Nearly 4 year on from my last post. I look back on that last post and laugh... my god I didn't know what life was about to turn into. Everything that I wrote in that last post was true...and I believed it whole-heartedly. The only trouble is I didn't believe it enough to live by it. Just when you think you are at a point in life when you can take your eye off the ball and relax a little...life reminds you that you have a lot more to learn. I can truly say that the last few years have been the worst of my life...and now that that time is finally at an end, I can look back on it and realise that it has also been the most vital part of my life...in terms of learning from mistakes, and learning about what truly is important, more than anything... learning who I am. Through all of this the one thing that was a constant was my painting... and this post is about the value of painting; Not necessarily of 'paintings' as finished pieces, but more so the value of the process of painting and what it can teach one (well, what it taught me) about life.
One of the beauties of painting is that a painting is never finished until it is finished. Until that point is reached when you decide that there is nothing more that you want to add or change...a work remains unfinished, and remains a work in progress. The beauty lies in the fact that there is no set or defined finishing point...and in the fact that the finished image is as yet unknown, and more to the point, completely up to your own judgement and feeling as to what constitutes a 'finished work'.
I often start with an idea of how I want the finished work to be, but I think as yet I have never painted anything which really resembles that original vision. All of the paintings that have become my favourite pieces are the ones that have veered off into being something utterly other than intended. They have a feeling to me, of being more truly mine, as they have developed spontaneously, as, what is in me...has come out into the painting.
I have often been asked how one sets about developing one's own 'style'. I don't think it is possible to 'try' to manufacture a style... I think one just has to start painting spontaneously, and it's only upon looking back that you can gauge or begin to recognise a style. I think this is comparable to life...you have to live and let yourself BE...and then you can recognise who you are. Trying to be something or someone is like trying to paint a pre-conceived image; it ends up being quite boring, quite false, and is quite often just a copy of something that already exists...without the originality or uniqueness.
One of the beautiful qualities that lies in using oil paint is that I find it allows me to layer the paint. I can use thin layers of oils that allow that which is beneath to come through and affect the uppermost layer. Without the layers beneath there wouldn't be the depth that can be achieved. Often there are small parts of a painting which work, and these can be built around, in fact sometimes the smallest, sometimes even accidental, parts of a painting dictate how the rest will follow. There is much to be valued in recognising the seemingly insignificant, unnoticeable even, parts of a painting that actually alter the work as a whole. It is the conglomeration of these parts that build a coherent whole.
I see my paintings as palimpsests; without the trial and error and mistakes, that go before, the paintings would not be the same. I have one painting which I shall never sell, and it is because of the lesson it taught me. I painted this picture for hours and hours and hours and days... and sometimes it looked 'alright', sometimes it looked awful, so I persevered and kept going...until it was 'pretty much ok'...even to the point where it could have been said to be a finished piece of work. But there was something about it that made me keep going back to it...thinking 'if I just change this bit..., or I just change that bit...'. I kept looking at what I could change. And then I just had a moment where I realised I just didn't like it...simple as that. So I scrubbed the entire thing with turpentine, and basically got rid of it. What was left behind was a basic faded image of what I had first put onto the canvas (this bit was drier that the rest as it was older, so less removable with the turpentine). There were a few bits and pieces remaining that I really loved, and these shaped what I then painted. Within about 2 hours I had a painting that I loved. It's my favourite painting aesthetically, that I've ever painted. Whenever I look at it, it makes me realise that there is value in persevering, but that there are also times when one needs to start again completely; to scrub out what you are doing, if it's not working, and start again.
Sometimes, what feels like going backwards, is actually the first step in going forwards.