“Consider not only how terrifying change can be but also how exhilarating.” Maggie Smith, Keep Moving: Notes on Loss Creativity, and Change
Painting for me is, like life, elusive. The more you think you understand the less you really do. As Maggie Smith implies, change is inevitable, but not always predictable.
In my studio practice, I approach this attempt at defining a feeling through a style I refer to as gestural symbolism. As a gestural painter influenced by Abstract Expressionism I utilize mark making and juxtaposing incongruous colors to create a unified and absorbing image. As a symbolist, I develop a set of symbols in terms of colors, shapes, and underlying images for each series.
I begin each series in the same manner: Something I’ve stumbled upon, often a text of some sort, that requires teasing out. It’s not the type of teasing done in a literature class, but it needs to be mulled over in my studio with tools, paintbrushes, symbols, canvas, wood, panels, pigments.
I work in pairs, painting the surfaces and then adding and sometimes subtracting paint with a rubber squeegee type instrument. It’s a dance. Add, subtract, step back, study, and once the surface is saturated the painting is set aside until a later session that day or the next week when it is rotated 90 degrees to get a fresh perspective on the painting and consider each area of the picture plane equally. The bottom of the image becomes the side and the painting is begun anew until, as Georgia O’Keeffe says, “I get at the real meaning of things.”
The beginning paintings in a series for me are fraught with excitement and fear as I know not the direction the works will move. This not knowing, though, is part of the thrill of painting. “You should have a plan,” a writer friend of mine once said, “but you better be wrong.”
So when Maggie Smith is talking about the “terrifying” blank page, I can certainly relate. The unknown and possibility of failure are terrifying. It’s what prevents most people from being creative. With this terror, though, comes the exhilaration. Particularly for an abstract artist, taking that brush loaded with paint to canvas is a moment of excitement and uncertainty: Will the mark look stunning? Will it fall short? Or will it be that last gesture to complete a painting? That brief certainty that washes over an artist when the work seems full of potential or just right is none other than exhilarating.