Thursday, October 15, 2015

beginning and becoming

Three years ago I started painting portraits as a job.

(Is it too soon to look back ponderously?)

I had spent the previous winter sewing slippers for peanuts and arbitrarily slapping paint on canvases rescued from RISD's garbage, while being full of angst about having two kids in daycare and not a lot of creative progress to justify it. Jason suggested I return to figurative painting (the quiet sub-text of which was, these recent abstracts are not going anywherrrrrre), which I had studied with some success in college.

So I did a very small and very quick sketch of Auden, and decided that was enough to build a business on. Here:

I mean, it's not horrible, as sketches go, but it's also not exactly something to write home about, let alone launch an entirely new career idea from. But! You cannot interpret an artist's vision using logic.

After that, I did this portrait (that looks uncannily like a very young VanGogh) for some friends of ours:

And even though I was using old splayed brushes and had no plan whatsoever, I thought, I'm on my way! 

You can picture the following year as a montage of flurried brushstrokes, agonized head-clutching, and weepy self-doubt, on maddening repeat. (Did you ever see that awful movie about Modigliani, 
starring Andy Garcia? I was like Soutine with the "Madness" painting. Or was it a cow carcass?) I struggled so much with each piece, but could never admit it for fear of insulting my clients or revealing myself as a total charlatan.

But, as I read somewhere in something, you learn how to work by working. 

Three years later, I'm here:

And even though I can see that I've gotten better, I also feel like I have SO MUCH more to learn, and so many other things I want to try. I look around at other artists' work and think, damn, I want to do it like that. I want to get there.

It just recently occurred to me that the reaching feeling is never going to go away. I've been blundering toward a vague notion of success -- that shifting destination -- thinking that once I get there I won't have to try so hard anymore, or be so vulnerable or unsure anymore. Basically, I won't have to be stuck with myself anymore. 

But I keep coming along! 

Auden was maybe four years old in that first sketchy attempt. Now he's 7, and is shedding and gaining teeth like a shark. His mouth is a jumble of haphazard angles and gaps, and the other day I caught myself wanting to hurry up and see his finished smile (and also fretting about the inevitable orthodonture)... But THIS is it, you know? This imperfect moment on the way.

I can't get out of it, and neither can my painting. I want to hurry up and arrive, and be done with the awkward fits and starts of becoming, but really, each piece is only the final version of that one step in the process. And it's all process.



Anonymous said...

Wow, beautiful! I am rather partial to #2, myself. ;) But #3 is amazing!

Robin Danely said...

I still do love that one of Laird! Crazy how much my style has changed... I don't know if I could do that again if I tried. :)