Friday, August 7, 2009

"Unless your picture goes wrong, it will be no good." Picasso

Do you sometimes get to that critical point in the making of a painting when you feel as though you are pulling back and letting too much caution enter? I've only made one souffle, but it's like watching a souffle fall. The life starts to drain out of your work and it starts heading toward DOA. Not only do you witness all this somewhat helplessly; you feel a weird mind/body separation begin as you watch yourself wreck it. It helps to have those words by Picasso posted nearby so that I can feel that wrecking it might not be the worst thing, but even a necessary thing sometimes. Have you had this happen?

Edouard Manet, whose Tarring the Boat, Berck appears above, was able to work boldly.
Stephane Mallarme, the French symbolist poet and friend of Manet, described the painter's process as he understood it:

Each time he begins a picture. . .he plunges headlong into it, and feels like a man who knows that his surest plan to learn to swim safely, is, dangerou
s as it may seem, to throw himself into the water.. . Each work should be a new creation of the mind. . .The hand . . .will conserve some of its acquired secrets of manipulation, but the eye should forget all else it has seen, and learn anew from the lesson before it. It should. . .see only that which it looks upon, and that as for the first time; and the hand should become an impersonal abstraction guided only by the will, oblivious of all previous cunning. (p. 91, Manet and the Sea, Wilson Bareau and Degener)

Out of desperation I've been trying a few tricks to help me avoid too much caution. I'll stop and apply a layer of Liquin knowing I can rub back to the original surface if I don't like whatever happens next (or gloss medium with acrylics). Or, I tell myself I'm just doing a study and I can start a new one if this one becomes a disaster. I remember a teacher years ago saying that he'd have his students just cut a whole in the canvas and get it over with so they'd feel free to just paint, but I've never gone that far.

Here's a painting called Station #4 that began as something else entirely. I could not make that painting work, no matter what I tried. Instead of painting it out, I wound up using the original just as it was as the underpainting for the new one.

I'd painted this station in Manhattan Beach more than once. I went back a week later to finish, trudging across the sand carrying too much stuff, including a coffee. When I got there I was kind of surprised to see my life guard station had been switched with one that was an entirely different style. I could barely spot my original one, way up the beach. There was no way I was going to start over, so I set off on a slow march.


  1. nice work like the offbeat compositions and the loose approach. Well done and thanks for the visit.

  2. Suzanne,
    I so enjoyed your blog.
    These questions you have are very normal for artists. How do you make yourself stand out w/o seeming like an artist from the past? I think it is very hard to do. Everything is influenced by something it should be. Life is one big research project. In design we learned that if you change work 10%, then it is yours.

    As for the mistakes, mistakes seem to improve artwork. I had a friend who hung an installation from the ceiling. In the middle of the critique, it fell and shattered. Needless to say it became her best work. It was much more intersting on the floor and broken than suspended in air.

    That's my two cents.
    Keep up the good work, but please get some sleep. I don't want to see blogs from 5:14am. ha,ha