‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’

I sometimes think it would be lovely if the idea one has for a piece of art simply made it self, manifested in solid form,  once one thought of it. I get what I think are brilliant ideas, get out my paints or drawing materials and then about ten minutes into the execution of said idea am grumbling to myself, “what on earth did I start this for”.

I find myself labouring over some pointless or pointillist detail that is going to take hours to do and there I am making dots. Or texturing a large space on a painting that has gone wrong and “needs something”. I decide on a way to cover over or integrate an unsightly blurp in the paint surface, to merge it with the rest – really it’s a technical challenge, often work intensive – to save the painting.

In the end, it’s the process that has made the painting as well as my idea and the limitations of my abilities.

Sometimes there are happy accidents that occur, you leave them and the resulting work is brilliant. Everyone loves it. But can you do it again? Or is it a one-off? Is it valid for your work? And if so, can you reproduce it, play with it, learn from it, take off in a new direction? Add it to your repertoire?

Sometimes the idea just paints itself, in a sense. It goes well. It looks great and I’ve only spent an hour on it. I don’t have to go back into it except to give it a good coat of picture varnish once it’s thoroughly dry. There’s no struggle to it.

I remember doing a wonderful portrait of a little girl from memory, after the style of Eugene Carriere while studying in France. It was sweet but not saccharine. It felt as if the painting had been given to me and executed through me by an external power. I was awed at myself. I was only a student and my skills were not so great or sure then and to have succeeded so easily, so well, was a surprise, a delight and a breakthrough for me.

But I got to thinking that the painting didn’t represent my work, was outside of the theme I was currently working on and it would be false to present it the world as if it were mine. I stewed over the ethics of presenting it as part of my work. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the style. Maybe it was, after all, a bit too sweet. Certainly it was sellable, but was that the point in doing art? Or was the meaning for me, conveying a message about something more profound than making portraits of people that were somehow like rubber stamps.

For example, I could do a “template” face over and over again. It was easy. Put a coloured  ground on a canvas, paint in a beginning sketch of where the eyes, nose and mouth should be, sketch out the volume of the hair or hat or whatever went on top, then come back in with sufficient tone to firm up the semblance of a face, any face, that would pleasingly occupy the middle of the picture plane. But how vapid that was! There was no substance. The interesting thing about portraits and figure drawings was the particularity of a certain person, the lift of their eyebrow when they were animated, the curl of their mouth that differed on one side from the other side, the way the person held their head, or the way the shadow fell across their brow, like when a straw hat leaves little points of light where the sun gets through. If only I could maintain that particularity and maintain the effortlessness of that oil paint sketch that  somehow, gratuitously, was painted through my hand.

I decided that substance was important to me in paintings. There has to be something deeper, more meaningful for me.

So in a pique of moral indignation at this lovely painting that had come to me gratuitously, and in a pique of poverty, where I didn’t have enough money to go out to buy supplies, I covered over this little ochre face of a dreamy girl that was more handed to me as a gift than done by my own volition. It’s somewhere under another “masterpiece” of student art.

Wait till the conservationists one hundred years from now get hold of my work and scan it, finding this lovely little head of a girl. That’s the only way anyone is going to see it now or hereafter. I can’t even tell you which of my subsequent oils it’s under!  “Dream on, my lovely painteress,” I say to myself.  The subsequent work wasn’t worth keeping, much, though I have a hard time throwing things out.  And from time to time I remember that lovely little oil paint drawing that succeeded.

I’m hoping with this new blog of mine, to share my experience in painting and to generate discussion, so if you wish to comment, I’m hoping for something a little more substantial than “good post” or “nice”. Please share your stories with me. Give me your opinions. Add substance to the discussion.  And I promise to provoke, question and share my  ideas

That’s all for today folks.

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4 Responses to “‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’”

  1. vyala Says:

    It is amazing but your words are exactly describing what I am confronted with often and it seems they came directly out of my own mouth.
    What I have observed the more I slip into the carreer of a painter is that it becomes more and more difficult to exactly reproduce the image that appears in my head. As I am mainly painting from memory and imagination as well I more often face the problem of the original image hiding in the depth of my inner vision the more I paint. So I have to rely more and more on serendipities and the result is often totally different from what was initially envisioned.
    This does not mean that the results are bad. Do you have an idea why this is happening? I sometimes think that this comes from my own claim to my increasing skills, i.e. the more I paint the less I am ready to accept minor results. But I am not sure and I would like to undersand it.

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Vyala, Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    I’m sure I can’t answer what’s going on in your head as you paint – only you can do that and analyze it, but I can tell you a bit about my evolving process. When I first studied painting, the Abstract Expressionists were firmly established and in vogue as well as some “happening”, installation and performance art. We learned quite a bit of theory, but we only had two profs who insisted on learning to draw thoroughly. My dream, though, was to be able to paint what I saw, to paint realistically. It wasn’t in vogue and was much scoffed at.
    I was an art educator in my early career and the kids could draw better than I could. I was so determined to be able to draw, that I went to France, embarking on a four year stint in the Regional school of Fine arts in Rheims. They didn’t know quite what to do with me. While I insisted on joining their basic classes so that I could learn to draw, the equally seriously insisted that I could not join these basic classes because I had already taught art and couldn’t possibly be interested. Besides, at the beginning, I didn’t speak much French.
    I struggled along in my own corner trying to make progress and finally painted myself into a realistic corner. Then I began to ask myself “Why do I want to paint, anyway. What’s the point in reproducing an object one sees into a painting?” I realized that even if one was reproducing a realistic image, there had to be every other aspect of the elements of design working together to make a painting “work”.
    Besides the very formal, technical learning, I was searching out the idea, the message, side of paintings.
    I eventually did quite well at teaching myself to draw and in the process realized that the education I had received earlier was just the beginning. I needed the study time to work out what I had learned.
    The mind is a very agile and complicated thing. Once I understood and internalized all these elements, or at least acquired a working vocabulary with them, I started to work more easily and to explore more experimental ways. I watched other students and was always learning something from them, whether a new way to make a pattern through texture, or to control shading and tone, or simply seeing what they found interesting to paint. I added to my vocabulary.
    Now, I believe that the mind can’t always be directed by us. Lucky thing!
    It sometimes just takes everything you have given it and it works at sorting things out, analyzing them, repositioning them, experimenting with various combinations.
    That’s much like asking your computer to search for something. It takes all the available information and scrolls through it, picking out stuff that might be useful or that might relate. Then it puts the data at your disposition so that you can pick and choose items or methods that you then integrate into the work.
    I have come to think that the realist paintings are sometimes technically brilliant, at best, but they miss that profundity of meaning that comes with an involvement in ideas and exploration. I value highly those painters who can let their minds range freely into that same state of mind that research scientists have when they go looking for one thing and let their ability to brainstorm or ideate to come up with suggestions of other ways to move, explore and find “answers” to a proposed outcome.
    Not all answers are good, along the path. We need to toss out the bad ones, or build upon the good points of the bad ones, and use those fortuitous successes by seeking to repeat them or incorporate them consciously into new works.
    That is the best path to finding a style and a message of one’s own, something personal and meaningful.

  3. vyala Says:

    Thank you so much for your detailed answer and thoughts. I see many parallels in my approach to other works as well as my own. A complicated thing the brain is and still there are so many similarities among artists which do amaze me again and again.
    I continue to enjoy your musings!

  4. Deesytydaytuh Says:

    I read some of the posts and I think it is a great blog. Are you attempting to play with my unrelated accountability Fresh joke! Why do bicycles fall over? Because they are two-tired.

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