Thursday, September 21, 2006

Only I can be me

About five years ago I was at a gallery reception for a show of some of my oil pastels. The gallery director introduced me to a regular client who was intrigued with my style and my working methods. After exchanging some pleasantries, the gentleman started to ask me some questions about my techniques. He seemed a bit surprised when I started to give him some detailed information about my materials and techniques.

After we chatted for about 20 minutes he asked me if I wasn’t afraid that someone else would be able to copy my work. It was a very flattering question but I told him that I didn’t see that as a problem. I told him that I didn’t think that anyone else could be me, or even want to be me. I had learned a long time ago that you can teach someone materials and techniques but you can never teach anyone to be an artist.

When I taught I did not hesitate to show students exactly how I achieved my results. I would bring in my own supplies and paint along with the students giving constant demonstrations. It was not my techniques, or color choices, or subject matter that made my work unique or my own, it was me. To quote Eileen Clegg, “When you begin to act on your creativity, what you find inside may be more valuable than what you produce for the external world.” There is uniqueness to every artist, to every person.

When I showed my methods to students and watched them try to duplicate it I always got a smile on my face. As they tried to use my tools I could see their creativity begin to slowly open up. Each person was creating a variation on the methods. This was not because they were trying to vary it but because they were bringing who and what they were to the methods. They were finding how these tools worked best for them and creating a variation that worked best for each one of them.

No one can really duplicate the path that my life has taken. Even if someone else experiences the same things that have shaped my life we will each see it in a different way. Where I may be fearful, another may be excited. I may be passionate while another is indifferent. As all of my experiences shape my life they also shape my art. So when I try on the colors, or styles of other artists I usually find out much. What I usually find out is what doesn’t work for me. When I do find something that does work then I also find that I have to modify it to make it work for my particular needs, hopes, and desires.

It also causes me to look deeper into myself as an artist and a person. I wonder about what drew me to the elements of another artist. I wonder why when I try to duplicate it that it may not work all that well for me. The colors, the shapes, the compositions may not be the right fit. Sometimes when I try these things on and look in the mirror I find I just don’t like the way it looks on me. This leads me to discover just a little bit more of who I am.

These two pieces are both oil pastel on panel. They are titled, "Strong Sunlight", measuring 15" X 15" and "Little Red Barn", measuring 8" X 10".

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The black dog and the bathrobe

Winston Churchill was a tenacious old curmudgeon, who with great strength and resolve, lead England through one of its darkest periods in history. His world was literally crashing in around him yet he would take the time to go sit in a garden and do landscape painting. It was only by letting go of the left side of the brain, the logical, that he could see a little more clearly how to solve the problem he was confronting. Conflict resolution was not all that he was seeking. He was looking for a brief respite from his companion that he referred to as the black dog that sat in the corner. Winston Churchill was hounded by depression.

There are stories of various people that I have kept with me over the course of my life. I found the stories interesting and thought provoking. Also they resonated within me. I am writing about two such people. These two are very different individuals. They lived very different lives, in different countries, at different times in history. There were two qualities, though, that they did share.

The other person is the twentieth century American artist, Jim Dine. His work is somewhat figurative yet very bold and expressionistic. He is well known for a series of semi abstract paints of hearts. The series of his that had the most impact on me though, were his paintings of a single bathrobe. Even before I knew the story behind them, I was drawn to them. Jim Dine also suffered from depression. There were some days that he could not even get out of bed. When he did he would walk around wearing his old bathrobe. As his depression lifted and he slowly recovered the bathrobe became his subject. Perhaps it was symbolic of his journey back from the edge of darkness.

Because of my disability, OCD, I also suffer from bouts of depression. OCD and depression go hand in hand. The last few weeks I have been on that edge of darkness. It is a place that drains my energy, physical and creative, and leaves me exhausted and exhausts my family. It wreaks havoc with my familial relationships, as I become a dark and brooding person. I have to struggle against it to make the least attempt to do any drawing or painting. As much as it interferes with my art it also emboldens my painting. Like the old saying goes, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Once the cycle has completed itself and the fog lifts from my mind I fall in love with life all over again. To be creative is an affirmation of life, of all things living. Creativity is an affirmation of the wondrous mysteries of the universe. Without these forays to the edge of that dark plain I would not be able to fully appreciate the light, color, and love around me. To be left tired and listless makes me want to take advantage of my energy and passion when it returns. Making art is a reflection of what I, the artist, have found and experienced on my journey. It doesn’t matter if it is gray and dreary or bright, colorful and warm. Good or bad, right or wrong, dark or light, it is all part of my journey. This journey is my story and my paintings are the illustrations that I leave along the way.

Both paintings are done on prepared strathmore paper. The both measure 12.75" X 19.75". The lighter one was completed in 2004 and done in oil pastel. The darker version was done in 2006 and done in oil.