give the paintings time to find their people.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Attitude matters

Apricots and Pansies
12 x 24

I taught a still life workshop for the Stave Falls Artist Group in Maple Ridge, BC last week and had a super time!  

There were 10 painters in artist Janis Eaglesham's rural studio, nestled in lush, West Coast forest. Everyone worked hard and with great spirit.  Every time I heard "this is so hard!" the painter would always follow it with, "but that's a good thing!"  They recognized that a new technique couldn't be acquired in 4 days, but, hopefully, they could explore the new skills under my direction and then it would percolate for the next weeks and months, adding another layer to their studio practise.  

It's been my experience that artists - especially those of us who are past the sensitivity of our youthful egos - make great learners.  They find value in the struggle to learn a new painting method, knowing from experience, that something that comes easily isn't as thrilling as a skill that's come through thoughtfulness, practise, and hard work.  Going home tired and with a full head is welcome because they know they've been making a serious effort to grow and develop, and that this will, in time, make them stronger painters.  

Artists don't retire - they're just hitting their stride at 65 - so they know that they're playing the long game.  It's this knowledge that allows them to relax into the struggle: to appreciate that something is difficult and know that, with time and effort, they'll master it.  

This graceful, appreciative way of being is counter to the values of our materialistic society, and that makes artists outsiders in a way.  We don't value the easy way, and would be bored if every painting were perfect; then there'd be nothing to strive for in the future.  In fact, in my experience, when artists reach peak performance, they often turn to a new art form - one that they aren't skilled in - and begin learning from the basics.  It keeps them stimulated and challenged.  The fact that they frequently take a financial hit when they do this seems of secondary importance, because money isn't the primary goal; fulfilment and self expression are.  

Artists value the intangibles.  We do enjoy being paid, but we'd paint with as much concentration and energy if we weren't.  The act of creating and improving is the lasting reward.  It's mind expanding, exhilarating, and thrillingly addictive.  

So enjoy those moments of frustration in a workshop or in the studio.  They mean that you're on the right path, and they'll bring rewards that are truly beyond measure.

Happy painting!