Wednesday 30 April 2014

Fellow Travellers

The Gift
photo collage

Creative ideas can sometimes reveal themselves at any moment, as if by magic (which probably means they’ve taken shape subconsciously after an extended period of researching, planning and thinking). Their rendering into actual works in media, however, is usually a demanding and time-consuming process. Whether or not the ideas transform into viable two or three dimensional works depends on the artists’ dexterity with the media, their focus, their understanding of their own symbols and meanings, and the clarity of their vision. It also depends on the uninterrupted time they devote to the creation process.
I am often asked how I can sculpt or paint in isolation for hours, days, even weeks. After all, when I’m in my studio, I am apparently alone. My defence of that solitary time, even to passing up social and even romantic activities when I’m in creation mode, is incomprehensible to friends and family, and it has alas cost me dearly throughout my artistic career. However, if I may paraphrase the old cliché (‘if you don’t use it you lose it’) if you don’t create it when it needs to be created, you lose it and all other works that should have come following.
 The thing is, when I’m in the throes of creation, I need this isolation from people or my social side will distract me from my making process. Once engaged, the work cannot be set aside, I must maintain the continuity or I will risk losing it. It’s not just the medium’s properties that need to be respected, clay, for instance goes through various deal-with-me-now! stages during sculpting, but the impetus for the work and the very energy required to execute it must also be sustained.
Anyway, whether it’s clay or acrylic, wire or wood, paper, pencil, or pen, the medium with which I create my images is in many ways as alive as if I were working with a human partner on a dance duet or to rehearse a dialogue for a play: it has a personality, it has needs and it offers creative ideas of its own. If I’ve taken the time to become fluent in its language and in the form of physical communication that best connects us, if I respect it and attend to it with undivided attention, we have a meaningful relationship. As in any successful collaboration, the aim is for us to coax and release something meaningful one from the other. There is nothing ‘alone’ or ‘isolated’ about that.
There are days when the idea is clear, the intent like a beacon, and the partnership between my medium and I uncomplicated and smooth. On those days, the piece comes together naturally, with no wasted effort or struggle, whether it is a drawing, a painting or a sculpture or any combination thereof. On those days, the more tactile and dimensional the work becomes, the more visually solid and actual, the more the flow of ideas becomes my nourishment and sustenance, the more it inspires and connects to the next piece I will make and the next.
            On other days, the interaction between my medium and me is more of a negotiation, each trying to find the compromise between substance and gesture. The medium wants to be expressed to its full potential, but if my making gesture is tenuous or unsure, it may refuse to cooperate. When this happens the rhythm of creation must change, I must slow, stop, examine, analyze, maybe backtrack before moving forward again, stop again, evaluate, maybe re-think or restructure, try again, and so on, until I achieve clarity: In words, the interaction might sound like this: if I, artist, do this and you, medium, do that, will the image reveal itself? No? How about ...?
            The days reserved for experimentation are both a joy and a challenge. On these days, the focus is on remaining open to ‘mistakes’, that is to the accidental things that happen when my medium and I deliberately work without planning and preconception. Attention at this time is essential, because to repeat something that happens unexpectedly but that carries just the ‘right’ meaning or expresses exactly ‘that’ feeling, I have to have observed how it came to be and remember how to repeat it.
            That’s the thing: an artist’s work may be born of accident, mistake or unpremeditated gesture, but what makes it part of her/his style is its intentional repetition or its consistent re-iteration. I may choose to let an accidentally distorted form become the inspiration for the way I distort all forms because it expresses something new, something intriguing, mysterious, true or revealing in my work. These ‘accidental’ discoveries are exciting but they don’t happen if I’m not 100% engaged in the process.
There are instances when my medium and I share the studio with a third party, a third collaborator. When I need realistic human elements in my work, I like to work with models. I can then either do a series of drawings of a pose destined to become a sculpture, or sketch quick gestural poses in paint to capture moments and movements, or work directly in clay to keep in touch (literally) with the third dimension. In any case, any of these actions refreshes my understanding of human form, movement, and expression, and answers specific questions I might have about the architecture or aesthetic of a figurative piece I’m planning or on which I’m working. There is also an added level of energy when I have to be responsive to and responsible for yet another participant in the process.
True, working with models has its frustrations. They are human. They need breaks, for one. However, If they are professionals, and as attentive and engaged in the process as I am, the three of us, model, medium and I create a perfect flow of energy that results in expressive images.
Work that comes out of any of these studio scenarios is always satisfying. And it’s invariably the work family and friends who were annoyed at being put off or jealous of my time ‘alone’ appreciate the most.

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