Probably the ideal artistic practice for me would be someone like Richard Diebenkorn or Gerhardt Richter. Both artists alternate between representational paintings and ethereal abstractions. While I can hardly place myself in their exalted company, I like the idea of change and keeping your viewers off-balance. The ability to thumb your nose at everyone who tries to pigeonhole your artistic practice.
One of the great surprises of my artistic career is that I now create abstract paintings. I think I actually have a prejudice against abstract painters. Just painters, not abstract paintings which I have always loved: from the graphic late Matisse works to the saturated canvases of Helen Frankenthaler and best of all the glowing colours of Mark Rothko.
I just had this theory that artists became abstract artists because they couldn’t draw. I had seen proof of this in my student days at Emily Carr and in studios beyond. You could call it the Picasso effect, if you look at Picasso’s early work you can see that he was a skilled artist but his main fame developed from his cubist period. Later, artists began skipping the exploratory representational period and going right to abstraction. If they had ideas and theories to apply to their work this could be a beautiful thing, but lesser artists just aped the giants in their fields.
Abstraction gave birth to huge groups of people standing in front of paintings and saying things like:
My kid could do that!
What is that supposed to be?
I don’t get it.
Can we go for lunch now?
I was determined that I was going to be able to render well, even though I hated work that was photographically realistic. My theory was that if I could draw, I would be free to explore any ideas I had and not be forced into more design-y work. So I took lots of drawing classes and practiced my life drawing. My life drawing is still not terrific, but I need to be practicing more. As perverts everywhere say, just not enough nude people lying around when you need them.
My process now actually layers paintings that are representational one atop the next. By the end, you can hardly recognize any of the individual layers and the end result is often quite abstract. I can see the layers underneath though, and in my mind it’s a series of representational paintings. I still find it frustrating to not be able to draw exactly the way I would like to on demand, yet some days in the studio are better than others.
Yesterday was an excellent day. We all have things that we enjoy drawing. I have a lot of success with dresses, fruit, desserts and cats. (Not dogs, my dogs range from goat-like to pillowy.) The other thing I love to draw, but am not always successful with, is buildings. The painting I am currently working on is from an old photograph of
Powell Street in the heart of old Japantown. It’s going very well, and although I hardly ever show my work in progress, here’s a photo of how it looks right now. I will be back in the studio today and by tonight it may be completely changed. I just hope I don’t wreck it, but pushing the good work is where I learn the limits.