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.