Before - Nocturnal Dreaming - 2012
After - There is Music in the Spacing of the Spheres - 2018
Quite often as I am painting I think about the similarities between life and art, and never more than when I am working on a do-over. I have discussed in other blog posts the concept of "when a painting is finished" and shown several examples of paintings of mine that have fallen prey to the do-over, sometimes years after they were "finished" (the first time). As in life and card games, each of us players must constantly hold, play, and discard. What gets held in the hand, what gets laid on the table, what goes onto the discard pile - for every one of us, every day, these "keep, play, discard" choices are made. In a lifetime, we make millions of them, many of them unconsciously.
In art, as in life, we also continuously keep, play, discard. As artists, our styles, palettes and subject matter morph and change; in response to events in our lives, new information, and the inevitable growth and change we experience as humans.
The above painting, "Nocturnal Dreaming", has been altered, and is now named "There is Music in the Spacing of the Spheres." What is equally important to what has been changed is what has remained. Sometimes what remains - the "keep" - can be subtle, compared to the more obvious "discard." This piece not only got a re-orientation from a horizontal presentation to a vertical, but the colour palette and subject matter changed too. Spheres, a face, the inevitable houses - they are all new. But tucked away and scattered all over the painting are bits and pieces of the original painting - altered, yes, but still visible if looked at closely.
I think about my own journey as I paint, and those journeys of my nearest and dearest. Our reflections on what is working in our lives, what no longer serves us, and what we discover through growth and change, result in an unbroken chain of "do-overs." From birth to death, we re-visit, analyze, tweak. We keep. We play. We discard.
As an artist I may be a bit of an outlier with my continuous do-overs, but my take on art, as on life, is that it is never too late to enthusiastically embrace a fresh start, nothing is carved in stone, if you learn new skills and talents use them, and, most importantly, it's just paint. The act of creating is the point, for me, not the end result, which is why morphing an old stale painting into something fresh and new by applying newly learned techniques is such a satisfying enterprise.
A special note to my students here, who so often worry about the end result and how they will know when they have reached it - just play and have fun, take breaks if you feel stuck, try new scary things, and if those things don't work do something else, and most importantly of all, don't get frustrated and paint everything white. Or black. Or brown or green or blue.
There is always, alongside of what to discard, plenty to keep.
If you own one of my paintings, lock your doors. You never know when the do-over urge may strike.