struggles with new work
Surely all of us who paint have times when things roll along in a satisfying and productive way, and others when the process is more like wading through mud. In my case, I've been going through a rather extreme example of the latter--mired in a series of five 30x30" paintings for weeks now. I've felt impatient, frustrated and blocked (although I have actually kept at it nearly every day.)
I'm perfectly fine working under pressure in normal circumstances, to meet an exhibit or commission deadline, for example. Over 25 years of painting, I've developed confidence in my work and tend to find pleasure and energy in those kinds of commitments. And while struggle is always an essential part of the process, I'm rarely blocked or anxious about my work for more than a short time. Given all that, I was really not
anticipating the issues I've been having with these paintings.
But there is a different agenda for these--an opportunity that may be a one-time chance (more later on that, if it all works out.) So, from the start I noticed pressure in my own mind and perceptions, and I began to gradually lost the ease and spontaneous feeling that I rely on in the studio, the ability to trust in the process. I found myself slipping into hyper-critical mode, destroying most of the progress made on an almost daily basis. As a result, each painting in this small series has cycled through way more than the usual number of transformations, coming close to being finished and then once again painted over.
I've always maintained that in this kind of destruction, nothing is really lost--that each change, each new layer put on or removed, adds richness and texture, and in fact these changes are necessary to achieve the surfaces of my work. And also that every change, including radical transformations, comes about because it is needed--something is not right. Under normal circumstances I have so many paintings in progress that I don't get very attached to anything, and these necessary steps are usually exhilarating rather than anxiety-producing. In this case though, I was so completely focused on 5 paintings, that I had to keep reminding myself it was OK when hours of work once again disappeared under my palette knife or solvent rag.
It has all been a bit grueling and certainly humbling. But today and yesterday were a breakthrough--excellent painting days. I believe I just had to acknowledge that while self-criticism is important for developing excellent work, perfectionism can become paralyzing when it creeps in...and also that any one painting cannot represent the depth and breadth of an entire body of work. A painting is simply a moment in the course of a long journey. With these thoughts, I was able to loosen up, enjoy painting and feel my faith in the process return.
The photos above show four of the five paintings at the end of today, nearing completion, and a closer view of one, as yet untitled.