Sometimes the rut just hits you and you can’t do much to combat it. Painter’s block is a real thing.
After a full year of dedicating my efforts in studio to a couple series of paintings, I ran out of gas. I can’t look at a paint brush, let alone a canvas. There’s a certain amount of futility in being a painter during a pandemic.
It’s something my artist friends and I have always thought about and discussed. Were we doing something important? Why would we do it? The ends of many of those conversations would end with some good old fashioned gallows humor about being an artist during the apocalypse. While the times we’re living through aren’t exactly the end of the world, they aren’t kind to artists either. Who wants to buy a painting and support an artist when the world is on fire? How stupid are we to think that we could survive such a thing?
I’ve always looked at being an artist as having a very weird form of sickness. I‘m never happy unless I’m painting something, writing something, coming up with a new show or just unleashing my mind on some dumb side project that may or may not ever see the light of day. Most people are able to happily chill out in front of netflix. Food, shelter and all the things most middle class folks take for granted are largely shunned by artists just to create their next thing. It’s hard describing to somebody why I need to buy some paints instead of stocking the pantries. Even the last purchase I made before lockdown was spent on paint to last me a month.
So there’s an inherent confusion and uncertainty to being an artist. Add to that the stress of the pandemic and closed venues put the tangible results of art in a sore place without an audience. In a lot of ways, making art seems less valuable every day.
Some of the difficulty comes from my own stubbornness. I abhor social media and the constant availability through smart phones. I have an open refusal to operate with a gallery. Working on somebody’s timetable feels unpalatable. And I never want to have an obligation to paint shit that sells. I’ve been lucky enough to carve out a career painting what I want and showing when I want, and I can’t imagine working within confines and expectations to make another painting as successful as the one that sold last month.
New Ways Forward
In spite of all this, I did try to forge a new path in studio. I cut, assembled and stretched up four canvases. The idea was just wanting to create something pretty in the face of the world and the works staring at me in my studio. Over a few nights, I worked on some paintings of naked ladies, just pushing loose turp ridden paints around on canvas.
I didn’t get far over the week I worked on them, but saw a touch of Diebenkorn and Bischoff in the paintings, and felt relieved a bit. While they were far from finished, I hung them on the wall in a square, and could visualize the next steps I would take on the paintings.
I haven’t returned to them yet, but all the notes and ideas are still percolating in my head. Some day they’ll be resolved. I’m planning to try to crank things up after I get past my visitors I have arriving in July. For now they’re hostages of the pandemic.
Fiery Furnaces’ Smelling Cigarettes fits this month:
“So things are really hopping
and my unemployment’s stopping
my kitty cat’s copping
and I need to forget.”