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:
Exploit a subject or a theme to its greatest potential by bringing all possible reference to bear — then put aside the reference and create again using the potential of your unfettered imagination. Be prepared to dig around and try this and that. Time and again this third-generation work will gain “importance” and be superior to its precursors.
Attempt to see through the prima facie material in front of you. So many artists are capable of rendering the obvious surfaces of nature. They may even bring great skill and facility to the job. Spend a minute or perhaps an hour truly looking at a subject and asking what may be the exploitable potential of the material. I’m thinking of concepts like “struggle,” “rebirth,” “monumentality,” “humility.” There are hundreds of these words, and, whether you recognize them or not, they can be found in the crevices of your individual personality. Further, you may wish to add an idea or a motif that was not remotely there in the first place. It’s this kind of thinking that makes the act of art truly satisfying and exciting, and if this means anything to you it lifts your work so it connects with the sensibilities of others who pass along in the human stream.
PS: “It was an ever clearer and deeply moving experience of oneness with the spirit of the whole land. It was this spirit which dictated, guided and instructed us how the land should be painted.” (Lawren Harris)
Esoterica: Leaving this green island, this Ireland, I pack my sketches, my records, to my home studio on another continent. From these, from my acquired feelings, from everyone and every place that I’ve touched, I’ll try to build something of value. All of this may only result in one painting. Some of us live with this scantiness. My hope is that whatever I make will exemplify in some way the spirit and magic that I found while here.
This letter was originally published as “Finding spirit” on June 15, 2001.
Sara Genn: New Paintings runs until November 2, 2018 at Voltz Clarke Gallery, 141 East 62nd Street, New York City. If you’re in the neighbourhood, we would love to see you there.
And light has no weight,
Yet one is lifted on its flood,
Running up white-golden light-shafts,
As if one were as weightless as light itself –
All gold and white and light. (Lawren Harris)
Participants will have 6 days to explore and immerse themselves in the ancient art of Batik. There will be a $30 materials fee. The instructor is renowned artist Dikki Van Helsland, who has taught throughout the US and Germany. She is represented by several galleries in Arizona.
The workshop fee is $750 with required accommodations at the historic B & B, Rancho Santa Cruz. For workshop registration contact Dikki at 1-520-399-2703 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reservations for the ranch accommodations are 1-520-955-3718 or email@example.com
Deadline for the workshop is Sept. 20 with a $300 deposit, nonrefundable after Oct.1