People often ask me about my work methods, how I get the paint to do certain things. I just smile and admit that I really have no idea. I start off with a plan every time and I try to follow it, but just as Picasso says “then it becomes something else.”
For many years I fought this phenomenon. But it always happened. The thing is, I usually ended up with a painting that I liked, but I was somehow not proud of it. I guess because it had not turned out as I had originally intended. For me that felt like failure. How could I call what I had talent if I was not completely in control of it. But then as time went by and I looked at the body of my work I realized that I had developed a style and more importantly, I loved it. I found my voice. But truthfully I would have never developed my own style if the “something else” hadn’t continued to happen.
I guess making plans in painting and in life is pointless on some level. My life got so much easier as a painter and as a person when I began to embrace the fact that nothing was ever going to go exactly as intended. Don’t get me wrong, to this day I can’t begin a painting if I don’t have a plan in my head. It’s just that now am not troubled if the end result has little to do with that plan. The same is true in life. I think it is a pretty good idea to have a path – set some goals. But the end results will be much more about how you are able to recognize the opportunities that came your way and not overlooking something beautiful just because it was not exactly what you were planning on. That’s where the magic happens.
Think how boring your life would be if you only ever got what you expected. Remember this, any plan that you can make is always going to have limits, but that “something else” could be anything.
Please don’t agree with me – at least not right off the bat. I want to be argued with a little first. It’s really the only way I can be certain that someone is really listening to what I am trying to say. Complete agreement is the death of good conversation. I want you to explain to me why you hated the movie that I loved. I want to know if you actually think Donald Trump is an honest man. I want the chance to relate to you just what it is that excites me about a certain painting you find boring. The world is a wonderful place and I definitely have opinions and ideas about it (Vincent says I like to pontificate), but I value and get just as excited by hearing someone else’s thoughts as I do in spouting off mine.
Frank discussions, debate, and even arguing keep our minds agile, keep our relationships from getting stagnated, keep us from bottling up resentments, make us thoughtful citizens, and even help us to have peace of mind. I think if you can’t have a good knock down drag out fight with a friend, and get right over it, then that person probably was not that great of a friend to begin with. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my politics or my religion (I don’t like to talk about money because I simply find it a boring subject) so I am not going to take it personally if we don’t see eye to eye.
I had a woman unfriend me on Facebook the other day because I disagreed with her on the physical practicality of building a 2000 mile wall between the U.S. and Mexico. She thought that I had insulted her when really all I did was disagree with her. People… that is not the same thing.
So go ahead, challenge my ideas – maybe you are right and I will learn something. Or just maybe by we can both grow into better people.
I was the youngest kid on the street where I grew up. Because of that, I often didn’t get to have a lot of say in the games we played or the general shenanigans we got up to. This changed as I got a little older, but when I was actually physically smaller than the other children, I often could not compete or keep up with the older kids.
It was at this time that I discovered “magic.” Let me give you an example of what I mean: if all the other kids beat me in a race I simply informed them that I had actually won because I was magic and had made it to the finish line first. They just didn’t see it because again – I was magic. I guess I became sort of a pain in the ass at that time because if anything didn’t go my way, I tried to change the outcome or the rules in general with my claim that I was magic.
Oddly enough this little coping mechanism actually helped me for a while. It helped me feel like I didn’t always come in last, that I could throw the ball just as far as the others, or that I was able to climb just as high in the tree. Of course these victories were all in my head, but even so they somehow mattered.
I have never forgotten my magic. I think that it gave me a love of reading and imagination and being creative. And on some level I have never grown out of it. In my forties I stood in lines at midnight to get the latest Harry Potter books. I have read Lord of the Rings more than 20 times (how many more I refuse to admit). I watch any movie with a dragon in it or where swords and sandals feature heavily. My nerdy love for these magical books and movies is compounded by the true magic – the creativity and imagination of the folks that produced them. My awe of their ability to create and transport us to other worlds only grows as the years pass.
I guess all that magic is how I ended up an artist.
People are so touchy.
At a recent social event, I was chatting with a youngish woman whom I had just met. We were engaged in a pleasant little conversation, laughing, and having a generally good time when the subject came around to her work schedule, about which she began to complain, saying it often caused her to have to work very late hours. When I asked her what her job was, she replied only that she “worked in hotels.” Well that set up was too good to pass up. So I simply responded… “prostitute?”
And can you believe it? She got really offended. I tried to laugh it off as the obvious joke I meant it to be. But she was clearly not amused and stormed off. Well, I guess it was bad judgment on my part. I forget that I do have a twisted sense of humor. I am also not easily offended to the point that I forget that other folks quite often can be.
I regularly say things that cause folks to give me funny looks. I just can’t help it. If it comes into my head – it generally comes out of my mouth, especially if I think it’s funny. Mind you, I don’t really care if whoever might be listening thinks it’s funny. I am one of those awful clods who laughs at his own jokes.
Later that evening, at the same event, a rather elderly gentleman was receiving an award. The old gentleman gave a beautiful acceptance speech that had the entire crowd in tears. It was, however, a rather lengthy speech, and at the end of it I turned to the lady next to me and said (again completely as a joke) “I thought he would never shut up.” The woman gave me a funny smile, so I took it farther and added that “it was a good thing the gentleman ended his speech as it was beginning to cut into what time he had left on earth.” The slight smile disappeared and she made her excuses and walked away – I offended another one. Of course, I think as it turned out she might have been his daughter. But still?…. Come on?…No?…
Oh well, I thought it was funny.
I always tell people that I try to make my paintings look like a memory. I like things a little vague, a little fuzzy around the edges. Maybe that is why I have always been drawn to old movies. The graininess, the shadows, that mid-Atlantic accent – I’ve loved them since childhood.
I remember when I was about 9 years old I spent a weekend with my grandmother. At that time the local television station had just started to play “all night movies” on Saturday nights starting at 10pm. Being my grandmother and not my mother she said that we could stay up and watch the first one, but then we had to go to bed. Well, after about 30 minutes into the first movie Mamaw was falling asleep on the couch. She said she would let me finish watching the movie by myself because she just had to go to bed. She trusted me to turn off the TV and go to bed as soon as the first one was over. That was the first time I ever stayed up all night. I watched all the movies and when the sky started to get grey through the window, I went outside and watched the sun come up.
I was so happy. The Marx Brothers, Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Ruby Keeler had worked a spell on me. I have been hooked ever since.
My love for these old films has only grown and has also inspired my work as an artist. The way they preserve a moment, a voice, a look… and it’s all simply done with light and shadows – just like painting.
I have always hoped that some of my paintings might be able to capture moments in that ethereal way. That they could be a little cloudy window someone could peek through and maybe end up getting a glimpse of something beautiful.