Thoughts from an Abstract Artist
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Great art is everywhere. In our tech-induced lives, we have Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and the annoyingly adorable way Google periodically changes its homepage logo. There's the watercolor bumble bee illustration on the stationary I just used to thank my aunt, the folksy re-creation of a medical illustration on the cover of the book I'm reading, and the textured, intricate sugar skull design on my current bottle of shiraz. More ephemerally, there's the gusty sway of winter storm Juno outside my window and the way the head of a metallic pushpin can distort my surroundings into the tiniest, shiniest globe.
Everywhere my eyes land there's an opportunity to study someone else's project. So many artists and designers have come first and finished more. I wonder if they broke any rules along the way (probably not, I think. There aren't many left to break anymore.) I wonder if they sketched their ideas with a number two pencil first, or if someone in the other room asked them, "how's it coming along in there?"
With all these distractions, how do I reserve the stamina to research or discover talent specific to my focus? A handful of times this year, I've stumbled upon young painters whose work looks almost exactly how mine looks... inside my head. How could I possibly avoid thinking I'm screwed? I stumbled upon it–I wasn't even seeking out work similar to my own! Someone else made it first, and I can honestly say that I have absolutely no idea what my next piece would've been anyway.
It's disheartening to find that some of my most endearing works (dare I say, "best"?) were the results of past school assignments. In art school, we'd roll our eyes and bitch to our roommates about the impossible tasks laid out for us by professors who somehow never quite seemed to have enough merit to be telling us what to do. The creative freedom to develop our signature body of work (at will) was such a lure. Assignments often felt scoff-able.
I'd reluctantly forge something then toss it aside, not to be seen again until the inevitable organization or move of my studio. After years with gaping holes in them devoid of creating anything worth anything, those old assignments suddenly looked brilliant. Hindsight is tricky. Sometimes it tells the truth and sometimes it lies. The rediscovery of something old and never thoughtfully appraised appears exciting when juxtaposed with the literal nothingness of "the holes." The same way I imagine an indulgent meal that made you sick ten years ago would become enticing again if you were offered it several years into a jail sentence.
Rediscovery's inherent drama and reminiscence is most likely why old assignments seem enlightened, but what if hindsight tells the truth here? It feels like fantasy, but wouldn't it be nice to realize that perhaps my critical eye was just too underdeveloped to see the brilliance of those reluctantly-made pieces at the times of their creation?
I can't seem to still the urge to constantly promote. Instead of creating progressive new artworks, I photograph old sketches. Usually, there are no ideas behind these works. They do not illustrate a perspective, opinion or even narrative. They're just dark, smooth curls of sepia ink on the heavy Bristol vellum I cheated on real printmaking paper with, or the bleeding edges of free india ink from a middle page of an old sketchbook. They are blind contour drawings that took no longer than two minutes, as blind contour drawings shouldn't.
I try to make these throwaway doodles look beautiful. It's a deceiving form of camouflage that I find comfort in. I'm proud of my deceit, impressed by my own ability to take something banal and make it look attractive to prospective purchasers.
I don't fully understand why it's important to me that these small sketches are recognized. But I'm inclined to think it's due to those aforementioned gaping holes I'm always trying to navigate. Photographing these otherwise insignificant artworks in a lovely way that makes them desirable, makes them significant. And when I'm not producing work, that's a very rewarding feeling.