Have you ever had one of those moments when you finally feel
vindicated, or less misunderstood and out of the loop? Reading
April's ARTnews had those effects on me, albeit for a
Its cover delivered the theme by asking the rhetorical question:
"Painting: Are the Rules Changing?" I am certainly
not the only painter who tore through the issue, searching for
the articles designed to inform me of a new trend, one that
I might actually be a part of. Two piqued my interest immediately:
"Multiple Personalities" by Ann Landi and "Boundary
Issues" by Rebecca Spence. Note the word choices in each
title: they imply some sort of trouble in artistic paradise.
Before I delve into the articles, let me share two judgments
about my painting I have heard over the years: "You are
all over the place" and (intended to be more helpful) "Paint
more pieces like this one."
Here's the truth about my process: "Art making
with an intellectual and psychological urge to explore what
is on my mind," (preface from my unpublished manuscript,
Reciprocity). Once I begin to create, I lose control.
In "Multiple Personalities," Ann Landi interviewed
curators whose visits to several studios all over the world
revealed a new trend. Michael Darling (MOCA/LA) said, "These
artists seemed to be making a kind of attack on the concept
of a signature style and to be engaged in a promiscuous working-through
of different genres."
In the nearly ten years since I returned to painting, I had
the notion that I probably should be working toward that
self-same signature style. Then I'd step up to the easel, and
bask in the knowledge that I would never be famous anyway, so
therefore I would not have to subscribe to that "rule."
Michael Darling concludes by saying, "[Painting] is activated
and prodded one way or another
by other things going on
in the artist's mind." If one style of painting or another
suits the subject, I am free (a.k.a. promiscuous) to use it.
I rest my case!
Here's another evaluative comment about my artwork: "I
like looking at your work, because the more I look, the more
I see." It explains my interest in Rebecca Spence's article,
"Boundary Issues." She discussed artists who are using
both abstract and representational styles in the same painting,
in what she calls the "creative free-for-all that is today's
art world." I immediately thought of the nineteenth century
and J.M.W. Turner's later work, which pushed toward complete
abstraction, and Gustave Moreau's luminous washes of color,
from which he teased out phantasmagorical architectural shapes
and mythical figures. This has been going on for centuries,
and now it has been identified as a trend.
Spence quotes contemporary artist Elizabeth Neel, who falls
into that category of "artists, [for whom] experimenting
with a middle ground is an effective way to capture the viewer's
attention. Neel said, "When people look at paintings that
they can't define as abstract or representational, it forces
them to really engage." Like Neel, that is an effect I
relish when someone is looking at my paintings. I want people
to work at looking at my work because it is not obvious. After
reading the article, I realized that occupying this stylistic
middle ground between abstraction and representation not as
something I have necessarily thought out: it just happens.
Will the kiss of death come when someone says, "I could
tell that is your painting."? (It has already happened.)
Or, "You actually used two-point perspective!" (Already
happened, too.) Do you notice a coherence among my pieces when
you look in the Gallery Chapters? Help! What if I am working
toward a signature style without intending to do so? Such anxiety!
Here is my answer: As much as I believe that reflecting on my
work is an important part of my artistic growth, I will continue
to follow Paul Cezanne's simple advice: "Paint, don't think."
Speaking of thinking, if you have thoughts about these two
trends in contemporary painting, you can write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month's journal will be about poetry. What are some ethical
issues that come about when writing a poem involves telling
"what really happened"? How far should poets take
"the truth" in a poem?