Everybody out of the drawers! Featuring 30 years of works on paper!
In addition to recent drawings and lots of smaller affordable original oils, I’m featuring 30 years of works on paper. Most of these were done without any thought to exhibiting them. So… now I have quite a collection of works on paper and they would love to find homes! At prices that will entice you. ($95 or less). So this is your chance to
30 years ago, I left Iowa with an MFA in my pocket. My destination was a rural location in Eastern Washington to house sit for Ben Frank Moss, a former professor. Essentially, in exchange for care-taking and getting the house ready for their return in the summer months, my family lived almost rent free for 10 months and I could paint to my heart’s content. It was a great gift.
Leaving behind the tumult, angst and intensity of 3 years of grad school (plus having a child in the middle of it) was a wonderful opportunity … a chance to catch my breath before starting on the yearly academic job hunting routine. It was a good year- very productive and I felt I could authentically respond to the landscape around me.
Recently, after reading a book about Swedish Death Cleaning (yes, apparently it’s a thing) I thought I’d go through some old journals. I also found an old folder of letters from friends and professors and faculty at other institutions from this period. Some of them date back to those tumultuous years in grad school, some came after when I began meeting colleagues around the country.
During my first year in the program, I couldn’t quiet my mind and settle down – and was feeling unmoored – but I was encouraged by a teacher I respected, not to give up. I needed to get tougher, more ambitious and work harder and in 10-12 years I would be able to find my painterly voice. At the time, that seemed like such a long road ahead, but now looking back , it really was about 10 years, before I found a subject matter that really moved me, and that provided the motivation to dive deeper into the content.
There was a constant flow of visiting artists that came through the building. Thanks in large part to how connected the faculty was to their own studio work and the larger art world. Sometimes they reinforced what I was hearing from others, sometimes they were totally on their own trip, and had a hard time relating to what I was trying to manifest.
Elizabeth Murray encouraged us to have ambition for the work, not for it’s own sake
Howard Rogovin – “don’t be afraid to let the work evolve into something else” …it could encompass “beauty and loss, poetry and strength”
John Dunn, who was a former theology student – spoke of the urge to “see the vision” the compelling reason that we need to keep painting – and the four things at work in making a painting (or a life) : Habit – Will – Memory – Chance
I wanted air and light in my work. I was captivated by an atmosphere that was almost palpable but not at the expense of things literally dissolving away. I was encouraged to get contrast, clarity, or definite edge in the work- ie: things were often too gauzy or soft.
Selina Trieff –it’s all a matter of “back and forth-ing”
Sometimes I felt that people were gradually chipping away at what I came with, which is another way to say that we were constantly being challenged- learning to trust our instincts as they were informed by growing skill and questioning.
I was a good 10 years older than many of my cohorts, and perhaps felt the added pressure of making up for lost time. My personal life was more settled in some ways, but my studio life was far less sure. I could not make visible what I thought I wanted every time, but at least I was becoming more aware of my own language and voice.
I fixed on this quote from Nicholson Baker in the Atlantic, “ If your life is like my life, there are within it short sections…when your mind achieves a polished and complicated coherence. Your opinions become neat and unruffled-able…you are firm, you think fast, you offer delicately phrased advice. Such intermissions of calm are very rare in any case. Most of the time we are in some middle phase of changing our minds about many, if not all, things. We have no choice. Changes of mind should be distinguished from decisions, for decisions seem to reside in the present, while changes of mind imply habits of thought, a slow crystallization of truth, a partially felt, dense past.”
Slowly, things did begin to crystalize for me. Every once in a while, I began to make the intangible become visible and my mind could fall into intermissions of calm.
well, today there was an apparent Russian hack of Instagram, where I was slowly building up my following. First I got a notice that my password had been changed. (Not by me, mind you) Yesterday, someone changed my Amazon log in. but I was able to take that back and deleted my CC info.
Now my Instagram account seems to have disappeared, (or has been taken over by someone named Vasily in a bunker – HAH!).
8/24. update: actually it’s now listed as belonging to “Bargas Sarhai”
I’ve always liked my paintings to take me on some sort of journey-
To imply ‘somewhere’ just beyond, or a pathway to an undisclosed location. When they just appear to be a final destination, I find them less compelling and kind of lifeless.
After living with it for year, I felt I had to redo the large Bunch painting. It was an interesting technical challenge to get all those overlapping and interlocking blades of grass to make sense, and I worked on it for months- but it seemed like a wall that stopped me cold, rather than invited me into a place. (wasn’t ever crazy about all that yellow either)
It was just an image, not an experience. So in keeping with my new strategy of not adding piles of new smaller paintings to my basement racks, I decided to sand it down and revisit the painting.
