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Posts Tagged ‘Failure’

Never Was Land

GC Myers- The Lost Painting 2014This painting doesn’t exist anymore, only in this digital image shown above.  Well, here and under several more layers of paint of a completely different painting that now lives on the canvas that it once occupied.

It was a piece that I spent several days on in the studio a few years back.  I had an idea of how I wanted it to look in my mind and as the days passed, it just kept moving further and further away from how I thought it should look.  I worked feverishly at it, pulling out every trick I could think of in order to make it have some sort of sense of rightness, something that would make it acceptable to my mind.

More and more frustrated, I got to the point that I could barely look at this piece. The colors were wrong, not what I was sensing.  The surface didn’t seem right to me. And I couldn’t see its rhythm at all. It just felt wrong on so many levels to me. Finally, at one  particular moment on my fourth day of toiling to make it right, it reached what I felt was total failure.

It had beaten me down and I stepped away from it.  I knew the only brush I would put to it again would be one charged with black paint that would obscure the sight of this damned thing.

I have written about failure here before– in fact, I will replay one of my favorite posts tomorrow on just that subject– and have failed at many things in my time here on this planet so I am familiar with the feeling.  But this one really bugged me.  Looking at it in the studio seemed like a form of punishment, one that mocked me.  I couldn’t wait to get rid of it and within several days had blacked out the image.  A few days later there was another painting in its place, one that had that sense of rightness and life that I’d hoped for in this piece.

I still dislike this painting for not being the thing that I needed it to be at the time. But over the years I have come to find a bit of affection for it whenever I stumble across it in my files. It actually comes across pretty well on the screen, much better than it did in person–kind of the reverse of how my work normally fares.

Do I regret covering it up?  I don’t know.  It definitely felt right in the moment and has remained so the time since.  But, when I can put aside what I thought this painting should truly be, part of me likes this digital  image just a bit.  A goofy little bit.  At least I don’t hate it in the same way nor does it feel like the abject failure that it did when I was working on it. So I am glad I at least captured the image minutes before I covered it up.

Since it doesn’t exist, I think I will call this image Never Was Land.

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I thought I’d replay the post below.  Sometimes there are days when nothing seems to work and I’ve had quite  a few of them.  Early on, I took these days as an indication of a lack of talent.  But time teaches that bad days are temporary and that there are lessons to be learned from even those bad days.  Knowing when to throw in the towel and start over is such a lesson.  Here’s my post from several years back:

gc-myers-studio-march-2011I’m sitting in my studio looking at an empty canvas. Not too long ago it was not empty.  No, I spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday working on this canvas, a 36″ square that was prepped beforehand with gesso and a first layer of black paint.  Several hours spent and not a minute of it felt smooth or in rhythm.  The paint didn’t come off the brush in the way that I expected or desired.  The composition seemed to just go nowhere ,leaving bland and lifeless  bits of nothing littered all over the canvas.  I never felt a flow, which is that quality I have described before where one mark leads to the next as though you are reading the lines and strokes on the canvas like they were revelatory tea leaves.

No tea leaves here yesterday.  Everything led to nothing.   After a few hours, I was exasperated and I knew deep down inside that I had betrayed my own words by trying to force the work rather than let it flow out organically.

That was the lesson and I knew what had to be done.  I  laid the canvas flat on the floor and broke out the black paint, covering the offensive marks that had been there moments before.  Blackness filled the space where there had been color just moments before.

It felt good, actually.

Time reveals many things and after tens of thousands of hours spent in the studio I have learned that  failure is no big deal.  It’s like the weather– temporary.  It comes and goes.  A failure like yesterday doesn’t make me happy but knowing that sometimes things just don’t work out makes me take such a temporary failure  with a philosophical shrug.  And instead of struggling ahead with this horror show that was unfurling before me, trying to somehow cobble it back to life, my experience has taught me that it would be best to retreat and start anew.

Tabula rasa-  clean slate–so to speak.

So here I sit this morning, a new day,  with a fresh canvas waiting for me and there is a new air of anticipation around it.  Yesterday is but a lesson and there’s no telling what the time spent today will reveal.  Can’t wait.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites which sort of ties in with today’s post.  It’s Time (The Revelator) from Gillian Welch.

