Aug 30, 2009

A Little Dab'll Do Ya

First and foremost, if you're reading this on my Facebook page, click here or point your browser to if the FB nazis render it inoperable to go to the actual blog where these originate. There's not THAT much more here as opposed to there, certainly less Mafia Wars and "What Colour Underwear Are You?" quiz results, but you never know, you might find something you like. Better, you might find something you don't like. And there's always the archives.

Anyway. On to more pressing matters.

Mature style.

I used to hate that term before I knew anything about anything. I used to think it was bunkum, that it was made up to make people feel like the people who HAD 'mature styles' were somehow better than they were. Oddly enough, and not for the last time, I was wrong.

When I first entered college a very dear friend of mine went south to LSU while I stayed here to attend a hellishly Conservative Christian college. To keep in touch my friend and I wrote letters to each other*. It quickly became a competition to see who could write the weirdest letters. Length (six pages was a minimum) was inclusive under the heading 'weird,' as was nested parenthesis, long rambling rants about the minutae of our everyday lives, changing penmanship styles, using foreign languages and, well, you get the picture. We'd even both go so far as to begin new letters as soon as the last completed one was mailed off, so that we could quickly get another one off as soon as we received one. It was a sickness.

It also a) further ingrained my utterly terrible penmanship and b) formed my mature style of writing. If you've not noticed I've always written in a very conversational format, and very stream-of consciousness. If it's in my head it comes out my fingertips and onto the screen, and I usually post with very little editing. Just not in my nature. Me, I blame Jeff. I suggest you do the same. Bastard hasn't written me in years.

Here of late, and again, if you've been following my Facebook account you know this already, I'm painting again. I do so at the arm-twisting of my therapist who tapped into what is possibly my One True Devotion. And, it goes without saying, the arm-twisting of my syster, my friends and even some complete strangers who shouted well-meaning things at me one day last month in the street as I waited for a bus to drive over me.

Like my letter writing fixation I've been painting oil on canvas since my college days, only not with the frequency or tenacity with which I write. Used to write. Started again. You know. Plus there is a gap measured in years during which my oils literally dried in their tubes and my brushes suffered whatever it is brushes suffer when they're not used. Cleaning clogged drains. Working on school science fair projects. Cleaning dog's teeth. The usual. Not so my writing, so you see the difference that I feel when I see my 'mature style' on the page and when I look at a canvas I've just finished. There's not a lot of difference between what I think and what shows up in my writing. The disparity between the picture in my head and the painted image, however, is a VAST one.

I'll freely admit it wasn't until last night that I finally broke down and got back into painting fully. A late-evening jaunt brought me to the local hobby store and I spent a fair bit of my painstakingly collected cash on new palette knives, some big 12 oz tubes of pigment and a variety of brushes. Cheap ones but plentiful, the way I like it. My style (such as it is) doesn't require sable brushes. I'm not doing portraiture here, nor am I selling these to the Guggenheim, so brushes made from virgin's pubes are not in my budget.

I've set aside Sundays as my painting day. I work at my job all week then work at house duties in the evenings to make sure that by the time Sunday rolls around I can be in my office shoving the big wingback chair out of the way and throwing down the dropcloth that has delineated "My Studio Space" since the day I first began painting in earnest in college. I take up one of the many blank canvases I have amassed over the years, confine it within my easel and I work at it anywhere from three to six hours, from just before lunch to well into the afternoon. It's a healing time. A very narrow-focus time. A particularly ME time, surrounded by the smells and the sensations that remind me of the only time I ever truly enjoyed college. Creation time. Studio time.

