I have a long list of things to be done this morning. Since time is short, I thought I’d rerun a blog entry from back in early 2009. It concerns the question of how long it takes to finish a painting, a question that has been asked of me many, many times. I usually tell the story of a commission I did for a Finnish diplomat a number of years back and how the work I did on that piece became the template or rehearsal for a larger piece soon after.
The answer that I gave in 2009 still pretty much applies although I have noticed that in recent years that it is taking me longer to finish paintings. I tend to dwell on them a little longer now and am more apt to set them aside so that I can simply consider them before forging ahead. But there’s even a variable in that– sometimes the energy and direction of a piece is so determined that there is a danger in losing its momentum by setting it aside.
So there is no one answer to the question. Here’s what I wrote six years back:
I am asked this question at every opening and gallery talk: How long does it takes to finish a painting?
This is a question that I’ve answered a thousand times and I still have to stop and think about my answer.
You see, there are so many variables in my painting technique at different times that sometimes the actual process can be much longer or shorter on any given painting. Sometimes I can toil over a piece, every bit of the process requiring time and thought. There may be much time spent just looking at the piece trying to figure out where the next line or stroke goes, trying to weigh each move. Then there are times when the painting drops out effortlessly and I’ll look up after a very short time and realize that it’s almost complete. Any more moves from me and the piece would be diminished.
I often cite an example from a number of years ago. I had been working on a series of paintings, working with a particular color and compositional form. Over the course of a month, I did several very similar paintings in several different sizes from very small up to a fairly large version. Each had a very distinct and unique appearance and feel but the technique and color was done in very much the same way.
One morning at the end of this monthlong period, I got up early and was in the studio at 5 AM. I had a very large panel prepared and pulled it. Immediately, I started on the panel. Every move, every decision was the result of the previous versions of this painting I had executed over the past month. I was painting solely on muscle memory and not on a conscious decision making thought process. I was painting very fast, with total focus, and I remember it as being a total whirl. The piece always seemed near to disaster. On an edge. But having done this for a month I trusted every move and forced through potential problems.
Suddenly, it was done. I looked over at the clock and realized it had only been two hours. Surely, there must be so much more to do.
But it was done. It was fully realized and full of feeling and great rhythm. I framed the piece and a few weeks later I took it to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. where I had shown my work for many years. It found a new home within hours of arriving at the gallery.
I realized at that point that every version of that painting was a separate performance, a virtual rehearsal for that particular painting. I had choreographed every move in advance and it was just a matter of finding the right moment when plan and performance converge.
It had taken a mere two hours but it was really painted over the course of hundreds of hours.
I hope you can see why I always have to think about this question…
[ The painting at the top is titled Simple Glory from 2004 ]