I have been working on the same painting for all of 2012.
For some artists a slow birthing period is standard, but I usually move rapidly through canvases. The large amount of empty space in my paintings, though it had a concrete reason to begin with, is probably a symptom of my devolving attention span nuzzling up against my desires for silence and speed.
I named the painting Scheherazade before it was complete, which should have alerted me to the fact that it would drag on for a thousand and one painful days. Considered in a certain light, this unfinished/finished painting might be my most successful piece to date: it feels unresolved, yet it somehow holds together; I have only a tentative idea of why I made it but it continues to intrigue me. Like Scheherazade herself, it tantalizingly keeps my attention, without letting me kill it and move on.
In another light it is just plain confused.
But I can’t completely blame Scheherazade. During the 9 months that I have spent not painting this painting, life has gotten in the way and painting has felt less important. A couple of days into the piece, I received an email that my grandfather was sick. A week later he died and I headed to England for his funeral. That was February.
Two months later, I became a U.S. citizen. Rather than joining my fellow Americans in joyful plastic flag waving, I not-so-quietly sobbed through the ceremony. Most people looked somewhere between thrilled and bored. I probably looked like I did at Grandpa’s funeral. After the ceremony, my fellow Americans swarmed out into the sun, to be greeted by proud family members with flowers in their arms. Feeling ungrateful and alone, I biked home.
In June I managed to come into the studio and worked on this piece for a number of hours. But what happened in July, August and September? In July I visited New York and talked a lot about both portraiture and painting, but returned to L.A. and didn’t do much of either. In August a lovely muse of mine posed patiently for photographs meant to inform a new piece, but I can’t quite get excited about editing them. In September….nothing much.
Pinned to my studio wall during my long absence was a piece of paper with two typed quotes:
Dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom.–Lorrie Moore, Dance in America
Art is a method of opening up areas of feeling…A picture should be a recreation of an event rather than an illustration of an object.–Francis Bacon
At a time when some people would have found refuge in the studio, I am avoiding it. I am aware that if art making is my “job”, I should just be showing up every day and making it happen. But as much as artists like to emphasize that our job is very serious and real, I am going to publicly admit that it isn’t the same as showing up at the office. Art practices come in all shapes and sizes, varying from the traditional solitary figure in the messy attic to the “post-studio” network of collaborators, with an array of hybrids in between. My focus has tended towards painting alone, with occasional forays into collaboration. Most of my paintings are personal and they are at their best when they are honest.
Maybe I’ve just had enough of honest alone time.
Scheharazade is a confused painting. If one thing is certain, it is that I am confused. So the painting that looks like a nice young lady doing yoga got stuck in a tumble drier and then hung from the ceiling, is probably the most honest painting I could make right now.
Perhaps I will stride my way back into an active relationship with my paint brushes, but I’m also ok if I don’t–if it turns out that other methods and mediums are a better way to get at the world beyond my own boundaries and feed my curiosity. Either way, this painting needs to get out of my studio, so i’m sending her off into cyberspace.
Hopefully that will open up the space I need for something new to happen.