I thought it was one of the best paintings that I had done. A small scene of a white cabin on the shores of Kootenay lake. I had been hanging around a gallery in Calgary, looking at all the great art for months and screwed up the courage to go and get a critique from one of the most respected Canadian artists – Harley Brown. Look him up – seriously. I gingerly walked in holding my precious work and meeting my gaze asked “what’s that you have there”? “A painting I just did” I replied. He motioned for me to place it on the counter and I leaned it against the cash register, an uncontrolled smile creeping into the corners of my mouth. “Wow he said, “very nice. He proceeded to give me some suggestions about how to improve my composition and other arty suggestions. I was good at “wow” but still listened.
Then, it happened.
“Is it still wet? He asked.
With that, he took his finger and started to blend the area of trees behind the house smushing the green paint with the white side of the house! I didn’t know what to say but he did “that’s better don’t you think”? I stood there in dumb silence and a desire to grab a pen and draw a stick man on one of his pastel portraits briefly made an appearance. But I didn’t. I politely agreed and after a few more minutes left the gallery to digest what had just happened. I had just seen a very talented artist view and adjust another’s art work with his finger. I was expecting a – “go home and do this” kinda approach. Where I could take out my brushes and with great hesitation try something I was unsure of. What if he had wrecked it was all I could think.
This was the first lesson in a long series of lessons that started in Heritage Gallery and continued through art college…
The simple answer was… art is not precious.
That was the message that the instructors at ACAD taught all of us. The brush strokes I put on that painting were always meant to be played with if required with no fear. If the painting didn’t work, that was ok. But I have a certain amount of angst when working at the easel. Especially when the painting IS working. Ever make a card castle? When your only a few cards in, it doesn’t matter if it crashes. But when it’s three feet off the floor your moves become far more tentative and with the potential of catastrophe. I always wonder if these thoughts hold me back.
One of the most interesting paintings I ever did was an abstract for art school where I took several tubes of Gouche that I never thought I would use and squeezed them out onto some paper that I had masked the edges. I took out a painting knife and started running the knife through the paint creating texture and movement and… I just simply let my fearless painter out. Emotion took over, and I “felt” the work rather than direct it. My arm and hand worked fluidly letting a seemingly primal force work from within. Almost (almost) like I was possessed. On a side note, it felt similar to what I believed from film and description to what Jackson Pollack painted like. I pulled the tape off the edges and was stunned at how it not only it looked but how it felt to create without fear. After all I had nothing to lose – it was paint I was going to throw away anyway – on paper no less.
As a commercial artist, I have begun to understand why I was drawn to Photoshop. It’s safe. I can muck around all I want and not ruin anything. Adjust and tinker all day. Painting is different – seemingly. But maybe I need to adapt to the digital ideal and listen to my mentors.
Every piece of art is a journey and not an end unto itself.
What is precious, is the process. Crashes and all. It’s only paint, film, glass and fabric. To develop, you have to be comfortable with the idea that each piece you do, will either be a lesson, or a piece you want to sell or hang on a wall. In a way – I’m starting to prefer the lesson.