Early in my career I came to know an artist by the name of Lawren Harris. On one of our walks together he told me that he thought paintings came out of themselves. He explained that the painting you are doing right now is the springboard for the next and the next after that. When paintings follow one another, in series or in similar format, they “learn” from one another. A useful technique is to vary the approaches to the development of the series. The whole idea, as I’ve come to understand and apply it, is to better extract the spirit of subjects. Here are a few methods:
Growing up hunting and trapping in rural Texas, Wyman Meinzer believes he’s covered every foot of the Badlands. “In August in this region, Texas is a virtual hellhole,” he says. “And I’ve seen some cold weather… as cold as it gets in this country and my dad telling us to go saddle up our horses and the winds out of the north are 30 miles an hour and it’s 15 degrees and I was thinking, ‘My God. Not today, please.’”
Here’s a simple system that builds creativity immediately. (Writing that line made me feel like a snake-oil salesman. But I digress.) I’m talking about pushing yourself to doing just one more thing every day. Results are guaranteed if you do it for a week. (Sorry, there I go again.)
With personal biorhythms, obligations, as well as climate, season, and other factors, we all have our times of maximum creativity and efficiency. In my case I seem to be at my best in the early morning
When Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1946, she packed up her home in New York for the last time and moved permanently to Ghost Ranch. She was 59 years old. Having first visited Taos in 1929 with her friend and fellow artist Rebecca Strand, Georgia had already fallen in love with the Southwest and poured herself into painting it. “Well! Well! Well!” she said on first glance. “This is wonderful. No one told me it was like this!” From that year on, she had made Abiquiú her second home, even customizing her Ford Model-A with an easel so she could drive out into the desert alone and paint in the back seat.
A few years ago a thief looked in a gallery window and saw what he thought was a painting by a relatively expensive, dead artist. Using an accomplice to distract the dealer, he grabbed it and fled. It turned out to be one of mine. I know the disappointment he must have felt because the painting soon appeared in a nearby dumpster. This is an example of someone trying to steal something that might have been successfully fenced in an auction or another gallery. I fooled ’em.
An artist wrote to ask if he needed a contract. “Just trying to get my act together and be professional as I try to work with more galleries,” he said. While an agreement sounds obvious, it’s not always the case for a gallery to push a piece of paper across the desk when offering to take you on. Like us, dealers are often dreamers, constructing a mystery and magic in a business sometimes still joyfully held up by a parcel of paintings, enthusiasm and a handshake.
A subscriber wrote, “I was wondering what you would have to say about saving a painting by reworking it. I do watercolours and when things go wrong, they usually head south fast. But I sometimes go in and try to save things. Does trying to save a painting ever really work? Have you ever gotten a great painting out of one that was on its way to the dumpster?”
Twenty-four-year-old British artist Henry Yang is offering his paintings for sale in what he calls, “fractional ownership.” Through a digital marketplace dealing in blockchain cryptocurrency, Henry invites multiple shareholders, including himself, to get in on collecting. He recently sold his painting, Arabidopsis Thaliana (Thale Cress), for £3,000 and kept 10% of the ownership. He says it helps waylay the loss he feels when letting them go. Now, Henry can co-loan Arabidopsis Thaliana out for a charge and disperse the dividends to his co-shareholders.
Horace Walpole once remarked of Sir Joshua Reynolds, “All his own geese are swans, as the swans of others are geese.”
I’ve heard variations of this idea from some of my artist friends. There have even been times, perish the thought, when I’ve caught myself being like that. In most cases it’s got something to do with the ongoing problem that we ourselves just never seem to have enough swans. Sometimes there’s nothing but ducks.
A letter came about a small painting done by my dad when he was 27:
“My mum bought it from the Art Emporium in Vancouver in 1964. It fascinated me when I was a kid. There is a red object/figure on a rocky island. Is it a person or a building? …And at the right there is an aircraft flying away. It might be a Canso but I’m not sure. I haven’t seen it for many years and just came across it helping my mum (age 93) clean up her basement. She gave the painting to me because she is blind and said, ‘Well I can’t see it anyway, you may as well have it,’ (Bless her heart.) I still really like it and am still puzzling over it’s story, if there is one.”