By the time I get close to finishing a painting, its rarely a marker of “where I am now” but, more accurately, a marker of where I have been lately…which seems to be a landscape I am passing through with ever-more dizzying acceleration. Started weeks, months or even (my last one) a year earlier, I often feel like I’m editing and honing someone else’s work by the end of the process. Rather than feeling like this detracts from the authenticity of the piece, as though my heart isn’t in it anymore, it feels like it enhances it; like I’ve handed the “book” over to its editors who can objectively refine it. I can appreciate the final result all the more for feeling somewhat detached from its headier ups and downs as I do what is necessary to finish it and can allow myself to be more ruthless with the parts that aren’t really working. Then I find myself spring-loaded from all this patience and the waiting for completion when its time to move on to the next pieces of artwork.
It even (after many years of grimacing) makes me smile to send out finished work that people assume is where I’m currently at whereas I know I am light-years away already. “New” I declare on social media when, to me, it already feels very “old”…or at least a fair few steps behind. Its one of the reasons I love to work in oils; they slow things down, cause you to see things through to the end (or, a lot of people, to give up), to understand the time differential between consciousness and manifestation in a way that grows the kind of patience and trust that can be applied across all of life….whilst always considering ways of getting there quicker, smarter or in entirely new ways. Oils teach you that corner-cutting isn’t always best; that the layers and diversions become part of the finished painting. In over a decade of painting, I’ve abandoned less than a handful of started canvases, preferring to keep at them until they’ve said what they wanted to say…and always pleasantly surprised at how they tend to save up a “last word” that even I didn’t see coming.
The process can feel like spinning gold out of straw. You work very hard to get the best out of what you started when you work like this; and so you learn to appreciate the very best in all your earlier trials and tribulations, the many steps you took to get here.
By the time I’ve been liberated to start on something new, that new artwork comes easily; spring-loaded. I launch into it as though I’m launching into a brand-new life opportunity, a slate scrubbed clean, sensing the piper’s tune of where I am being called to dance off to next whilst knowing exactly what I would do differently to the time before.
So, you could say, being an artist is like living out a very long series of lives. None of them is wrong or regrettable. At layers that are already fast dissolving into the mists of my newly reset memory when I dip that first brush like a very first breath on life (though they remain encoded in the DNA of my evolution as an artist…), all the paintings I have ever done before underpin what I am newly starting without me having to consciously think about this. However different the subject or my style, there is a hidden continuum…like a soft melody or a soul-signature that remains the only constant…and this forms the subtle thread between vastly different artworks and an ever-evolving style across many years.
Its like being born many many times over…and it explains the profound excitement I experience (as well as just a touch of anxiety…) when I look into a blank new canvas, pausing to breathe in whatever potential I feel is asking to be realised here. “Do I even know how to do this?” I still find myself wondering for just a split moment, daunted by the journey ahead, the potential for failure, the huge investment of time, perhaps (but far less so than before) other people’s expectations of me; but then I want this with every fibre of my being and so I dive in.
And almost every time, I see it to the end…even when it feels hard, painful or when the original intention feels “tired”, worn out or lost. Even when, rarely, a canvas gets put aside, I see that too as its own particular ending, taking from the curtailment whatever is asking to be known. Occasionally, but not often now, I completely overpaint a canvas with something else but I find this is never very satisfactory as there are always remnants or ghosts on the canvas that assert themselves because every artwork, finished or not, has a “soul” of sorts and cannot be completely wiped by another identity that walks in. But then, integration of a previous composition into a new one; that can have interesting outcomes that are multilayered and powerful. Oh yes, art has taught me about so much more than “just” art; it has made the creator of me and helped me see vast things in the microcosm.
I work in batches of several paintings at once and concurrent paintings, though rarely similar to look at, work in “teams” on the same themes yet even I don’t tend to know how until all of them are finished, like sheep brought back to the fold where I can view them side-by-side. Until they are all gathered and the gate close on them, I can rarely move on to the next burgeoning impulse and so this keeps me focussed on completion, even while new urges for expression are growing stronger by the day. After all those weeks of ever-more considered movements, the longing to go back to the start and make fluid, primal, wholly expressive marks on canvas is like a profound longing for childhood in the heart of an old woman; and that longing is like a stifled waterfall waiting to thunder down over the edge. The sheer exileration of unleashing what wants to be born makes an addiction out of the rhythms of creation and I can see so clearly why I do it; both painting and living…one and the same.
A new series of work entitled “Moving Water” has just taken its first breath this week; watch this space for updates.