Here comes a long post:
As I have been preparing for an exhibition at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine, there's been a lot of scurrying around finishing paintings and frames. I've been working long hours lately, in part thanks to Hancock County and jury duty, but also, I must admit, because there's nothing like a deadline to get me in a panic. One of the more frustrating moments came at 10:00PM the other night when the motor on my HVLP spray system for painting frames started spewing smoke. It has done great service for the past 8+ years so I can't really complain. The timing could have been better, but I guess it had to go sometime. So, I'm now the proud owner of a 20 gallon compressor and a super swwwanky spray gun. I feel as if I've graduated to a new level of tool ownership. (So anyone who needs their car tires topped up in 2 seconds just come on over.)
...and on to Letting Go:
I am often asked where I come up with the idea for a painting, or what a painting is about. Here is a good illustration of how a painting can change dramatically from one moment to the next and how it's really just a record of my thought processes during the many hours that I spend at the easel with the painting.
I began a painting a few weeks ago whose central element was a figure contemplatively sitting in the corner of our much painted couch. (The sketch can be seen here, above.) As I was looking at the old photos from the session with the model, I noticed that our departed dog, Ceilidh, was also on the couch. Ceilidh was also known as "the insinuator" for his inimitable ability to squeeze himself up against or in between us as we sat on the couch...and he insinuated himself once more. The painting was well underway, with the figure almost finished, when the Ceilidh part of the painting began to take over. I then had a moment when I missed him terribly and realized that this painting was becoming more about Ceilidh and less about a contemplative figure. So I taped a piece of paper over the figure and used pastels to quickly draw in the empty couch and a few objects. Letting go of the almost finished figure was a very difficult decision. My friend, the writer Jo Curry, once advised that in order to make dispassionate decisions about the quality of a piece, one must "murder your darlings" (or something to that effect); essentially saying that the passages that are most precious must be scrutinized with the same critical eye as the rest of the piece.
I replaced the figure with coffee can phones; and I think the painting is much the better for it. The painting now touches on my deep sadness at the loss of Ceilidh. The coffee can phone comes from lyrics from the beautiful Crooked Still song "You Were Gone". I've been mulling over the song's imagery for a while; the despair of trying to connect using a can to hear more clearly really struck me.
Here are two images of the piece--the first taken just after I started to rub out the figure, and the second of the completed piece. (One may also note how the snowflakes on the ground are in different positions. In the early stages, they are indicated with chalk--a common practice of mine as I consider still life elements in a painting such as this.)
|"Eleventh Winter", (in progress)|
|"Eleventh Winter", oil on linen mounted on panel, 17 x 25.5 inches|