Why Aren’t My Paintings PRETTY For God’s Sake?

A reader wrote to me the other day with a simple request. She suggested that I incorporate some of my paintings into the blog sometimes, “… and talk about the inspiration, method, series etc.” She added, “I would love it. Especially, of course, of your horse abstracts. Just an idea in case you ever have writer’s block…”

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And, oh my, what her idea has unleashed! I wrote about my initial thoughts in the previous post, Is There More to Tell?, in which I came to the conclusion that there is, indeed, a real story to tell–about where I was as an artist BEFORE I came to Truchas and AFTER Truchas. It is a story of fences and horses and grasses and how they changed me. In fact the place has had a profound affect on both my work and, of course, on me. I’ve often said this land is powerful, that I’m not being allowed to live on it passively, that it requires something of me. And it does.


Since coming here I have been stripped down to the barest of essentials, living “skinless” for a time, as I came to call it (see previous post How Do We Grow?). My old ways of being have been shattered and I’ve been asked to pick up the pieces, to put myself back together again in new ways (see previous post Puzzling Myself Back Together Again). That’s definitely an on-going work in progress to be sure. I have dwelt deep within my own interior (see previous post What Is Important in Life?), making friends there, and have been guided to stand still and listen, to see (see previous post What do Artists Know?). I feel quite certain none of this would have happened had I stayed in Utah (see previous post The Long Goodbye), although I do believe the move to Utah from Seattle was critical. In fact I’ve often thought I was opened by Utah so I could be healed in New Mexico. This land is actively helping me do that.


So I’ve been digging through all my old photo files looking for pictures to illustrate this story. And a remarkable thing has happened. For some time now, I’d say for at least a year and a half, probably more, I have been seriously doubting myself as a painter. I figure some of you out there can relate to that, right? In fact I’ve had a tendency to look back on a very successful abstract show I had in Utah as my kind of personal gold standard, one I was no longer able to achieve. In my mind’s eye that show was beautiful. The work shined. And I feared that, perhaps, my best work was behind me.


Since coming to New Mexico, color has steadily worked its way out of my paintings and, again, I was fearful. Was I getting lazy or had I forgotten how to use color? Despite what I’ve told myself about the light of New Mexico washing the color out of my work, about being inspired, instead, by all the contrast that light creates, in the dark times I have had doubts. I felt somehow WRONG about my increasingly black, white and gray paintings. I’ve watched jewel-tone paintings sell like crazy while mine, all too often, sat in the gallery. I’ve worried that my work wasn’t trendy. Why wasn’t my work PRETTY for God’s sake?


But as I looked back through the old files, finding photos I’d forgotten about entirely, this remarkable thing I mentioned above happened: I discovered that I no longer even LIKE most of the paintings from that successful Utah show. They, in fact, helped me see the merit in my current work. Offering a glimpse of my own journey, the one that has taken me from there to here, they seem to also be inspiring a hint of the future–those pieces that are not yet painted, but that I see more clearly now, having visited my past.


In the next unknown number of posts, because I believe my artist’s journey just might inform some of yours, I will tell you all the story of how my work went from this:


… to this:

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And yes, dear Sue, I will tell you all about the Horse abstracts.

Love to you all,


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