When I was speaking last week with the docents at the Fenimore Art Museum, I was confronted with a question that asked about the repetition of forms and themes of my paintings, particularly my use of the Red Tree. I think I answered the question satisfactorily, stating that I tried to paint as far as possible from the conscious part of my mind . I pointed out that painting in series of repeated forms allowed me to put aside thoughts of composition and focus on the color and texture that carry the emotional weight of the painting. The theme and focus of the painting was really just an invitation to the viewer to enter the picture and experience the underlying emotional content. And that was where I hoped the viewer ultimately arrived .
But driving home, I thought about a blogpost from a few years back that addressed the same question and my own concern early in my career with allowing myself to simply paint whatever came out of me. I hope that posting this piece from October of 2009 helps better answer that question from the Fenimore docents:
There was an episode of Mystery! on PBS starring Kenneth Branagh as Swedish detective Wallander. It was okay, nice production but nothing remarkable in the story but there was a part at the end that struck home with me and related very much to my life as a painter. Wallander’s father, played by the great character actor David Warner, was, like me, a landscape painter. Now aged and in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, his son comes to him and intimates that he can’t go on as a detective, that he can’t take the stress. The painter then recalls how when Wallander was a boy he would ask his father about his painting, asking, “Why are they always the same, Dad? Why don’t you do something different”
He said he could never explain. Each morning when he began to paint, he would tell himself that maybe today he would do a seascape or a still life or maybe an abstract, just splash on the paint and see where it takes him. But then he would start and each day he would paint the same thing- a landscape. Whatever he did, that was what came out. He then said to his son, ” What you have is your painting- I may not like it, you may not like it but it’s yours.”
That may not translate as well on paper without the atmospheric camera shots and the underscored music but for me it said a lot in how I think about my body of work. Like the father, I used to worry that I would have to do other things- still lifes, portraits, etc.- to prove my worth as a painter but at the end of each day I found myself looking at a landscape, most often with a red tree. As time has passed, I have shed away those worries. I don’t paint portraits. Don’t paint still life. I paint what comes out and most often it is the landscape. And that red tree that I once damned when I first realized it had became a part of who I am.
I realized you have to stop damning who you are…