Picasso 1906 versus Mehrbach 2014
In 1906 Picasso spent an enormous time on two paintings, Portrait of Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York City). Yesterday I read again about this period in Picasso's life. Gertrude Stein said she sat 90 times for her portrait, then Picasso wiped out the face in the portrait and left for summer vacation in Gósol, Spain. In the autumn Picasso returned to Paris with the finished portrait. Also in 1906 Picasso began a series of nearly 1000 studies preparing his way to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (completed in July 1907). Methinks I complain too much! It was the intensity and discipline that Picasso poured into these two paintings in the years 1906 & 1907 that transitioned Picasso from a good artist to a great artist. This, 2014, is my year of intensity and discipline. I have complained about the slowness of my transitioning, as witnessed in two recent paintings. I have been substantially altered by the work and time I have poured into Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014 and, earlier this year, into Untitled Diptych-04·15·2014. The focussed, disciplined, and dedicated work of this year, has made me a better painter, and a better artist. It isn't over. I will continue to learn, I will continue to work, but today I am recognizing the profundity of this period in my life and art. Picasso has helped me enormously, not only by his products, which are his paintings and his drawings, but by his example of discipline and belief that the effort of the here and now will bring a proper end.
Notice, please, yesterday's changes in Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014. The man in the left panel is much better.
The acceptance of time...
...to get this painting right. The speed of that oil drys is the limiting factor. Details, details. The messiness of oil, wet on wet, is a problem for me. I do not seem to be able to get acceptable details in this painting, Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014, in one day of painting. It is best that I slow my desire to complete this painting to the speed of drying oil. This instigates anxiety, which I must control in order to ignore its dominance in my activity. Yesterday saw me working on the girl in the right panel. I will not work on her today. I'll work on the left and central panels, or maybe to her shoes and legs, but definitely not on her oil-wet face. Patience is difficult. I need to accept that each day of work gets this painting closer to its reason for existence.
Yesterday's drawing is yet another surprise. Where am I going? I was watching a film last night, an old romantic comedy. The best friend of the male protagonist said to his bewildered, romantically involved friend, something like this: "If you do not risk confusion, embarrassment, and misdirection, you cannot find truth." So, I guess, to best answer my question about where am I going, I must seek from where I came, which is equally confusing.
Happy & Where?
It is Thanksgiving Day today in the U.S. and I feel happy. Not because of my art. I will celebrate, eat turkey. Yesterday I did not work. There were items to get for today's feast. I spent my time helping to make today happen well. Unusual as this is in my world of self-concern and worry, I am taking today off to celebrate being here and now. Yes, there are many problems within and without me, but today I will let it all go to find joy in the simplicity of friends and family, of eat, drink, and be merry.
Two days ago I worked on the painting Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014. The girl in the right panel got all the attention. Her dress is much better. Her head needs more work, but its newly constructed anatomical rotation, and its size and scale, are better. The drawing is a lark and has no particular depth of message.
I am always expecting an instant of surprise, the shock of the new. But it does not happen that way. Slowly but surely, moment to moment, day to day, I re-evaluate. I ask myself questions, I second guess my impulses, and I make art. And so it goes. I believe the reason I have put off a return to the finish of the painting Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014 can be found in this activity of re-evaluation, which is pre-occupying me. Yesterday's drawing is example. It took nearly all my studio time. The remainder was used to look at what I have done, to look at what others have done, and to question all of it.
Slowing to creepy or re-evaluation?
Yesterday was a creepy day. I went into the studio intending to finish the painting Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014, but found myself wondering about its validity. The positive spin on this is... yesterday was a day of self-evaluation. The painting I am about to finish, and the one that preceded it (Untitled Diptych-04·15·2014), are disciplined spans of time, in which I am going from the artist of "take what I have" to the artist of "consolidate and move on." This appears to be self re-eveluation.
