Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Destroying and Re-creating

Yesterday I was in the studio destroying paintings.  Well, not exactly destroying, but in the middle of my process it would certainly have appeared that way.  I have a show coming up in September where I will be showing my two series of work that were exhibited in London and Poland.  There are two paintings with which I have never been completely satisfied.  As you may recall, I had repainted my original paintings, which were on board, onto canvas for the London show to facilitate shipping.  In doing so I sometimes was able to improve on a painting, but I didn’t always succeed in a second version that I liked as much as the first.  Often I would try to change one aspect to improve a painting, only to discover that there were other aspects that I hadn’t re-created successfully that made the painting work.  I couldn’t see that clearly until my second attempt provided a contrast.  It wasn’t that the painting didn’t work on its own.  It just wasn’t the original.  Ultimately I had to accept that it was OK for my second versions to stand on their own as unique and separate paintings even if their inspiration came from a prior painting.

But now, I eyed them and contemplated whether I dared to take a paint brush to them.  Is a painting ever done?  It seemed that my semi-abstract paintings were the most challenging.  The originals often had happy accidents that resulted in an effect that I couldn’t seem to re-create. Then in a moment of bravery I began to destroy my paintings.

I find that it is very difficult to destroy in order to create, yet some of my favorite work has arisen from such actions, once totally painting over a painting and turning the subtle image that remained into a new artwork. I admire people who don’t hesitate to start anew, confident that they will land on their feet.  I’ve had to learn to take those leaps and there is always a swallow-hard moment that precedes them.  Whether it is painting out a painting, or leaving a job to venture out on one’s own, each requires an act of letting go, ending one path to find another.  I suspect there is a constellation of traits that define those of us who struggle with such choices.  I’m a bit of a packrat, not good at getting rid of things.  I keep them for history or because I might want them some day or simply because I don’t know what to do with them.  But I admire my friends with streamlined lives and aspire to at least move in that direction.  I think it is by letting go that we make room for the new and that is true in life as well as in paintings.

Five years ago I made that leap in my own life, leaving a career in finance to focus on my artwork and family and cultural history.  And there were quite a few swallow-hard moments that preceded that.  It wasn’t that I didn’t paint or explore family history while I worked, but I did it in a different way, not as intensely, not as focused and not as much in the flow, letting the process unfold.  I do consult periodically, but my new life has gradually been expanding to fill the available space.  In the period since I left my job I’ve gone in new directions.  I did my first solo show, followed by many more and then several international shows.  I began to do public speaking about my artwork and family history and discovered that when you enjoy what you do, it is a natural next step to share it.  And when you are passionate about what you do, that enthusiasm is contagious.  I discovered the power of story and began exploring that further in my artwork and I started painting in series because a stand alone painting wasn’t enough to tell the stories I wanted to tell.  Before long I was creating multi-dimensional projects because the stories demanded it.  I began to partner with organizations and individuals and I accessed technology, creating web sites, video-editing and yes, blogging.  Often I traveled to find the stories I painted.  In recent years I’ve spent a total of four months overseas in eleven countries.  Had you told me five years ago that was what I would be doing, I might have not had so many swallow-hard moments, but I would have missed out on the joy of discovering each new opportunity on my path.

So I’ve learned that letting go of “good enough” while hard, is a necessary step to get to something that I may find more satisfying, whether in a painting or in my life.  And as for those paintings, I left my studio pleased with my newly re-created paintings.  We’ll see how they appear when I view them with fresh eyes today.

1 comment:

  1. The ability to paint (or almost anything of an artistic nature) is just not part of my skill set. It was so interesting to me to read the reflections of an artist, and family/cultural historian. I'm so impressed with not only your art, but your willingness to take risks on so many levels.