A subscriber wrote, “How do I progress from the work I am currently doing? I feel like I’ve been working on the same few problems for years and want to “level up” in ideas, if for no other reason than to hone a more distinct style. I’m stumped at how to do this. How does one advance, for lack of a better word, a ‘practice’?”
While work technically begets work, if genuine evolution is to occur, one needs to be open to the possibility of error, dead ends and pushing your materials and subjects beyond their original purpose. As your work reveals characteristics that catch your attention, grab onto themes, techniques, mannerisms, subject matter, calligraphic marks and colourways. “It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it,” wrote Georgia O’Keeffe, of her beloved Cerro Padernal. She painted it more than 20 times, inflicting her style upon it with increasing conviction until mountain and painter became bonded to one another as part of each’s very meaning.
Here’s an idea: Identify a leitmotif in your current work and choose a simultaneous exploration for it: new scale, new media, new vibe. Change the weather. Make it a poem. Grab hold of its spirit. Emily Carr, at first a student of European painting traditions, then inspired to work in the “marvelous modern manner,” broke through the conventions of her era and sought to embody the essence she so strongly felt of the deep coastal forests of Western Canada. Her paper, her solvent, her Phthalo Green; her reaching, wind-bent trunks evolved over the course of years of trying her themes, every which way. J.M.W. Turner painted London and then London’s inclement skies, until his work became the sky, and the sky, his work. As we begin to own our own themes, we simultaneously offer them to the world, in their new expression. By its very nature, art is designed to make a form of life’s experiences in this way. As the maker, you make it happen amidst garden variety toil.
PS: “Your style shines light on your exploration.” (Robert Genn)
Esoterica: While visiting the studio of Vancouver artist Fei Disbrow recently, evidence of simultaneous exploration hit a juggernaut. Textile collage, lightboxes, image collage, printmaking, soft sculpture, low relief forms, installation and drawing are all interwoven into a practice that explores composition and materiality. Fei recontextualizes shirting, wool, felt, mylar, paper, photographs, string, construction material, and a sheeny, translucent waterproof fabric used for hazmat suits called Tyvek, among other humble materials. Within all this complexity emerges elegantly restrained compositions that defy media or genre. Why are her explorations so intriguing to me? It is, perhaps simply that her unadulterated play is on full display. She is unstumped by stagnancy. She embraces her themes, her repetition, the enjoyment of her process, yet shifts forms so stealthily I slip into them, too. Without a jolt or fanfare, without a chronology of completion, I’m seduced into the intimacy of the next uncategorizable object’s micro-pleasures, stitched and stuffed there.
The exhibition Sara Genn: Looking for Colour is on view at Gallery Jones, 1-258 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, BC, Canada until November 13, 2021.
“Nothing can be done except little by little.” (Charles Baudelaire)
Join Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at www.EllieHarold.com.
I am a painter. I am delighted to be a painter.