Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Slow Period


I've been pretty dry this first part of the year--"dry" being a very apt term when it come to watercolor blocks.  They're always curious to me, these dry spells.  They accompany depression, usually, but I can never tell if I'm dry because I'm depressed or depressed because I'm dry.  

The common feature of the dry spells is that I become un-enamored of my work.  The brush strokes all go awry.  The colors don't seem to blend right.  The efforts all seem less than futile.  I am not doing justice to my subjects, and that feels like a sin or a violation.  I don't think I would have it otherwise--don't think, for instance, that I would accept the bargain to not have the dry spells if it meant losing my commitment to doing good work.  But the dry spells are definitely the opposite of fun.

It is the case that I did a lot of painting toward the end of 2016, preparing for me show at UUCSR.  Just looking back over the blog, I find that I completed 11 paintings between September and January--a hugely productive stretch for me.  And all good work, too!  I like everything I painted during that stretch, which included some of my very favorite pieces, period.  The portraits still amaze me, and I like all those Semester at Sea land / sea / cloudscapes.  So I do try to cut myself some slack.  It makes perfect sense that I would wax arid for a while.

But now, aided by my spring break, I am back at it.  I love the painting above, of a new model.  The story of this painting is one I want to tell, because it speaks deeply to the themes that drive my art, but I need to think about how I might do that without violating the privacy of the model.  So perhaps for another blog entry.  Suffice for now to say that this piece captures the model in the kind of moment I prize: a moment of sheer grace, between all the other moments when our bodies are constrained and disfigured by our self-consciousness.

The other two pieces I've completed recently please me less.  Here is the one that really gave me fits and prevented me from even wanting to visit the easel for a few months:


I love the idea of this bodyscape.  It's incredibly graceful, the curves and the stance, the model's gorgeous figure in light and shadow.  But man....  the color just didn't come together.  I labored over it until the labor had gone sufficiently awry for me to abandon it for a while.  I also tried here to do more with masking--carving out skin highlights.  The result did not please me.  It looked too artificial, too obvious.  And worse--sin of all sins for a realist painter--inaccurate.  Shudder.

Here's a portrait I am quite fond of, however:


Yeah, this one is working OK.  It captures the model's special beauty accurately.  She and I had a good time working together, talking nerd talk and laughing.  I love a model who takes pride in her underarm fur.  And I dig her messy hair, like post-shag hair.  I hope I can say that while also affirming that my work is not, never has been, and never will be (as far as I can see now) overtly sexual.  It's only right now, as I'm looking at this, that this piece has a sort of special chaste eroticism about it.

More soon, when I can figure out how to tell the story of the top piece.  My experience in working with that model has shaken me, and I want to sort that out.  For now, yay for painting.  I told my wife yesterday, "when I'm painting, you know all is OK with me.  I have occupation, I have a reason to live, I'm living out my passion.  When I'm not painting, you have my permission to be concerned."

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