Art as autobiography

While recently convalescing with a nasty head cold, I have had ample leisure time to do some thinking. And, as they often do, my thoughts revolve around the making of art. It occurred to me that creation, at its best, is always autobiographical.

With almost 50 years of painting behind me, I have made hundreds of paintings. Lined up chronologically, they are a pictorial representation of me and my experiences. The loosely painted brown sandals were worn during my college years at the University of Massachusetts. The eight-sided Russian barn set in rolling golden fields was my impression of the wheat farming area of Washington state. The self portrait with wildly colored hair was me during a painful divorce. Huge flower canvases came out of my passion for my perennial garden in Spokane, Washington, and quiet, domestic still lifes from my more contemplative life in Florida.

When I consider the work of other artists, the same holds true. One might think of Van Gogh, Manet, Cassatt, and Picasso. How different each painted, always from their own surroundings and highly individual perspectives.

Sometimes someone will say to me “I wish I could paint like you.” I think it is better that each person paints like him or herself. Yes, it is good to copy others while learning to handle paint, but then you get to a point in your development when you just have to throw out your teachers’ styles and all the “rules” and paint for yourself.

This is the hard part for many artists. It is easy to take classes, easy to copy a work or a style. It takes patience and time to produce yourself on canvas. And, it takes courage. Courage to know who you are and be willing to put that down in paint.

Me? I am an arranger. I like to arrange and straighten things in real life. I plump pillows that don’t need fussing over, refold towels every time I enter the restroom, organize my pantry in lines of similar foods. At one time, I even had my spices in alphabetical order, but I don’t have space for that right now.

When approaching a new work, I find great joy in arranging colors and shapes. I know there are “rules” for all aspects of art, but I compose according to what feels good to my eye. I like clean, bright colors and simple compositions. I enjoy objects that fall out of the edges of the picture frame, as if they are just too full of life or too self-important to fit into the confines of the canvas. I like circular shapes and horizontal lines.

Lately, I have been thinking about how to further distill these qualities in future works. Time will tell what I come up with. Evolution is the exciting part of making art, adding another chapter to the autobiography.

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