I am about to move on, yet I know I have to finish that which I have wrought. It (Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014) has merit, with or without re-evaluation. The problem I face is my own making. I required practice. I needed to discipline my manner of approach in painting, so I made large, major paintings, a diptych, then a triptych. In the heat of making these works I did not know that these paintings are mere moments in my education. I know now that they are springboards to more expressive work. Of course, the more expressive work has not yet been done, so what am I writing about? Isn't every work one does a bit of education? At this juncture it is nonsensical for me to predict the future of my work. Perhaps prediction is always nonsensical. Making is the only true informant. Thus I must continue painting Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014 until it is done. The new work will come in its own time and it will not be nonsensical if it springs from all I know.
Yesterday's drawing is a good one. It is illuminating. I did not labor it. I did not spend time contemplating it. It flashed itself onto paper with little criticism from me.
Time for work.
Sitting here, writing this, I am feeling that all the excitement of figuring out the painting Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014 is over. Perhaps that is the message in yesterday's drawing. My muse is there, looking over me. Her role is done. It is I who must arise and do the right thing. I must complete the painting despite my muse having become a mere onlooker. Simply put, I need to do the work to finalize the painting.
Unlike anything else.
Mysteriousness is always upon us. Where does all this come from? More than ever I am surprised by the invention within me. This is a result of my slow, but sure, giving into the act of creating without thinking out-loud. In my art I am doing things which surprise ― I don't consciously remember doing them! As example, in yesterday's drawing, there is the shadow cast by the man's head on his chest. It is very right, and works well in creating form and composition, but I can't remember acting on it. This not-consciously-knowing makes me think of Willem de Kooning. Late in life, and late in his artistic career, Willem de Kooning had Alzheimer's Disease. Despite his memory problems, de Kooning continued to make interesting paintings. People who knew him said that his performance, as an artist, was so deeply ingrained that it did not require the conscious, non-verbal, part of his thought. As proof, after my work I show a late de Kooning (in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia).
The foundation of something true.
Yesterday felt weird. I could not stop listening to the radio (NPR). I fumbled through the day, thinking all the while that I was ineffective, distracted. But NO! This drawing appears to me, today, to be the foundation of something true. It is not an end all, nor is it absolutely new vocabulary, but its process of creation, though my distraction, had authenticity, and thus merit. Yes, the guy in the back is in an impossible position, especially without a chair to hold him. It is this impossibility that makes sense to me. Allowing the abstraction of the forms on the table is also important. This is allowance of the juice of intuition to flow. I pretty much am accepting that if I am to be authentic I much allow myself to wander without anticipation. This is the lesson of yesterday's effort. It feels like I did not get a lot done, but that, in itself, is a lie and misconception. Burst is my idea of control of image, but not the importance of being a well trained athlete of artistic activity. There is truth in falsity. After all, there are many artists I respect who have stated the idea that is fully becoming obvious to me: to depict the truth one must fabricate a falsehood that jars one into reality. Non-fiction is full of trickery and artifice.
Size & shape matter.
The changes to the man in the left panel of Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014 proves that size and shape matter, also angle and structure. The impact of the recent seemingly minor alterations astound me. The overall composition has been set for several weeks, so the stuff happening now are enhancements and subtleties. As example, looking at the man in the left panel, I like very much the rotation of his feet toward the left playing against his head's rotation toward the right. Nice. Yesterday's drawing is different for me.
Every day a bit more.
Getting there is never simple and the face of the man in the left panel of Untitled Triptych-08·13·2014 is example. Yesterday his body thinned a bit and his face now appears to me to be a bit bulbous. So, bit by bit, this gets done. Next move is to appropriately thin his face to make it work with everything in this triptych. That will increase the slightly tilted thrust of his body, which will play nicely against the counter thrusts of the two women. I think when that change occurs I could stop. But I won't! I will examine every form and color. This painting is a lesson in discipline.
Yesterday's drawing was a nice surprise!
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