For the past several months, I found myself feeling more and more overwhelmed by my own expectations around the work I was producing. I started feeling the weight of some of the narratives in the work—greed, power, corruption, the failure of capitalism—a realization prompted in part by a conversation with my stepmother who, when looking at a recent painting of mine simply responded, “Wow. That’s really dark, honey.” Being so close to the work hadn’t really allowed me to see it for what it was becoming, but taking a step back pulled it into very sharp focus. The subject matter, as well as the supporting research required to make it, was really starting to get to me.
As I mentioned in the last Iteration, for the month of June I tried something new: a simple list of daily tasks that put self-care first and had nothing to do with being creative. Breakfast, exercise, reading, and meditation and/or yoga, and that’s it. As you may have noticed, the list did not include putting out a newsletter, something I will remedy moving forward. If I’m being honest, the first half of the month was more of a challenge than I expected. The old tapes of “make, make, make” were on heavy rotation in my head and I was responding with the familiar guilt-shame spiral of beating myself up for not “getting things done.” But once I was able to find a rhythm in not trying to be creative every day, the ideas started to come, including several new project ideas and some ideas for different types of paintings.
When I first picked up a brush again in 2009 after a nearly twenty-year hiatus from painting, the initial work I was doing didn’t really have any sort of persistent narrative. I was more focused on shape, color, and texture and trying to figure out a way to create a hybrid process that merged digital and analog into something new—at least something new to me. As I began to refine my process, I started gravitating to the type of imagery that would become the underlying theme of my work for the next 15 or so years. But last month, armed with the clarity that my stripped-down to-do list was beginning to provide, I started sketching and dabbling with color on a few small (very small, actually) pieces that I think might point towards a new—or maybe “renewed”—direction in my work.
All of my previous narrative-based work is planned and pre-visualized, partially because the emulsion transfers that I use have to be printed at scale. With this new work, I really don’t have a direction when I begin. Instead, I select a handful of colors to choose from, a big tub of Nova Color gel medium, and a variety of screens, wire, found objects, and tools that I use to create the texture in the gel. Then, it’s just about playing with the materials and letting them tell me where to go. I’ve completed four of these small color and texture studies, with another four base coated. The goal is to use these small studies to inform bigger work—in fact, some of the biggest work I’ve ever done.
A month into this new routine, simplifying and prioritizing self-care—while also removing the need to be creative as a prime mover—has allowed me to feel more creative than I have in quite a while. I’ve also started producing work that feels just as interesting as my previous work, without it being quite so heavy, both for me as a maker and for a potential audience. I’m sure the narrative work will return. In fact, Adrianne and I have been discussing a couple potential concepts with a decidedly different tone and character than my previous work. Regardless, I feel like taking a step back is something that every maker should do regularly. For me, the familiarity became a crutch and the subject matter was taking a toll on my well-being. Sometimes productive disruption is just what we need to get out of our own way and go someplace new. And isn’t that part of what being an artist is all about?
In what ways does the content or process of your work inform or relate to your overall well-being?
Late last year, we watched a show on HBO Max called Station Eleven, which was absolutely fantastic. In fact, it might be my favorite show of last year. It tells the stories of survivors of a global pandemic from multiple character’s points of view. I’ve recently started reading the book by Emily St. John Mandel that the show was adapted from, which is even better than the show. It’s just brilliant storytelling.
I feel like some of my best work in my personal photography has come as a result of my darkest periods in my life.
That being said, with a better outcome on life. I feel that mood is shifting to a more positive sense in my work.
When things were at their lowest, I did more black and white work. Now I’m experimenting with color and finding black and white difficult to work with.
Your podcast has really helped me stay on top of my own self discovery and creative journey. Thank you!