Sunday, July 5, 2009

Art Insights - The Usefulness of Absence

I've been pulled back from my art, and after a while that lends perspective. I'm not saying I was deliberately stepping back for the bigger picture, but I seem to be getting some insights by accident.

1. I realized that I want to push my paintings. I'm not satisfied doing the same thing well - I want to be reaching for more.

2. I'm still excited by color, more than anything else.

3. Certain artists have come into the foreground for me over the last few years. I'm drawn to them. They're my artistic family, with have similarities I can't ignore. Hundertwasser, Nolde, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Klee, Cezanne, Bernard, Klimt, Schielle, Munch. These are my guides, somehow.

a. They are not at all afraid of color.
b. They paint recognizable subjects.
c. They let paint be paint, but also make the paint serve the image they are creating.
d. There is a sense of light and place in most of their works.
e. Their paintings are generally beautiful, though the subject matter is not always.
f. Their works are composed, and the compositions are recognizably part of their style.
g. Possibly most of all, there is an immediacy and feeling of exploration in every stroke which feels like their inner child is holding the brush. That child may be hurt, or obsessed with the erotic, but it's still a child that is painting. Their work isn't too polished, either - it has a reality that makes it breath, like a musical recording where you can still hear the fingers move on the strings.

4. I still prefer to strive for a sense of play and a gleeful light to come through the pieces I create. I'm moved by strong, sober paintings when I visit museums, but I would not want to live with them, or spend a lot of time creating them, either. I feel like these preferences are simply choosing the company I keep.

5. I am impatient of spending time painting something I don't care about - something I don't want to paint, something I don't LOVE to paint.

6. I find that my pieces have more meaning for me, and that I'm pushed harder to create the right image, if there is a story. Having something I am striving to illustrate brings more of me into play, and the art shows this, I think. The paintings I created for a friend's poem (she is looking for a publisher) are still among my very best, I feel. And painting them stretched me considerably.

7. I've instinctively been looking for a subject or a poem that drives images. Today I leafed through a book of Cavafy poems. They stirred me, but they didn't seem to be from the right country. I'm looking for the verse or prose that is from the same country as my paintings. I know it exists. I sense it's at the tip of my fingers. It probably in a book right here in the house.

8. Most importantly, regardless of the other ways my creativity is being expressed right now, I miss painting. It fills a part of me. I don't want to live without it. I am enjoying feeling the tug of it on my heart while I'm busy doing other things. The tug is growing stronger.

I spent part of the last few days in bookstores, looking at several artists. Seurat (I like his drawings better than his paintings, which seem over-composed to me). Chagall (I love his colors and the dreamy way his paintings make me feel, but his paintings seem under-composed to me). Toulouse-Lautrec (So much acid green and pink, reds and oranges - I felt like I was looking at the Mannerists, again, who painted after the Italian Renaissance, and who also favored these hot hues and exagerated human figures. I love his drawing - his paintings always work as fine drawings, as well). Cezanne (I bought a small book, and I'm looking forward to reading more about his method - looking at things the way he did. More than most artists, I think his art is about SEEING).

Yesterday Daughter and I were out driving and then spent some time on Ninth Street in Durham. We went to the Regulator bookstore, which was open even on the 4th of July. I could not believe the number of art related magazines on their racks. I looked through more than ten, all with slightly different focus, from the more traditional ArtNews, to some avant garde and "art brut" publications. They made me tired. Some interesting or intriguing things were there, but mostly it felt like trying too hard to impress. I used to be intimidated by these trade rags, and the seriousness of the art they publish - now it just seemed sadly grown up, in a boring way. Some little voice in my head wonders if I'm dodging the challenges implied in the magazines - copping out on trying to create something that relevant - but that makes me grin. Nope. I just think it ought to be more fun than that.

I don't know where this hiatus will end up, but I'm aware that, under all the lack of activity, I'm on a journey. I also know that at some point I have to paint my way along that road, I can't just ride above it all with my brushes standing upside down in jars, clean, dry bristles in the air, and with my face in books.

Painting in the photo above is "Singing the Catfish's Song" - the first painting I sold, on opening night of the gallery we founded in Hillsborough, NC. I left the gallery after a year, but it was a great experience and launched my art again. I visited the Gallery on Friday and was greeted warmly by one of the other founders, Chris Graebner, a talented painter of large, vivid blossoms, and a certified botanical artist. This third year is their best year, even with the recession, and seven of the original 15 artists are still there. It's a co-op, owned by the artists. If you're in Hillsborough, check them out. Hillsborough Gallery of Arts.


linda said...

steve, this is a post i will need to read over and over to get the meat of it for myself -at some point you wonder why...... now as I try to express physical pain in a meaningful satisfying way, I am very frustrated and want to give up...

have a good week...

Lisa said...

This post was like reading you think out loud. The depth to which you go when you think of your art amazes me. It's so hard when you are pulled in so many directions, but it seems from reading this, that you are thinking in a very focused way.

I look forward to what comes next from you. As always.

Michelle said...

I love painting poetry!

Its so fluid at times.


susan said...

Over the course of a long life there have been many times when I've packed the brushes and paper away for extended periods while taking up other interests. Strangely enough, every time I've returned to painting I've been a better artist. It's probably much the same with you and taking the time required to process your growing awareness.

That is a very lovely painting and has your signature style.

Genie Sea said...

You could have a poetry contest here! :) Who knows what muses would come out of the webwork? :)

giggles said...

Yes, Delicious reading thoughts about the process...thanks for sharing....... (Time for me to break out the stuff and just paint...stop worrying..... Oh I wish......I wish.......)

Steve Emery said...

Thank you, all - it seems even harder today to get painting in there... Still have a haircut to do, then dinner, then movie - I'm not missing painting today. Too good a day already.

Osprey said...

Hello Steve, I hate that I didn't catch you at the gallery. Thank you for mentioning it in such fond terms on your blog. We have had several hits on our site that originated from you blog site. We all (original 7) terribly miss your presence in the gallery, both your unparallelled inspired leadership and art. Perhaps one day you'll find your way to membership again.

linda said...

steve, I keep seeing a different post, one posted within the last few days, and then come visit you but am disappointed not to see the new must have yanked it before I got to read it! :(

oh well....hoping you are enjoying life this summer! lots of ice cream cones and late nights with your dearest under the stars..

Leah said...

how exciting that you are at a crossroads with your art! i look forward to seeing where the journal will take you, steve!!