Getting Rid of Elvis: Revision in Writing and Painting
Getting rid of Elvis was a difficult decision. There he was,
right where I put him, in the second line of a poem about a
portrait painted by Goya. An early draft of the poem began:
Don't you think the archbishop has nice eyes?
In their warmth, they are not unlike those of Elvis Presley.
The problem was that the poem imagined the day-to-day life
of the archbishop. Elvis just didn't belong, not because he
had blue eyes and the archbishop's were brown, but because his
presence overpowered the archbishop. It was painful when I deleted
the line because I loved it. What enabled me to finally let
Time was the key. I could not have deleted the line when the
poem was young. It needed time to age. As it grew older, its
faults became more numerous than its virtues, making it easier
to delete. What did I do with Elvis? I put him in my day book
(Judy's Journal: October, '04), where he waits in the wings
for a chance to appear in another poem.
When I paint, decisions and revisions come with every brush
or palette knife stroke, every new blob of color on my palette,
and each return to the painting after an absence of moments,
or in some cases, years. This is my dance with the canvas: step
back, move forward, go away, repeat, repeat, repeat. Look at
the work from a measurable distance. But more importantly, trust
the distance of time. Four years ago, I made a painting of an
aqueduct in the south of France ("Nyon") that had
a road going under it that looked stuck there.
Last week, I was ready to work on it with experience and skill.
I gave the work (and myself) some space for learning, which
helped me to revise the road, as well as the sky, in "Nyon."
This last idea is from Art & Fear: Observations on the
Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted
Orland. The book is rich with thinking and strategies that help
me take stock of what it means to "keep on keeping on"
In addition to giving the work some time to rest, getting/giving
feedback from/to others helps in the revision process. The areas
of a painting that are unresolved can take on the power of a
haunting. What is happening with that stone wall along the
bottom of the painting? I decided to take "Landscape
Tapestry III" to an art critique, where Jackie Ross said,
"I'd like a ladder to help me climb over that wall."
Her comment made me recall my decision to make the stone wall
a formidable barrier. I wanted the viewer to work hard to get
into the painting; the stone wall was a metaphor for life's
challenges. Jackie made me think about that decision.
A few weeks later, because I could not look at the painting
without hearing her comment, I fashioned paper strips into a
ladder and taped them onto the painting. It would still require
some effort, but now there was a way into the painting. The
strong verticals of the ladder brought the eye up into the area
which carries the most interest. I removed the strips and painted
the ladder. "Landscape Tapestry III" can be seen in
the Worcester Art Museum's Education Wing until January 28,
2005. It will appear May 1 in the Gallery on this web site.
The post-Elvis draft of "the archbishop's portrait"
I mentioned in the first paragraph appears in Poets in the
Galleries, edited by Francine D'Alessandro and myself, and
is available in the gift shop of the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester,
January's journal will be devoted to my museum shoes. Black,
clunky, and beyond comfortable, I could have never predicted
all the places they've taken me. If you'd like, you can email
me with your ideas, questions or comments about the creative
process at email@example.com.