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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
  struggles along the way

Last weekend I took myself on an overnight retreat to a cabin at a nearby spiritual center--an escape from daily demands and a gift to myself of time alone in the woods. An impulse led me to pack along some old art notebooks and sketchbooks, and I enjoyed looking through them to see what I'd find. The ones I brought happened to be from 2002-2003, at the time my work was turning toward abstraction in a way that proved lasting. (In the years leading up to that turning point, I had gone back and forth between abstraction and representational landscape.)

The emotional and intellectual struggle of this transition was clear from my notes--the changes that happened in my work were forged from conflicts and questions about what I was trying to achieve, which went on for several years. I wondered, for example, if I would lose the audience I had built for my poetic, atmospheric landscapes, and whether abstraction could inspire equal emotional response and involvement. I searched for a way to move my work into abstraction, settling on an exploration of textures found in rocks and other natural forms, and I questioned whether these images would have meaning if separated from their identifiable sources.

From my perspective of ten years later, I see that these questions and struggles, although a bit surprising to read (time has dulled their memory) were good ones--and that all were resolved in a positive way, and necessary to the process. But what a difficult time it was in the studio. Back then, and for many years, my work was wrought from considerable struggle. There were notes, for example, about a single painting that I worked and reworked for about six months, and then completely painted over after one exhibit...and it never was resolved (and sits today in my storage bin, unfinished.) Day after day I wrote notes about this painting, sometimes feeling up, sometimes down about where it was heading. There were many other paintings that I criticized, reworked, and did eventually resolve. From my notebooks, I can see that almost every studio day involved a great deal of soul searching, and energy focused on understanding my own process and desires for my work. The bottom line was that it took a lot of emotional and physical energy to sustain my painting practice.

Now, it seems to me that the situation has shifted, and the energy flows to me from my work as well as the other way around, and so is a source of sustenance to me. Of course there are still struggles, and times of transition--there's never anything particularly easy about bringing new work into the world. But nowadays going into the studio almost always gives me a feeling of excitement, and a flow of ideas. If I look at my work and see it is not what I want it to be, it's simple matter of going back at it, without accompanying inner drama. When things don't go well--and of course there are those days--it is now much, much easier to step away, shrug it off, take a break, and know that the situation is temporary. I can't say, of course, that the major struggles are all done...time will tell. But, after 25 years of serious dedication in the studio, I do appreciate what I've gained in terms of peace of mind and pure enjoyment in my work.

The painting above, 56"x24" oil and mixed media on panel is a recent (and so far, untitled) work.
Beautifully written about your soul searching. I wonder if you did keep your original buyers of your atmospheric works or if you had to move into another area of exhibiting in other galleries with buyers looking especially for abstracts. At times I do still see the atmospheric landscapes in your work especially the Ireland series. I also wonder if having to sell paintings to keep an artist going will have a massive effect on the emotional mindset of the creative soul.
Thank you for this post! Your honesty in sharing the struggles and now seeing that you moved through to joy gives me much hope.
And your work is fabulous!
Thanks for the comments...re: Caroline's questions--I'm not sure to what extent the audience for my work changed. I was only showing with one gallery at the time, selling pretty well, with a very supportive director. She told me years later that when I brought in the abstract work the first time, she was worried about being able to sell it, but that did not turn out to be the case. Perhaps different people bought it, but it still fit with the general aesthetic of the gallery and sold at least as well or better than the older work. And as you say, there were aspects of the work that did not change much, just shifted into a more abstract context. (I still see them in my current work as well, and will probably always draw ideas from landscape which is very central to my work.) Re: your second question it probably deserves a post of its own! But I have not found that to be true, and I do make a living from my work. My basic stance on that is that you do the work you want to do and you love and then find the audience for it. So yes it might mean changing galleries or locations for exhibiting. @Judy: thank you for this, I do want to be encouraging and it is helpful to me to remember the struggles for myself as well. I thought about some of the students in my workshops as I read my old notes and the things they are struggling with...it was good to be reminded of that.
Thank you Rebecca. As I have previously emailed you about the struggles that I am having in the studio. The 2 paintings I am working on now have been going through MAJOR changes. I forgot how many layers of oil and cold wax are on them. When I remember, I take a photo (gack!) and am beginning to see areas in them that I like, and others that I have NO idea what to do with. But nonetheless, there is the feeling of growth. The Ira Glass YouTube was also encouraging to me in that you have to fight your way through. It takes hard work to be authentic. btw, have you tried Pan Pastels? Oh my, they are my new favorites...
Well done Rebecca. It's wonderful that you gave yourself that time for reflection and you used it so wisely and well. I think I might have just sat in the woods and ate a Mars Bar.
Ha, Jan...did some of that too! Chris--yes I have tried the pan pastels, nice! have also gotten more into stick form pastels, drawing on the surface. Glad to hear the struggles are providing some satisfaction and that you are immersed in the work. It's all about the process...
Thank you, Rebecca. This so perfectly puts into words my struggles with, and my hopes for, my art. You and your work are such an inspiration.
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       Rebecca Crowell