Recently, I was visiting my friends over at Sloane Merrill Gallery and they decided to give their summer intern the task of putting together a short artist interview with me. For those of you that know me personally, it is obvious that this is a fool’s errand. Giving me the stage in a room full of lovely young women and turning the spotlight on me is no way to get any work done. What started as a few simple inquiries about my art turned into hours of dodging questions, intern teasing, and rambling stories (mostly stories about cows that day). While the afternoon was enjoyable, I didn’t expect many lucid or relevant thoughts to be caught for the interview.
She did, however, manage to sift out one important thought that I want to elaborate on today. When listing to music, I am often overcome with waves of emotion. These moments are very unpredictable and run the spectrum from overwhelming rushes of nostalgia, or feelings of amazing calmness, all the way to what I described as a full body tingle. That rush of excitement that sweeps from head to toe, vibrating your whole body with excitement.
I often worry that people do not experience this sort of purely emotional response from purely visual, static forms of art like painting and sculpture. Looking at great paintings is always intellectually stimulating and is quite and enjoyable experience but, those intense feelings that music so often brings out in me are missing. People tell me that paintings have the ability to stir these emotions but I just don’t get it. It should go without saying; this is a troubling realization for someone who spends so much time and energy creating paintings.
After talking about this concern with the women at the gallery, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am always chasing this idea when I make paintings. I am always trying to create images that I think will trigger these feelings. Images of moments that we have all experienced in some form, images that should trigger nostalgic feelings, or memories of pleasure, or maybe memories of pain. I am fine tuning the colors, adding contrasting visual elements, bits of text, nothing seems to work.
Then it hit me. I have been experiencing these moments the entire time, not with finished paintings but, during the creation of them. So many people describe creating art as therapeutic, relaxing them or bringing them increased feelings of sanity. This is not at all what I experience in the studio. Making art is hard. Not hard physically but, mentally draining. It is a stress filled rollercoaster ride, like a whirlwind romance, filled with dramatic mood swings and chaos, waves of pure pleasure followed but crushing frustration.
Realizing this made me feel a little more relaxed about wasting my life creating paintings. Like so many things in life, it is more about the journey than the destination and, it seems that people can find and appreciate these struggles and emotions in the finished pieces of art. This realization also helps explain why my best paintings feature models that I know and love, even if the imagery of the piece does not necessarily reflect their personality or my relationship with them.
With that in mind, I want to show you my latest piece. It features my, soon to be wife, sunbathing. Like most of my sunbather paintings, I have corrupted an old masters representation of the lamentation of Christ but, that is not important for this blog post. What is important in this context is that I did the initial studies and photographs for this painting, a few years ago when we first met. Back before we were (almost) newlyweds, she was just a pretty stranger walking through The Distillery building, and I was just a broke artist who needed someone willing to model for free. As we started dating the creation of this piece got pushed aside as I was inspired to (somewhat obsessively) work on a large scale portrait of her instead. Now that our relationship is changing once again, I thought it was a good time to bring this piece back, to finish the painting that initially brought us together.
Now, that story has little to do with the message and imagery of the completed painting. I came up with the concept for the painting before we even met and in its world, she is just a helpful volunteer. However, in the studio, where paintings are frequently abandoned incomplete, and the (fairly simple and easy) act of rendering is turned into a dramatic battle within my own mind, having that deeper connection and interest in the model is often the difference between success and failure.
The title of the piece is simply, “Sunbather #4”. It is done in oil on custom birch wood panel and I will be dropping it off at Sloane Merrill Gallery (on Charles Street in Beacon Hill) this afternoon. By popular demand, I have conceded to make a series of smaller pieces that are a bit more affordable and, most importantly, fit into apartments or houses with normal sized walls. If you like this piece, let me know and go by the gallery and have a look. While I really love working large, I know that large pieces are just not practical for many people. So, if the pieces sell and feedback is good, I will try to keep focused on making more small pieces.