Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Problem With Making Art

New Mexico Landscape, August 2012

Several years ago, I visited a gallery in Santa Fe at the La Fonda Hotel. The gallery was exhibiting Impressionist landscapes, some of which were older, but many were newer, some by New Mexico artists. I thought they were delightful and compelling works.

In the corner of the gallery, an artist had set up a mini-studio and a canvas was in progress, but the artist wasn't there. I was studying the work in progress when the proprietress of the gallery started chatting with me.

"Are you an artist?" she asked.

I said I hadn't painted for quite a long time, and I wasn't sure whether I still could. That's why I was intrigued with the work-in-progress, to see if anything about it was familiar.

She said, "Oh you must start painting again. There is so much inspiration here in New Mexico. You just can't help it."

I smiled and nodded and agreed, and we talked a bit about the works on view. "Do you do landscapes?" she asked.

I said, "No, not really, but I buy them!"

She laughed and said, "Well! You've come to the right place!"

I said, "I see that, but there isn't anything here I can afford." I don't believe there was anything under $12,000 in the gallery and most of the works were priced at $25,000 and more.  Well more.

We continued to chat for a bit as I enjoyed the paintings on display, and then I thanked her for her time and said I'd better go. She said, "We have a lay-away. If there's something you like, I can hold it for you."

I said, "I like them all."

She said almost in a whisper, "You must start painting again, and don't hesitate to call me when you have something finished. I'd love to see it."

She gave me her card, but I've lost it, and the gallery is no longer there, replaced with something mundane and touristy -- I don't remember what. Places come and go in the Santa Fe art and gallery scene all the time. As always the tourists must be served.

But I've never forgotten that encounter -- and I've never really taken up an artist's brush since then, either.

The problem is my lack of inspiration. It's not that there isn't anything to inspire me -- there's plenty. What's missing is the urge, at least so far, to come up with an artistic project and carry it through to completion.

Although I don't paint landscapes routinely, I have painted a couple of them in my time, one quite large as a mural in the lobby of our theater when time was. It was an interesting project that took only a few days, and I felt very satisfied with the result. Most of what I have drawn and painted in the past has been for theater projects, designs for sets and costumes, or actual painting on the sets or costumes. I've done some portraits, but not recently, and over the years, I've done several relatively small sculptures mostly for my own amusement.

This is a photo from our recent trip to New Mexico. It was taken near Kingman, Arizona.

Mountain near Kingman, AZ, August 2012

It could easily turn into a generic Southwest Landscape, and at this point, I'm not sure that it won't, but for now, I'm happy enough with it as a photograph. One of the projects that's been on the back burner for years now is the sorting of the thousands (and thousands and thousands more) of photos we've taken over the years, some of which, of course, are sadly deteriorated as the printing dyes seem to have turned many of the pictures a uniform red. There's a series I took of Baltimore's Inner Harbor at night maybe fifteen years ago or so. They are now all a nearly uniform red-brown. I wouldn't even have recognized the location if it weren't for a pattern of highlights that said to me "this must have been taken in Baltimore!"

I have used photos and projections extensively as aids in painting. So I did some simple manipulations of the photo above to get this:

Mountain near Kingman, AZ Enhaced, matted, "framed."

And I could easily use it as a basis for a painting, but I still like the picture as a landscape photo. If I were to paint something it would be more along the lines of Harry Fonseca's St. Francis series.  

I tend to prefer St. Francis in his Tau pose (stigmata and all that), with hummingbirds, grackles and roadrunners in attendance to set a location in the Southwest.

But then I see something like this, said to be the actual habit of St. Francis himself:

St. Francis's habit

and I think, "Well, why not a series of statues instead?" With grackles, hummingbirds and roadrunners, of course.

Then I think about the neighbor who has turned a discarded bathtub into a shrine or grotto for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and wonder why that couldn't serve as a starting point for any number of projects, including one I've had in mind for a while concerning Our Lady of Lourdes. But then if I think that way, I've got to consider Father Roca at the Santuario de Chimayo, and the Holy Dirt from the Holy Hole in the floor of the Holy Chapel at the side of the Holy Sanctuary. And then I get confused. Why all these Catholic images? There is hardly anyone more secular -- in a spiritual way, of course -- than my own self. And yet when I think about doing art in New Mexico, I start with images of St. Francis and build from there. It's the strangest thing.

I bought another painting the other day. It was done by an artist I've mentioned on this blog before, Charles Blackwell -- who happens to be blind. This is a very small reproduction of it (the painting itself is 22X40):
Charles Blackwell's painting
"Git on Up, Mule" -- plowing
in the Mississippi Delta, c. 2009
In every way it is a remarkable memory-jogger for me, because its inspiration is taken from a play by Blackwell that we premiered some twenty years ago. He wasn't painting at that time, and when I found out he had painted this piece, I asked him if it was possible for me to buy it. He said he'd have to find it, he thought he knew where it was stored, but it might take a while to locate. He did find it, and earlier this week we got together and I now have this extraordinary painting. I have no idea where I'm going to put it yet. But it will have a place of honor and joy, no doubt about that.

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