A reader wrote recently expressing an interest in both my paintings and my process (see previous post Is There More to Tell?). While her interest lay mainly in my New Mexico work, her query has made me realize I do have something of a story to tell, one that could have meaning to some of you as you pursue your own artist paths (see previous post Why Aren’t My Paintings PRETTY For God’s Sake?). And I came to understand there was no telling it without starting at the beginning.
So You Think Artists Are Lazy?
As most of you know, I didn’t paint for 26 years after college, where I was a painting and drawing major and a printmaking minor (see previous post High Road Artist: My Story Begins). What you may not know is that coming back to painting took a tremendous commitment and no small amount of effort. Not only did I have to leave my corporate life and prepare to earn a living in a way completely foreign to me, I also had to remember how to paint.
Once I gave a year’s notice at my traditional job, I had only that year to set aside enough money to live on for the following year. That was my plan: to give myself a safety net of a year before I had to start earning a living from painting. I got very busy squirreling away money.
And I started teaching myself how to paint again. I practiced every night after work and all day on both weekend days. This meant there was no more time for TV (although I allowed myself to record my favorite shows to be watched on Friday nights, my one night off) and no time for dalliances such as the newspaper or magazine subscriptions; no socializing with friends. In fact I felt there was no time to waste. I painted every free minute. I see as I write this that I was still in my business head–just transferring all those regimens to an “art life,” but I didn’t really speak the language yet. I was still basing everything in discipline, not desire. I hadn’t yet set myself entirely free and wasn’t touching into my artist’s soul. But I had taken the first huge step. I’d given notice at my traditional job and was preparing to leave the security of a paycheck behind.
I don’t have digital records of the first paintings I did then, but this was my third or fourth, a portrait of my dear friend, Buffy.
As I look at these early pieces I am drawn to their more painterly quality, something I was unable to maintain as time went by. My paintings became tighter and tighter no matter my desires. I believe this had something to do with my perceptions of pleasing others, born of the many and various comments and asides from family and friends, that affected my work quite powerfully. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t yet discovered my own eye, my own vision, my artist’s soul, as I said earlier, that made me particularly susceptible to others’ opinions.
This is my dog, Savannah…
… my friend, Sam…
… a self portrait…
… and this was my very first commissioned portrait, painted for a coworker while I was still doing my corporate job. In fact it was this commission that helped me begin to believe I might have a future as a working artist.
The first three years I “earned my living” (this stated very loosely) painting commissioned portraits. This is my childhood friend and blog reader, Joy Patterson…
… Miriam and her horse…
… and my good friend, Jane.
However, there came a time when I could no longer paint portraits simply because they were too nerve-wracking. I was always so certain they would be rejected that I was a nervous wreck by the time they were finished. In fact my friend, Joy, was with me when I delivered the below painting, along with its companion piece, to its new owner. She said I was visibly shaking while standing there presenting them. It didn’t help that their owner, the person who’d commissioned them, had been a very close, personal, friend of Andy Warhol’s and I was looking at several of his originals on the opposite wall.
There was simply no sustaining that, so I started painting genre pieces with no idea of how they might sell. It was just after beginning these that I applied for a show at a community gallery called ArtsWest in West Seattle. I only had one piece completed by their stated deadline so I submitted one slide with a resume. A few weeks later the gallery director called and asked where I was showing and why I had submitted only one painting. When I told her I was unrepresented, she asked if she could come see me in my studio. And THAT is how I received my first one-woman show.
This is the only digital record I have from that show. It’s a painting of my nephew, Dan, sitting in our family’s cabin on Vashon Island.
I have very few digital files of my older genre work, and no large files for this one, but it was always one of my favorites:
For those of you unfamiliar with the term “genre art,” here is how Wikipedia defines it: “Genre works, also called genre scenes or genre views, are pictorial representations in any of various media that represent scenes or events from everyday life, such as markets, domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, and street scenes. Such representations may be realistic, imagined, or romanticized by the artist. Some variations of the term genre works specify the medium or type of visual work, as in genre painting, genre prints, genre photographs, and so on.” I came to think of my paintings as historical portraits, using style of dress, types of activities and objects specific to our time, that might give a viewer a hundred years from now an idea of what it was like to live during our contemporary times.
I had started the journey of moving away from a more traditional business life, into that of a working artist, on my own. But just as I was leaving my corporate job, I met the man who would become my husband. Together we would decide to leave Seattle for a life in a small, rural, town in southern Utah, which had a dramatic affect on my work.
That next up on Wednesday…
Love to you all,