Recently, a couple of conversations (one by email, one in person) have made me think about a few fairly unconscious "rules" that I have made for my work. These seem to come about when a painting, or a series of paintings is successful, and my response is --"hey that works, I'll just engrave it in stone someplace so I'll have it next time." On some level I must be looking for answers that always work--not exactly condusive to growth and discovery.
Both of these revealing conversations had to do with my Column Series
, which I have come back to after a break of six months or so. The Columns have definitely been successful, not only in my own evaluation, but in sales--all but three of the first ten (of the numbered series) have been sold. Somewhere along the way, I seem to decided on several rules for the Column Series to insure their continued popularity.
One of these, I now see, was that "the panels within the Column Series shall be distinct from one another in terms of color and surface treatment. They can and should relate, but not duplicate." This rule evolved out of the work of the first ten Columns--although they each centered around a related range of colors, each panel within was unique. (This is not always evident in photos but it is when seeing the actual paintings.) However, I broke this rule when I got to Columns 11 and 12, recently completed and posted below on Dec. 27. In these, there are two panels in each that are very close in color and texture, red in one case, blue in the other.
I didn't really recognize that I'd broken my rule, since it was unconscious--I just felt vaguely uneasy with my results, and kept poking away at those two red and two blue panels, making little changes. Then, painter Anthony Falcetta
wrote in an email that the "rhyming" of the two similar panels in each Column seemed to collapse the space, "making the formal qualities of the columns apparent first, with associations and evocations happening just after." So the object, abstract quality of the work was enhanced, while the narrative receeded. Which is actually something I've been after for quite some time.
The other rule I have recently broken (with help from my son Ben) is that "a painting in the Column Series shall be 7 to 8 feet in height, comprised of no fewer than four panels." Again, this came out of the first ten paintings of the series, nicely matching in their format. The other day Ben, who's home from college for the holidays, came into my studio to see my work in progress. Ben is not an artist himself, but has always had an excellent eye. We were looking at various arrangements of panels in one of the new Columns I'm working on, and I said "No, this way it just looks too clunky." Ben (not shy about expressing his opinions) said, "Mom, the whole thing looks clunky!" Clunky is not something I want. Then he asked if there was some reason
I had to have all those panels--that he thought there were three that would work together as a whole. We tried it, and I had to agree. The painting is now only 5 1/2 feet in height, and I have a new way of thinking about the whole series. There it is at the right, in its present state. There is a lot more detail and luminosity that is not showing up in this photo, taken on my studio wall.
So thanks, Ben and Anthony, and thanks to all the others who over time have given me excellent and honest feedback. Sometimes we need eyes other than our own to see which of our rules are good and which only hold us back.
PS: Some self-imposed rules are positive of course, such as "studio time shall take precedence over housework." But I think those tend to be more conscious than the ones that are limiting or negative.