Working Methods

Until recently, I have considered the one of the most important aspects of my work to be the contrast between the smoothly rendered body parts and the more expressionistic passages, what a friend described as “your combination of brushless articulation and gestural painting.” But the more I compare my experience painting in these different ways — one privileging my own perceptual experience, the other less about my experience and more about attaining a final result, and as such, a little tedious — the more I wonder what conclusions I should be drawing from it.  And it poses the larger question of how important the artist’s experience is, whether it necessarily informs the work as it is perceived and received by others. Could one be bored making a great painting? Or brilliantly engaged making something that turns out to be nothing special? It’s hard for me to believe that the artist’s experience of making doesn’t imbue the work with a crucial energy that continues to vibrate through the viewer’s experience of looking. But maybe I’m just a sap. At any rate, working directly right now is so engaging that I have considered jettisoning all aspects of my practice which aren’t based on observation, although this could well be my inherent extremism, kicking in reflexively to pass sweeping judgment on a situation, given any new nugget of empirical data. I have always struggled not to be so all-or-nothing, to live with conflicting information. To accept that all the ambiguities of life and art cannot be resolved into congruity by an act of will.

The same friend also wrote, “I think your painting is more focused than you think, and concerning the hybrid part that you worried about -- it's traditional, don't you think?  Those Florentines were drawing from life, inventing, and carefully copying other artists' work in town, the equivalent of using photo support, perhaps.” I found this incredibly soothing — nothing new under the sun, after all — and it relieved my self-inflicted pressure to justify working in different ways by always combining them in one image, by making paintings that are at least partially about that combination.  Which as my sister pointed out, is really hard. Why not separate it out, she asked? Make a painting that is completely invented. Make a painting of a plant, from life, and don’t feel you have to turn it into Daphne all the time.

I got excited by this idea of deconstructing my practice as I had conceived it, and suddenly ideas for possible new work rushed in, some to be made from life, some from imagination, some from photographic sources. And while no doubt the source material and working methods do contribute to the meaning of the image produced, are they really the most significant aspect of the final product? A painter should use all the tools in her tool box to make the images she wants to make, but must she necessarily get so hung up on the significance of the hammer, the chisel, the drill? Does the work always have to be ABOUT what it means to use a hammer, or the deep meaning of a chisel?

There is a time-delay between my thinking process and my working process. My thoughts, unencumbered by matter, race on ahead. But my hands, which have to actually do the work, fashioning images out of the stubborn raw materials, lag behind. So I will have been planning works in advance, with ideas for paintings lined up like airplanes on the runway, waiting to take off, and this virtual schedule feels vital to me somehow. I am so slow to finish things that I compensate for feeling like there isn’t enough new work in my studio by having a mental list of the things I’m going to do next. But then new data inevitably comes along in the process of making something, with potential import for the next thing, and I don’t know what to do. Must I use the information immediately, and toss out my existing plans, or should I carry firmly on, finishing the paintings as I had them in mind, and then incorporate the new thinking? Changing plans immediately and entirely feels like a loss, like throwing away work, but it also seems impossible NOT to adjust my ideas, given all I learn along the way. No doubt I have created another all-or-nothing false dichotomy, however. I suppose the answer will lie somewhere in the middle.

In many ways, I feel like a child-artist, still learning and figuring out who/how/what I’ll be when I grow up, while all around me my peers and friends go determinedly about the business of having proper careers in art, seemingly already very clear about what it is they do, and how they do it. I envy their clarity, their certainty.