The monsoon season is here. Not that monsoons are a regular thing here in north Texas, but this year’s hurricanes have dumped more than the usual share of sogginess. That, combined with a premature cold front, makes it a pretty good day to be inside making art. Except for one thing. The studio is undergoing some sprucing up; it behooves me to stay out of the contractor’s way and allow him to toil away without my interference. So today, blog-writing it is.
Writing forces me to articulate the internal and external forces that influence, motivate, or get in the way of making art. I seem to find it helpful to explain myself to myself, thus this blog. In doing so, questions arise, like this one. What is it about a new material or surface that pulls me in? There are artists who have painted in one medium, say watercolor or oils, their entire artistic lives. They’ve fallen in love with it, and remain faithful. Because their focus is so sharp, they have become masters of the medium, liberating them to seriously play with content, subject matter, or another element of the process. It’s a respectable and honorable way to do art.
Part of me envies that focus. Don’t get me wrong. My studio habits are pretty good—I show up almost every day. And I can identify common threads in the work—linear elements, long flowing arcs, implied or actual texture, patterns, nature, a strong color palette. I’ve worked with acrylics and mixed media on canvas, not exclusively, although consistently, since 2014 now. But the siren call of an exciting new art supply is hard to ignore.
Metallic paint, for example, contributes spark to a work, and I continue to use it often. But when I tried metal leaf, its properties surprised me, the process engaged me, and the results felt so worth the learning curve. Even though I’m not a traditional artist, working with gold leaf connects me to the makers of gilded frames and religious icons of the past.
Canvases are typically rectangular or square. No problem with that. But when I saw the potential of painting on ceramic plates, holding back was not an option. The orb has its own presence, a sense of completeness in itself. Using a familiar process on circular concave surfaces resulted in works that make me smile.
Then there’s acrylic on canvas, either alone or with other media, which has been a staple in my studio. Until recently, I hadn’t tried acrylic on paper. An enormous “aha” sprang from my core as this simple material opened the door to the concept of practice. (See Putting the “practice” in my studio practice) Now I understand better why the masters created numerous studies before attempting a larger painting. Although good paper is not cheap, it is more economical than canvas, so there’s less pressure to get it right the first time. I just simultaneously painted the same abstract landscape three times! I tried various approaches side-by-side, and each study taught me something I hope will lead to a compelling larger work.
So what about the assemblages? Where does that come from? I’ve always been drawn to interesting pieces of junk–the discarded arm of a chair or a metal artifact from an old machine. Re-purposing them appeals to my practical side, probably from a childhood of farm life where making do with what we had was an everyday thing. I also find that working in three-dimensions requires a bit of engineering, not my natural bailiwick. It’s exhilarating to meet that kind of challenge, and end up with something whimsical and quirky.
That’s quite a bit of variation for one studio practice, but I’ll bet there are kindred spirits out there. Writing this tells me I’m not the kind of artist who is aiming to master a medium so much as master a way of being an artist. To me, that means experimentation, self-expression, and the joy of invention. Thanks for humoring my rainy day musings as I explain me to me.