ideas and impulses
Like a lot of artists, I can identify some consistent themes in my work over the years that appear through over and over again in different media, formats, and degrees of abstraction. These themes have to do with landscape, objects in nature such as rocks and lichen, the passing of time and its effects, and contrasts--such as ancient/ephemeral and descriptive/subjective. It's not that I ever chose or consciously decided upon these ideas. To some extent, they've been with me all my life, beginning in childhood--when I loved being alone in nature, collecting rocks and shells, drawing and painting the landscape, and examining the objects in my grandmother's curio cabinet--arrowheads, fossils, fragments of ancient objects.
These are the ingredients in what I think of as my personal creative soup, in which images and ideas combine, simmer and bubble, some flavors strong, some more subtle. I believe we each have something like that cooking away --a unique combination of memory, experience and attraction to particular aspects of life and our surroundings.
But these ideas and references are only part of the story, because the painting process, the media used, and all other physical aspects of the work are equally important; this is known in art terms as the relationship of form and content. (See this blog post from 2011
on this topic.) I find that form and content each have a unique energy; content is based in emotion, memory, thought and association, while form is about the thrill of action, experimentation and discovery, and the honing of technical ability.
There is a special zone I think of as "watching myself paint." In this state of mine I simply observe my hand and tools respond to what is happening with the paint, the colors, the textures. It is pure enjoyment of form, spontaneous and in the moment.
This alone wouldn't satisfy me as a painter though; aspects of content such as thoughtfulness, meaning, and discernment are also vital to my work. So, I'm often experiencing a free association of memory, ideas and thought as I paint, and pointed self-critique--asking myself, where this is heading, what is being evoked, and is it working?
Over-thinking, wanting to figure everything out ahead of time, wanting to control too much of the outcome can bring everything to a halt, of course. Thought takes over and the flow of form is blocked. The key is not to swing too far in either direction--to keep spontaneity and thought in balance.
In terms of my own work, I cannot say it's as simple as starting with freedom of form in the early stages of a painting, followed by step-by-step refining as the painting develops, editing and making choices. How easy it would be to explain if it were all so logical!
Instead there is a constant back and forth between form and content--a conversation, sometimes an argument. For example, with a few impulsive moves, color and other aspects of form can change dramatically at any point (including five minutes after thinking that the painting was done.) At other times there can be a more or less logical development from beginning to end, with no wild veering about. The content of the work may emerge early and persist, or may change ten times before the end. The "watching myself paint" zone can happen at any stage, including the the final touches. Painting can feel like a crazy ride, a slog through mud, or a peaceful walk in the woods. Finding what works, the right balance for each painting, is an ongoing challenge--insuring that each painting is different, and each an adventure.