Sometimes I feel like a stubborn, petulant child being made to color within the lines when I really feel like scribbling. This happens a lot and nobody is making me do it; I create constraints all by myself. Then there are other times when I am handed a great opportunity and I still resist.
For the past two months I have been immobilized by an invitation to be in a show about architecture. The theme is one that I have explored many times before, but since my show of house and church collages last year, my thoughts have been elsewhere.
Over the last year I have been working on mixed media paintings, enjoying a newfound freedom in abstract, non-objective work. Just when I thought I had moved on and was finished with representation for a while, I am pulled back in that direction.
In theory, I understand all the reasons why change can be invigorating and that repetition has its own rewards, but the prospect of returning to a familiar theme has brought up a lot of resistance. My brain says, “Yes”, but emotionally I have to find a way back into the subject. Somewhat begrudgingly, I put away my non-representational work and am refocusing on the familiar theme.
Knowing that something is good for me doesn’t help that much; It does as much good as New Years resolutions, which is to say, not much. Maybe it comes from having a temperament shared by many other artists, that of gravitating to one thing and then wanting to do the polar opposite next.
Over the past few years I have been shifting between labor-intensive, crafted work to more open, expressive art. These are the two sides of my artistic self that I have always had: The neat, graphic abstractionist and the impatient, messy artist. I am both the high school student immersed in her subscription to Graphis Magazine and the college student building crudely constructed sculptures from objects found on the street.
When I alternate between representational and non-representational art or refined versus more inelegant styles, I sometimes gain clarity, like when you hold your artwork up to a mirror to see the unvarnished truth of your composition. Even the time spent not working on art has value. It is the sherbet between courses, a palette cleanser. But change is hard and takes courage unless you are naturally a risk taker or averse to commitment. I am neither and unless events occur that force my hand, I find the whole business of change to be challenging.
Finding new life in a familiar subject and nurturing the curiosity necessary to work begins with a commitment to face my resistances. My first step is just showing up. Choosing any subject, method or material will eventually lead to a solution because, as the old adage goes, “ All roads lead to Rome”. I usually fail terribly at first and the initial attempts may not be the solution I anticipated or thought I wanted, but it will begin to seduce me. With a little luck, kindness and realistic expectations, I can do this. If I put in the hours and use my imagination, inevitably something new will be revealed during the process and I will find a way to fall back in love with an old subject. Happily, I think I have found a way into my new series and I am encouraged. I pulled wood out of a dumpster last week and the other day bought large sheets of cardboard at the shipping store. It’s a start.
Right now, I am consumed by the dilemma of whether to use cardboard or wood, paint or collage. These decisions loom large for me, although they are laughably minor. My thoughts bounce from the practical (Will it cost too much or will it require framing?) to thoughts about the surface qualities of different materials. If initially I am unsure what I am trying to convey, working will eventually reveal that to me.
When I get tired of the recurring problems that always plague me, whether in the studio, or in my life, I hope I can remember to bring more creativity to finding solutions. I would like to remind myself that avoidance isn’t the answer. It is in the willingness to pick up a new tool or the decision to rummage through a dumpster where everything will be revealed. The alternative is deadening. Risk and change are the artist’s best tools, even if that means returning to art you thought you were finished with and had resolved. I have come to believe that nothing is ever really finished for me and those old ideas can have new life because I am always changing too.
Photo credit: All work by Lorraine Heitzman