Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Question of Priorities

Hi. I thought I'd start with two quite old self-portrait paintings of mine. I'm starting with these because, while working with some photos of recent artwork, I decided to look at some old images to compare with my recent work, and I realized that I had completely changed my mind about which painting I like the best. Both of these were done within the same year in the early 90s, probably 1992 or so. Notice the big round eyeglasses, a legacy from the big-glass-frame 80s. Also, the attachment toward painting at least a half to 3-quarter of my face in shadow because I wanted to copy Rembrandt's self-portraits he did in his youth.
Ah, youth. I don't know if you could say I was exactly youthful in these paintings, but I certainly feel like I was in comparison to my age now. I was in my early 30s, working part-time in a frame store in the Washington DC area, trying to make a go of being a painter in my lonely garret bedroom/studio. I was so proud of myself for being able to do a 'backlit' portrait (the top one). I also worked with glazes, in a fashion, and put way too much detail in the background. It's a nice recording of a time and place in my life, what with the ceramic mugs on the window sill and my macrame wall hanging framing the window.
But, is it a good painting? Would anyone but me, or maybe my mom, have any interest in having it hang on their wall meeting their gaze day in day out?
I don't think so. (Sigh.)
Ah, but what about the second one? Painted late at night, struggling to record...something...the shape of the lit part of my head, the way the eyeglass lenses distorted the profile. There's something of the struggle and frustration there that transcends the slavish rendering of my head, or any head, or face. My sense is that there's a feeling there, a sense of a certain state of mind that compels more interest than the painting I felt so proud of, technique-wise. Now I'm older, perhaps an iota wiser I like to think, and my priorities have shifted.
There is so much that goes in to being a good painter, or artist of any kind, and I'm just learning that much of it is not so much skill as who you are, what you're able to be and see, all that determines what you consider important and worthy of rendering. So, in appreciating this painting anew, I realize I have a higher regard for that which I despised at the time: namely, the struggle and the passion of the process itself, which, when married with a certain amount of skill, can result in something that, well, I don't want to be presumptuous or self-important here, can result in something that, at least, you don't want to throw away or paint over. You might even want to hang it up and ponder it. Now, whether anyone else feels this way remains to be seen.
Probably my mom wouldn't like it though.