I am not quite at the point where it feels like the experience I want to have, but it’s getting closer. Here are some of the steps forward so far….
Watching the Olympics earlier this year we saw incredible athletes who had trained and worked for the past four years in preparation for their one moment, get only one chance to either advance or see the final result. No matter how prepared, a rut in the ice, a patch of soft snow, a moment of distraction or loss of focus could spell disaster – they couldn’t say “do-over”.
How unlike painting, when I am allowed to sand, scrape and repaint over parts or the entirety of an earlier piece that just didn’t seem to express what I wanted. And I get to do it in the privacy of my basement. Maybe this is why we call making art a “practice”. After 30 years, I’m still practicing. And getting lots of “do-overs”.
When I was younger, just out of grad school … starting a teaching career … and through my 50’s; gallery representation, regular shows, awards, and a bigger public presence were very much in my sights. Building that resume was critical. But now, not so much. Actually, not at all.
In order to proceed, I felt I needed a new road map.
One that made sense for this current period of time in my life and my work.
Part of that map pointed to lightening the load in my personal and studio life- in both literal and less obvious ways.
Here’s how that went……
1. In the literal sense, I knew there was just a lot of stuff in my environment. Kids toys and games, sports equipment, extra furniture and clothing we didn’t need, and plenty of frames, shipping crates, art supplies that I no longer would use. I made heavy use of Craigslist, and also donated/gave away lots of items.
2. I went through completed work and started to edit out some pieces…(rip rip) Lots of work on paper falls in this category, but also a few paintings. I want to keep the best out of a series, or conversely what I would not be embarrassed to have out-live me. (And a digital image can always remind me of the piece.) I’m not a famous artist whose legacy will be left to a museum. More likely it will be my daughter who has to figure out what to do with mom’s artwork. And if you’ve been creating work for thirty years, even with regular sales, you start to have a large collection to think about. I became increasingly aware of what a burden that could be.
3. I decided to let go of feeling obligated to respond to every event/opening/announcement/call-for-entry email- although I will still go out of my way to see something truly inspiring. I deleted my Facebook account, although at this point still have my art page. Suddenly I felt even lighter. And I had so much more free time!
4. I’ve found several other ways to launch my work into the world and people’s homes- using consultants and on-line galleries; selling at local non-profit venues and through open studios.The good thing about this process is that I am truly in control over my “inventory” and the prices I want to charge for it; whether it’s for a corporate or health care environment, or a private home. Now I often find buyers who are perhaps beginning collectors, who appreciate original artwork but are not able to spend huge sums of money. It’s more important to me that these pieces find a good home, rather than placing some arbitrarily high value on them. And because I am no longer painting for commercial solo shows or exhibitions anymore, I’m not obligated to generate a large body of work every couple of years. I’ve kept a spreadsheet that shows when I moved to this model in 2004, and when I look back it’s gratifying to see 134 pieces (!) have been placed using these outlets. And that doesn’t include the notecards and calendars that I made using original linocuts.
5. Not adding to the load- As I try to find homes for older paintings, I find that I don’t want to add many more to the ones already stored in racks.
I am doing more on paper- charcoal, and pastel drawings- small etchings or monotypes. More easily stored in flat files and can be rolled to ship out if sold. (I keep a stash of heavy duty 4” tubes for this purpose.) I decided last year to stretch up a couple large 46×52” canvases, and have something larger to challenge me for a longer length of time. (more on those next time) Plus I paint in oil so it’s a slower process anyway. Layers can’t be put on in a matter of a few minutes, sometimes you have to pause, let something dry, or scrape it off if you want to alter your approach or change a color.
So all this is a different way of defining progress, or success if you will.And it feels like a good fit for the long haul.
I would say that unlike many other professions, visual artists never need to retire in the
traditional sense of the word. Oh, sure….if you have a side career- say teaching or auto mechanics you might encounter a distinct culmination of that job.
But the siren pull of the thing yet-to-be resolved in the studio might continue, the engagement and the process and the challenge of manifesting something out of nothing is still a worthwhile and rewarding way to spend time.
Until you can no longer pick up the tool. And even then, you might find another tool. Paper cutouts anyone?
I’ve usually operated under the assumption that no ultimately no one else needs to care whether I make a painting or drawing….except for me.
Not that I am always my only audience, but that the world outside my basement/studio is not reliant on my continuing. That the only thing that propels me forward now is my own need to engage with my work.
So, skipping into the second half of my 60”s, I often encounter the question about my employment status. Retired? Self-employed? Semi-something or other?
Hard to say how to proceed…