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GC Myers Failed Painting detailThe image shown here is a tiny part, a background detail,  of a painting that I worked on for several days a month or so back.  I would show you the whole painting as it is at the moment, which is a canvas covered with black paint.  This little detail is the only part of this piece  that I feel comfortable showing and the only bit of it that you will ever see because this painting  just did not work.  At all.  It started wrong and over the days I worked on it continued to get even more wrong.  Even sitting here, looking at this detail, I am tempted to take a brush loaded with black paint to my computer screen to paint away the memory of its wrongness.

Just plain wrong.

It started as a much too concrete idea,  one that was too clever and too thought out.  I have always maintained that I am not smart enough to rely on my conscious brain to create ideas that can come alive and that my work is at its best when it flows from  intuition and reaction and feel.  This painting was surely proof of that.   I tried to force my brain into this painting in every way and it never took on any sort of organic feel, never had a rhythm, never came remotely to life.  I made dozens, maybe hundreds, of conscious decisions in this painting and it seemed as every one was wrong and made the whole thing a greater mess.

I knew within a day or so that it was futile, that this patient was dead on arrival.  But instead of rolling it into the morgue, I decided to try to bring it to life as though I were Dr. Frankenstein working over his poor monster.  This painting certainly resembled the Frankenstein monster– a good part here and there but stitched together crudely and an overall abomination.  It was as abject a failure as I had created in some time.

It was my monster.

I kept the beast around for several weeks and it became too painful to bear, seeing this tortured monster in the corner, more dead than alive.  I could have put it away to remind me of the folly of my own cleverness but I just wanted it gone,  all evidence of it erased.  So I broke out the brush and within moments it was but a memory.  Of course, I took a photo just in case I needed a reminder of  my own fallibility and failings.

I have quite a pile of such reminders, some more monstrous than others.

This monster was gone but it had taught me a lesson which was to keep the mind clear, to try to not force life where it has not taken hold on its own.  Trust the inner parts, my intuition and subconscious.  The life of a painting can’t be forced.   There is a natural rhythm needed that you can’t create.  You must find it and embellish it so that it becomes visible to others.  In this way, painting becomes less like the surgery of Dr. Frankenstein.

We know how that story ends.

 

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GC Myers 2013- Redemption BayEarly last week, I wrote about spending several hours working on a piece that seemed to go nowhere, had no rhythm or flow.  I was trying to force things that just weren’t there and the whole thing gave me an anxious feeling.   I  decided to count  it as a momentary setback and painted it over, erasing the failure and creating a clean slate on which to build something new .  I then went to work, trying to quiet my mind and letting the piece grow bit by bit.

This is what has emerged.

I am temporarily calling this painting, a 36″ by 36″ canvas, Redemption Bay.  It’s obviously named for the effort in reversing a failure but the name may fit in other ways, as well.  I’m still reading it and trying to decipher exactly what it says to me.  I can see many themes in it.  Cycle of life, external guidance and so on.

It has the flow and rhythm that was missing in the first attempt, elements meshing together to create a movement that takes the eye through and into the piece.  It’s exactly what I was trying to force in the failed attempt and came once I let the piece go on its own.   It’s been my experience that my best work comes when I trust   instincts over intellect.  I’m going to spend some time with this piece and see how it grows on me now.

So far, so good.

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gc-myers-studio-march-2011I’m sitting in my studio looking at an empty canvas.  It wasn’t empty not too long ago.  No, I spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday working on this canvas, a 36″ square that was prepped beforehand with gesso and a first layer of black paint.  Several hours spent and not a minute of it felt smooth or in rhythm.  The paint didn’t come off the brush in the way that I expected or desired.  The composition seemed to just go nowhere ,leaving bland and lifeless  bits of nothing littered all over the canvas.  I never felt a flow, that quality I have described before where one mark leads to the next as though you are reading the lines and strokes on the canvas like they were revelatory tea leaves.

