Stalking the Finished Work

May 8, 2023


The middle stages of a painting are mostly fraught with questions, doubts, and quite often, floundering. 

Where is this painting going? 

What does it need? 

When will the chaos resolve itself? 

Will the chaos resolve itself? 

Most artists/creatives I know experience stages in their career when they question their authenticity. There are times when I ask myself, is this the painting that proves I’m a fraud? 

I keep working through the problems and slowly, a light at the end of the tunnel emerges, that pulls me forward. Ever so slowly, the painting begins to take shape and a path forward emerges. I begin to trust I am moving toward the conclusion this particular painting requires. 

The painting speaks and I can hear its voice.  Once I have direction, the work both speeds up and slows down. I move forward purposefully, making choices to consolidate and create shapes, followed by stillness and contemplation, observing what has occurred.. What’s clear is what has taken place, what’s uncertain is the destination, the painting’s conclusion. 

Honestly, at this point I sometimes find the image satisfying – but too safe; or perhaps too predictable. It’s a scary place to be!I have a painting that is working but it’s not rocking my boat. 

For example, I recently was working on a painting where I was so satisfied with the beauty of the color and light. But there were no edges. The painting felt too soft and simple. I took a big breath and painted a huge red circle in the center. I began to think I might be insane!

 But in time I worked it into the composition and it felt right.

I always have to ask myself, Do I play it safe or do I blow it apart, do I cultivate edginess and tension? I almost always blow it apart. . Intense moments ensue; my body tenses and I find with each new mark or brush stroke, I am holding my breath. 

As the painting moves to conclusion, the connection and tension of closure is so intimate that it shuts out everything else but me and the piece. It is getting to that place of feeling right that signals the completion of a work. Yet,sometimes I overshoot the mark – I decide to do just a little bit more…only to realize I’ve  gone too far; I’ve lost the spontaneity and the piece becomes dense and heavy. 

There’s no turning back, the journey resumes with a new destination.  I may blow it up, strip it away, until a new direction and a fresh perspective can be established.

Eventually the dialogue ceases, it’s quiet. There’s nothing left to say; the pieces all flow together; the painting and I are complete. I might ask, what about this idea? And the answer is no. I know I have arrived at the end of this particular journey. 

My attention turns to the next blank canvas waiting in the wings, and a new conversation begins.

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