Mature style. That's the kicker. Even with a degree from an accredited, stick-up-its-ass college I don't have a mature style yet. I haven't painted nearly enough to have found something that works for me, a certain turn of the brush that says "This is his work" like my writing does. I look back over my (albeit small) body of work and I see certain terms, certain visual pieces of a vocabulary that I feel the need to use. I have a symbology that grows and branches that is mine, I can say that with certainty. In my creative time I've branched out many ways, trying to find my voice. I've worked decoupage (French for "glue shite to other shite and then varnish the lot within an inch of its life") into my painted works, and still wander in and out of an impasto (Italian for "slather the paint on like you're icing a cake, capiche?") technique and I even tried a sort of comic-book style a few times, where the canvas was divided by heavy black irregular borders and the story was read left to right and top to bottom, a book rendered in paint on canvas.

A friend of mine to whom I gave that particular painting said that for all my railing against having no style it was still very much my style. He said "it's your colours." I didn't see it myself, the painting being done mostly in a sort of ghastly, sickly green, but I took his word for it.

That statement made a decade or more ago still makes me wonder. From the first day I dabbed brush on canvas I knew that Surrealism was my only avenue. It's been one of the very few things that I've ever been absolutely certain of. Even doing simple student exercises I tried to render the unusual, the dreamlike, the vaguely menacing in my images. The rest? The rest has been conjecture and exploration and wandering in the desert looking for the burning giraffe and the bathtub full of brightly-coloured machine parts. The checkerboard patterns and the giant burnt matchstick, the vastly oversized origami sculptures and the rusted pipework, the crescent-shape and its ever-attendant opened orb, the claw-foot bathtub and the walls that aren't quite straight, those are my vocabulary; the procedure, the actual process of rendering them, that's the part that still chafes.

Perhaps I won't recognise my mature style until it's been here so long I take it for granted and stop watching for it, like my writing style. I don't consciously work at writing like this, I just write and what comes out Perhaps part of having a mature style is no longer questing for a certain style and simply lies in doing whatever comes naturally. Letting the paint fall where it may, letting the muscles do what they want to do while the brush rests between my fingers, reproducing the world that my mind swims in.

Nah. Can't be THAT easy.

* For those of you not old enough to remember pens and paper, they were the main form of written communication before text messages. Watery carbon was dispensed from a stylus onto bits of thinly-pulped wood, and the result was folded and placed into an enclosure, also made of pulped wood. The resulting "letter" was sent via a very unreliable physical delivery method to the recipient at an exorbitant charge, sometimes taking up to a week or longer to arrive. IDK. OMG WTF rite? :-P


Gordo said...

I dunno, my friend. Is an artist supposed to, or even allowed, recognize his own style?

You're one up on a large portion of the world: you may have found your "One True Devotion". That's huge. It's no small feat to be able to dedicate some portion of your week to "me time", either.

twisted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
twisted said...

Your style, brother myne, is painting what pleases you and to the merry hells with the opinions of others. It is _your_ One True Devotion no?

Paper Tyger is looking over my shoulder as I type.

meno said...

I'm a virgin, so i could send you some pubes for free. :)

I'd love to see some photos of your paintings, not so i can tell you how great you are, i mean, i might, but mostly just to see what you see.

Jean said...

You are downright bubbling with painter enthusiasm. Kewl!
But, yeah...let's see somma dem dere pix, puhleeze.

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, I'm actually not sure! I guess one can recognise one's own way after a while...I hope!

Thank you, sys. You're my strength when I need a little extra, always have been.

Er...meno, why don't you just keep those and I'll stick with my cheap acrylic 10-for-$10 brushes. :) I'll have to get some photos together. Or you could find me on Facebook...which Jean, you've seen those two already! Been posting 'em on FB, very poor photos granted, but still!

Vulgar Wizard said...

I think it's called dry rot.

Maggie said...

you know, I'm thinking that holding a brush made of virgin pubes evokes a certain symbology of its own.

"The disparity between the picture in my head and the painted image"
--oh man do I get this. I hate that the fabulous things in my head just don't translate through these fingers

Irrelephant said...

Tracy, you might be more right than you think. *lol*

Maggie, it's always really infuriated me, but then again it also keeps me straining forward. I guess that's a big part of it for me--trying to attain that place where the image matches the idea.