Well, having decided to go for blue autumnal sky colours with dashes of gold etc this week inspired by clear days at the coast, I found myself in the studio yesterday, messing about mixing up moody bruise colours – enlivened with coppers and bronzes. Sometimes it’s as though something else takes over and says ‘no, we’re doing this today’.
I was completely in ‘the zone’, that fabulous desirable state all artists crave but which doesn’t happen often enough! I was completely running on instinct and my subconscious, with a handful of brushes loaded with pigment and lots of hands-on pushing the paint around with the side of my hand and fingers. Crucially, I then slowed down and moved in close, taking my time with tender considered marks, enhancing the shapes and ‘openings’ in the paint.
This time the work above emerged and I had that delicious feeling of ‘just right’ as I stepped back from the easel. What a lovely change from the feelings of frustration that are all too common when painting (or creating anything).
All too often I skip that last stage, the slowing down and considering. I usually have a tendency to go all for it, with lots of energetic paint application and markmaking, which can often make for exciting work and I love it. Sometimes though, I have a feeling I’ve just gone that little bit too far and unlike in digital painting there is no ‘undo’ function. It’s all part and parcel of learning through constant work of course. But when you get that ‘oh’ moment… it’s wonderful.
The trick now of course will be to continue in this vein, to get back into that ‘zone’, because I want to produce more of these.
Yes! Mari. This is a definite ‘in the zone’ painting – showing all your personality of marks. Delicate and insightful, free and connected to the moment. Lovely.
Thanks so much Lesley, lovely to get your feedback on this.
Mari, this so true, that some work is already there, hidden in us, and we just ned to let it through, not block it by ‘thinking’, just let it show us where to go. It feels like play, no effort … and I know i’m in that zone when i catch awareness of myself singing or whistling. The brain isn’t part of this game. But there is other work that is SUCH a labour, it really doesn’t feel like its going to fly, in fact I may even have to start again or drastically change approach, and its only in the last moments that something comes together …. or, i am so uncomfortable that I have to leave it out of sight, so frustrated. Then, maybe months later after I’ve forgotten it, i see it with different eyes. One of my faves like this is now in Barcelona, and i saw it there last week, and i really love it in this setting, even though the subject was the University of Essex as a seat of revolution in the 60s, (as in Paris 68 revolt), and i pushed myself to use colours that seemed very gauche, too extreme. It works very well after all.
Other work even comes by accident, a paint spill on a promising piece, trying to clean it off, transformed it much for the better!
Your ‘Byzantine Waters’, this feels like expanded territory, in such a tight palette, and the physical marks are everything, the fine and delicate details, grain of material breaking down, and the unpredictable ways natural processes shape what is hard and solid, that your gestures find. I get that ‘lived in’ idea of how we leave our scratches on the world, scuffed paint, flaking iron, streaked rust, faded graffiti. It feels authentic and evokes the salt spray weathering on old structures, the futility of trying to prevail against nature, and our wild winter coasts. It feels fresh I think, because in places, say the dashes of white I wonder if there is unworked paint, further ‘polishing’, but then it takes me to the spontaneity of nature … its never polished, and that’s the excitement!
Right now, i’m envious, as i am too critical of my own stuff to be this free, having been diverted to more prosaic tasks, away from the studio. Your post is a timely reminder of that wonderful feeling, ‘the zone’, how it can be.
Thanks for another welcome and comprehensive response to my post Phil. I’m really grateful and touched by your insightful comments on my new piece. I so recognise the ‘whistling/singing’ situation! Such a joy when it happens isnt it? And the work that is such a labour, as you say it can work out in the long run and even become a successful piece. But nothing I think, beats the precious artwork that appears as if from nowhere. It’s perhaps because I am extremely critical of my own works, that I’m a little in awe of the painting that ‘creates itself’. Unfortunately it happens all too rarely for most artists, but maybe that’s why its so special when it does. That’s not to say I think it’s a work of genius just special to me. Perhaps we should encourage other artists to share ‘the one that created itself’, it would probably have to be on something like facebook I suppose. It would be interesting to see them all though!
Your thoughts on how my piece is reminiscent of ‘material breaking down… scuffed paint, flaking iron… salt spray weathering old structures… wild winter coasts’ stunned me because although I didnt have it in mind when I was working on Byzantine, I have recently been studying and sketching a series of works based on the coastal erosion at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast and your words evoke what I was observing exactly. So it just goes to show how the subconscious takes over! By the way I love the way you describe my art, I should get you to write some text for my future exhibitions/catalogues! Thanks again Phil.