Friday, 2 March 2012

It's not all plain sailing

Sometime near the beginning of this week, I finished the final square painting I intend to make for Kevin Low and my upcoming show (Worlds Apart, Union Gallery, April). I was left with the last panels I planned to paint on, both large and empty rectangles. I've been painting exclusively on squares since September and in that time I have come to love the shape. I found then that facing again a blank rectangle was oddly unnerving, enough so that I soon began to doubt if I could do anything with these panels.

Megan suggested that I ended the series where it was and show only the square paintings. She told me that I had created some strong pieces and they will make a good show. I was of course thrilled to hear this, nevertheless I had a plan and I did not want to change it. I also really did not want to stop painting so soon. In these last few months, I have felt more confident than ever in my work, at the same time I have really, properly, enjoyed it. Stopping, therefore, was simply not an option. I knew also that if I did not paint on these 'last two' then I would be left unsatisfied. Despite this, with their different shape as well as the strange gap that had opened in my work flow, something would be different in these pieces. Upon reflection, I realised that I had here the perfect opportunity to create a postscript to my series.

It's been a frustrating week.
Still, I was unable to make a mark. I could not visualise what to paint or how this would function as a postscript. As the days passed, my frustration grew and so I sought again the advice of Megan Chapman, art soothsayer. She suggested that rather than using the motif of two elements apart, I could try moving them together. It was exactly the kind of can't-see-the-wood-for-the-trees idea that I needed to spur me back into action. I realised that it would also, if handled well, function as the postscript I was looking for.

After a little more thinking and planning and some rough sketching, I began to paint. My thinking and planning and sketching, however, had not quite resolved my format problem. I found that what had been successful on a square, would not work on a rectangle. It was not a happy discovery.

My initial idea would not cohere – the proportions were both ugly and clich├ęd, they moved horribly all over the panel and my marks were becoming oddly jarring. I simply could not make what I had in my head work in reality. Eventually, I completely scrubbed out everything and re-coated the panel with white gesso. I was back at the start. This was a hard decision, although one that I had no choice but to make because it had became clear to me that I could easily have spent days chasing paint across the panel, without reaching any conclusion and getting more and more irritable.

At half past eleven the next night, sitting on the sofa with the barren panel in my line of sight, if not in my attention, an idea slipped in from my subconscious. After several days of mulling, and one false start, something solid was pushed from one part of my brain to the other, with red flags, alarms and plenty of impetus. There was a clear message: 'paint this now!'

It was late and I resisted. Yet I knew I could not let the idea slip away and so I got up and made a few graphite guide marks, that I told myself I could pick up in the morning and then I sat back down. A moment or two later, I thought that I should mix in a little oil, just to give it a bit more shape, to move it closer to the new idea. I got up and added some oil and then a little more graphite. Then I made a few more marks and then a few more again. At this point I decided to put on some music. Soon, I knew that I was not going to go to bed when I had intended. I was very glad not to.

After all of the anguish, frustration and irritation, part one of my postscript is now well on its way to completion. It has been a more difficult than anticipated week of painting. Even so, I would not change any of it. I've painted and I've moved on, I've learned more. I also, as it happened, varnished a lot of paintings, sorted out their edges and put hanging on the back of them, but that is another story.

Part two of my postscript looms nearby, blank and hungry. I turn in my chair as I write this paragraph to stare it in the empty eye. That bugger is not going to give me any grief. It knows its place.

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