I finished a painting.
It’s a good sized one, almost sixteen feet wide by eight feet in height. For a few practical and other reasons, it is a triptych, three large canvases meant to be seen together as a whole.
I created this painting as a part of a proposal made about a year ago. The university I teach at, Minnesota State University, Mankato (in Southern Minnesota) has a competitive lecture series called the Douglas R. Moore lecture. Mr. Moore is a past president who established this lecture series. There’s even a monetary award, which is cool. It’s always great to get paid to talk about what I love to do.
Which is paint.
My idea for the lecture was to discuss a recent body of work I call Magical Landscapes. The structure of the lecture is to talk about the history of landscape painting in American Art, the Modern era of landscape, Contemporary influences and then I document the making of one of my paintings.
My intent is to explore how to make a painting from the ground up. Sort of a step-by-step account of the process. From a historical perspective, to contemporary precedents, development of the content/direction and then the actual painting process. I guess sort of a demystification of making a work of art. Somehow, I have to jam all this in a thirty-minute talk with questions to follow. Talk about editing! My discussion of the history of American Landscape painting will be at best…cursory.
That’s for my talk though, come to it! March 27th, 7pm, Ostrander Auditorium here on the campus of MSU,M.
I’ve been posting the creation of this painting which I’ve titled “Moon Within” on social media. I’ve been doing this because the dialogue I’ve had with my social media community has really helped me to figure out the lecture and yes… the painting. It’s been a true collaboration and I’m appreciative of all my friends and their commentary. Much of it will be incorporated into my lecture.
One question several friends have asked keeps resonating in my head.
How do you know it is done?
It’s one of those difficult questions because there is a basic disconnection between what the viewer thinks about the painting process and what the process is actually like for the painter. The viewer sees the completed painting without the many steps between start and finish that the painter took to bring it to that point of finish. This presupposes that the painter had a clear plan and objective, which is sometimes true but mostly never.
I always think of it as taking a trip. There is a destination I’ve set. I even know how I’m getting to that place. Yet the trip itself is always full of uncertainty and usually a bit of chaos. Same with a painting.
A painting is finished when it declares itself complete! Within the time frame of a few moments, to continue the travel analogy, it has become a destination, a place, a world of its own making.
A big mistake a lot of young painters make is that they start their next painting on top of the one that just declared itself DONE! The declaration just wasn’t heard. All my years of painting has taught me to listen and to hear my paintings yelling at me. Although there are times when I still drive over the cliff with the painting screaming at me!
A painting is finished when:
It is a surprise
It looks like I didn’t make it
It is delightful, not heavy
It won’t let me touch it
It is self-declarative
It is fully present, further changes seem inconsequential
But there is a problem with all of this. Here’s the problem: There is no finish, no end, no completion.
All of the paintings I love, Rembrandt, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Burchfield, Turner, Murray…it’s an endless list…I walk up to that painting, I stare at it, it’s a shadow!! I cannot figure it out, I get closer, I never will figure it out, I’m confronted by a mystery that is inexplicable, I keep staring, I think I’ve got it….there is no point in trying figure it out…the point is to indulge and savor the mystery.
That is when a painting is truly finished, when it embraces the mystery of its own making. The irony is that it is finished when it is unfinished!
I’ll be exploring these sorts of thoughts in my lecture on March 27th. Come to it if you are in the area. I’ll also be exhibiting “Moon Within” so you can see it in person.
Much love to you as we relish the mystery of our unfinished evolving lives!