Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Discerning Friend

Jane just left the house, and now I know how to finish the painting I started nearly a month ago. My sister, Jan, and my friends, Jane and Susan are the people I call on when I find myself stuck. Jan sometimes can’t be objective. She loves almost everything I paint, and when she doesn’t love a painting, her criticism isn’t always helpful. Susan is like Mikey in the TV commercial, I’m just happy when she “likes it.” But Jane is the best. She can look at a supposedly finished piece and point to an area that she feels needs more work, and I know it’s the exact place where I became exhausted and decided the painting was done.

I wonder if all artists go through the same process. I start a painting with a sense of excitement. I’m thrilled as I prepare the underpainting and even more motivated as I add colors. I spend hours and hours at my easel in a delicious trance state. Painting, the process of putting oils on canvas, becomes a meditation, a spiritual contemplation. I don’t feel hungry or tired, and I can ignore the phone, the doorbell, or the people or pets in my surroundings. I forget to eat lunch. My entire being is focused on my work, and I feel wonderful!

Then days, or sometimes weeks, go by, and the painting reaches the final but still unfinished stage. I begin to feel tired and bored. I want to start a new painting. I want to be done! At times I feel disappointed. The painting hasn’t accomplished exactly what I hoped it might. It just doesn’t reflect the vision in my mind’s eye. I keep working but no longer feel euphoric.

Sometimes I’m lucky to get through this period without getting depressed or being hard on myself. I just keep working tenaciously until the painting looks right. But there are the times when I simply stop and decide it’s okay. I tell myself this is the way I want the painting to look. I’ve done enough work. It must be finished. I am simply tired of the process and ready to have my piece. My finished product. No one will notice I tell myself. And in fact no one does or at least no one says anything.

But I can’t seem to sign my name, and later when I look at the “finished” painting I’m just not satisfied. Still I’m usually not sure what to do because most of the time I forget the part I was working on when I ran out of energy. That’s when I ask Jane to take a look. Invariably, she points to the area and says that needs more color or detail or something, and I know it’s back to work on this particular painting. Jane is not an artist. She’s just someone with a very discerning eye, and she respects my work. Sometimes it takes a friend to see the work that needs to be done. I always return to the piece with renewed energy and feel pleased to sign it when I’m done.

Photos: On top, Jane posing in an installation at Showtel in Hotel Biba, and below Susan, Jane, and Jan at a Craft Gallery opening in which Jane is in front of my painting "Before the Hurricanes."