Friday, 26 July 2013

The only constant

I've only made one painting this year. It has been seven months and I have made one painting. At the beginning of the year, I took some time off after a very busy few months at the end of last year. However that was months ago and in another country and I'm home now and all I seem to do is watch my studio gather dust.

That one painting I made was finished three months ago. On a piece of twelve by twelve inch panel, I painted and I hacked and I slashed. I made marks. They were in part angry. That anger is somewhere else now and the painting has been finished for so long that, like my studio, it has become dusty. I have lost my momentum.

A few days ago, I showed that painting, along with the ones from the end of last year, to Steven Heaton – the director of Cross Street Arts where Megan and I had our two-person show in May. It was good to see all the paintings again, however for me it was not a positive experience. I became aware that all of this work, with the exception of three pieces, has been sitting in my store since I made it, slowly sticking to its bubble wrap.

Perhaps this would not be so bad if I had any other shows lined up. Sadly, I have no shows lined up and I am not even looking for any. It is not just my momentum that has diminished, but also my motivation. I simply do not have any. I have all but stopped being an artist at this point. I am not happy.

There is a misconception, held by some, that an artist has to suffer to make art, that a happy artist does not work. (Van Gogh would almost certainly become an example for such a hypothetical 'some'.) It is not true. No one does their best work when they are suffering and, for an artist who has no strict deadlines to adhere to, doing any work at all is unlikely.

I'm going to stop using the third person now, before my sentences become too convoluted. I doubt anyone reading this is under any illusion about whom I am writing.

I have been suffering from depression for almost three quarters of my life. While there have been plenty periods when I have not been affected, it is nevertheless something of an unwanted fellow traveller, a comet caught in my gravity, always to return and cast its shadow. I saw the last bout of it off some years ago and for some time life was going along nicely, yet due to reasons that remain unclear, it returned a year ago. Since then there have been good days and bad days, although no free-from-it days.

My motivation to not just paint, but to do anything, has slipped, reaching close to a flatline. No drive, no ambition, nothing. I'm no longer an artist, just a man with a heavy salted snack food habit, surrounded by a lot of art. It is a situation that needs to end.

So. I'm taking steps. I want to be an artist again. I want to think and act like one. I want to make paintings and get them seen, get them out, out into the public eye. I realised again this week that without an audience it is hard to keep making art. Without some form of recognition, be it a conversation, an email or a comment in a book or online, a feeling of pointlessness can arise. My art is part or me. If no one sees my art, no one sees me.

Seeking validation from others feels like a weakness, the act of the emotionally immature. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. I think of other jobs I've had in the past, before I was an artist. Often in those my work was never complimented, however those jobs tended to be low-paid, and mindless, barely worthy or praise. A well-trained animal could undoubtedly have done them. In jobs where I was employed for my specific skills, I received compliments when I did my work well. Still, those were jobs and the work was simply work, not at all on par with painting. In my paintings I invest more of myself than I have in anything else I've ever made or done, yet when I am painting there is no boss around to compliment me on a job well done. I could as easily be shouting into a hurricane for all the notice the world takes. And why, indeed, should the world take notice? I have no right to attention or praise, no matter how much I may desire it. Without attention or praise, however, the urge to keep going diminishes. Without it, the motivation to keep getting my work out there decreases and without that, the chances of attention or praise grows less. It is a shrinking circle that is hard to break from and in the middle of an extended bout of depression I can see no exit sign. On top of that, I am my own boss and I do not ever seem to be happy with my work. Sometimes, of course, I think too much.

There are days when an endless spiral of negativity are all that I can see. Today, unlike so many blog Fridays this year, I am looking at the negativity, recording it and, in some small way perhaps challenging it.

I've been fighting to keep face for a year now. It has been hard and I am tired. I'm taking steps now. Small ones, admittedly, and maybe not yet steps upwards, yet they are steps. Things change and I know that I too will in time.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Hot hot heat

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on a series of linocuts, that will form part or all of a planned relaunch of my Etsy shop in the not too distant future. This week, my work rate has dropped notably. It's the heat, you see. There's a lot of it. It's all rather unexpected. Edinburgh is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave and my studio, facing south into the brightest summer sunshine every to hit this city (that I can remember), is Very Hot Indeed.

Just now I fetched the thermometer from my film developing cupboard (by which I mean the place I store my developing kit and chemicals, not the place where I develop film, which as you may well know I do in the kitchen sink) and it is reading a little short of 30ÂșC in here. It has never been that hot in here before. I read that it is easier to make linocuts when the lino is hot, however I dare not try. While the lino may well be softer, my brain is slower and the tools are oh so sharp. I'll wait until the room cools before I do that.

I'll leave with a competition, this week. Over on my Facebook artist page, I am nearing 350 likes. Everyone who likes and shares my page between now and 350 will be entered into a draw to win the lovely '51 Plymouth linocut print pictured. This is a one-off piece of art that I hand-inked after hand-pressing the print. Good luck!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Of necessity

Sometimes even when you're doing stuff all the time, it can feel like you're making little progress. The past week feels very much like this. I know I've been doing something, yet looking back it is hard to tell what it was. There is certainly no new artwork around, that I can see. All there really seems to be is a vague plan to do art business things, without anything as concrete as a timescale attached. A scribbled-on piece of paper, a spreadsheet and a lot of Facebook updates and tweets does not make for a satisfying week. Am I not meant to be making art?

Or course, a successful art career needs both good art and business plans – either that or just a shed-load of luck and since I'm not feeling particularly lucky, I'll be needing plans. Right now, I think I'd rather just do some drawing.