The painting above is charcoal and pastel on paper. I mount the paper over a rough board with some old, dried acrylic paint blotches on it. The rough surface forces me to focus on big areas and not get lost in details – one cannot draw anything small on such a rough surface!
I recently decided to paint on paper rather than board or canvas – mainly because I have so many paintings standing around making me mostly sad. I cannot move around in my studio anymore. Just by coincidence, a fellow painter/blogger commented on my last post that he had started to paint on paper for the same reason.
This got me thinking more about why I put so much time, effort and emotional risk into my painting practice. I can tell you one thing, it is not for the money! (oh God I wish it was!)
I went back in time to my past self, sitting in a small apartment in College Station, Texas in the early 1990’s, getting up at 5 am to practice drawing and make charcoal sketches. Why did I do that?
Moving over my odd 20 years of on-and-off painting, I think in each fresh assault on painting, my motivation evolved in three phases:
Phase 1: I see art that touches me and inspires me. Something in me awakens and says – also want to do that! Motivation: to make something beautiful.
Phase 2: I get feedback from other people (my wife, and these days, blogging or Instagram friends mainly). My motivation morphs – I like having the approval of others, I want more of that.
Phase 3: I strike a plateau. I now turn out paintings steadily, find some pleasing, others not. I still enjoy the praise of others, but part of me starts to wonder: (a) do they really mean it or are we just “liking each other’s stuff”? (b) What do I do with all the paintings?
I think I now go through the above cycle of motivational change in small (monthly) and large (annual) rhythms. Phase 3 is not an easy one. When I am here, I face into the fact that I will most likely never be a famous painter, and – commercial aspects aside – there are simply not enough people who know or are interested in my art to even pay postage to receive it. So what now?
I understand that some may respond to this stage/question in a pragmatic way: “paint better and market yourself and your art better”. But the way I am put together, this state only makes me question deeper.
And the answer I arrive at is always simple, and always the same: I paint because I want to be happy.
Some instinct tells me that painting could be a way to be happy. But one can only be happy in the Now, while painting, not only when and if the result is satisfactory.
And always this points me to the attitude I assume while painting – it is either a gentle, rhythmic, humble form of communion with Something mysterious that is greater than me, or else it is a small, scared pursuit tinged with greed and trepidation.
And to be honest, one the days that I do assume the attitude of communion with something greater than me – working alone and quietly in my studio – I invariably find that there is very little need for strain and control, because the image emerges by itself with only some gentle coaxing from me. And the joy I feel in those moments lasts for hours, makes it all worth while and draws me back again and again. Maybe one day that could be enough for me. I hope.
I am reminded always of the lines from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding when find I drift away from the communal, spiritual attitude into more self-absorbed materialistic one:
... If you came this way, Taking any route, starting from anywhere, At any time or at any season, It would always be the same: you would have to put off Sense and notion. You are not here to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity Or carry report. You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more Than an order of words, the conscious occupation Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. ... (text copied from this site)
Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested to see more of my paintings, please visit my (slowly) growing website: Fritz Jooste Fine Art.