“Contain Multitudes” 24×24, oil on canvas Buy Now

This time I’m going to tell you about today’s painting first, and circle back to Art and Fear afterward. As I was painting yesterday with patience as my intention and the question “what is the work I want to make?” buzzing in my head, I had this thought:

I want to carefully study subjects I like, represent them on flat canvases with intentional brushstrokes that emphasize color and shape but also blur the distinctions between foreground and background. Translation: paint birds with elements of both realism and whimsy.

But I also want to isolate core design elements from subjects I like into less representational or even non-representational paintings. Translation: today’s painting. It’s yesterdays. Really, it is. I started by borrowing the orange triangle-ish shape from the robin’s chest and then used some of the colors and shapes from the rest of its body to fill out the composition.

The design seemed to work such that I created a little shelf that seemed a perfect place for a little robin to perch. So I scratched lines into the paint that formed a little bird shape which I then enhanced with subtle color. Do you see him? I think of him as a little ghost bird. The form from which I’ve taken the color and thrown it back on the canvas in such a way that it has lost its former boundaries (ie distinct bird shape). I’m into this painting.

Chapter 1 of Art and Fear discusses the difference between viewing art and making art. I will never forget showing my work in my early 20s and the feeling of a stranger walking by, giving it no more than a passing glance before walking onward. Meanwhile I was left in shambles– the energy, the ideas, the execution, the hair-pulling and bleeding– all of that reduced to a half-glance, the tedious work of my hands assessed in less than a second. Bayles and Orland explain, “to all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product; the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process; the experience of shaping that artwork.”

Art and Fear was published in 1993. Facebook was not even a glimmer in Mark Zukerberg’s eye, and I was not yet hogging the phone line to dial on to my fancy aol chat rooms. I think artists now have a distinctive opportunity to give the viewer, a handful of viewers, maybe even just one viewer, a tour of that process, the experience of shaping the work. And even though in the end, all we have is the finished piece, there might just be some uniquely modern magic in inviting the viewer into the process.

I’m fairly certain that’s why I started this blog and why I continue it, even when those little fear voices suggest it futile.

Of course, anytime you let someone in there’s risk. Exposure is scary. But more on that tomorrow.

In the meantime, let me know what you think of today’s painting (I’m not afraid of constructive feedback!). Is the bird sketch too much? Do you see how today’s is just another iteration of yesterday’s?