No tea leaves here yesterday.  Everything led to nothing.   After a few hours, I was exasperated and I knew deep down inside  that I had betrayed my own words and had tried to force the work rather than let it flow out organically.  That was the lesson and I knew what had to be done.  I  laid the canvas flat on the floor and broke out the black paint, covering the offensive marks that had been there moments before.

It felt good, actually.

Time reveals many things and after tens of thousands of hours spent in the studio I have learned that  failure is no big deal.  It’s like the weather– temporary.  It comes and goes.  A failure like yesterday doesn’t make me happy but knowing that sometimes things just don’t work out makes me take such  a temporary failure  with a philosophical shrug.  And instead of struggling ahead with this horror show that was unfurling before me, trying to somehow cobble it back to life, my experience has taught me that it would be best to retreat and start anew.

Tabula rasa, so to speak.told

So here I sit this morning, a new day,  with a fresh canvas waiting for me and there is a new air of anticipation around it.  Yesterday is but a lesson and there’s no telling what the time spent today will reveal.  Can’t wait.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites which sort of ties in with today’s post.  It’s Time (The Revelator) from Gillian Welch.

 

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Failure is inevitable. Success is elusive.

Steven Spielberg

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I’ve written in recent posts about that rhythm that sometimes comes when I am readying work for shows, a deep groove filled with a self-regenerating energy that feeds on itself.  Just a wonderful feeling when I can stop for a moment and relish it.

But sometimes during these grand bouts of this rhythm  there are days when the wheels seem to come off the wagon and everything crashes.  Nothing works and every effort results in frustration and failure.  The rhythm that seemed onmipresent just moments before seems to have suddenly vanished completely and every action feels like I’m trying to move a huge boulder.  That was yesterday.

It started promisingly enough, working on the small detail work that is the grunt work of what I do.  Staining a few frames here.  Varnishing a few paintings there.  Then I worked for a bit on a piece in progress and stiil everything felt good, the synapses still sparking brightly. 

But then later in the morning  I pulled out a decent sized canvas, 2′ by 3′,  to start.  It had been treated with multiple layers of gesso and I felt like stars were aligned for this piece.  By the end of the day I realized I had misread these stars.  They were telling me to run.  Nothing worked at all on this piece.  The color was flat and every effort to bring it to life failed miserably and made the whole thing seem even more drab and lifeless.  Six or seven hours in and I step back to take it in and it is nothing but awful and the lightness that came with the rhythm has been replaced with a frustrating weight that rests heavily on my shoulders as well as in my gut. 

 I am at that moment verging on  screaming in a very primal way, like the character in the Edvard Munch painting.  My scream was replaced by a grab for the  paint and within minutes there is a layer of  black on the canvas, all evidence of my day covered in thick strokes of paint.  Seeing the failure of the day covered in black actually takes the edge off of the frustration I am feeling at the moment.  The flatness is dead and gone and I know that I will no longer be struggling over it, no longer struggling to bring a corpse back to life. 

But the frustration still lingers in the studio and I know that there will be nothing gained by fighting it.  I clean up and end my day, hoping that the new morning will find me refreshed and back in rhythm.

That being said, I have to go.  There’s a rhythm in here someplace and, godammn it, I am going to find it.  Like Darth Vader says above– failure will not be tolerated.

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Failure

In response to yesterday’s post concerning a very large blank canvas that is waiting patiently for me, I received several very interesting questions from my friend, Tom Seltz, concerning the role that failure and the fear of failure plays in my work.  He posed a number of great questions, some pragmatic and some esoteric,  that I’ll try to address.

On the pragmatic side, he asked if there is a financial risk when I take on large projects like the  4 1/2″ by 7′ canvas of which I wrote.  Actually, it’s not something I think about much because every piece, even the smallest,  has a certain cost in producing it that, after these many years, I don’t stop to consider.  But a project such as this is costlier as a larger canvas is more expensive right from the beginning simply due to the sheer size of it.  The canvas is heavier and more expensive and there is more used.  I use a lot more gesso and paint.  And while the cost of materials is a larger cost the biggest financial risk comes in the time spent on such a project.  It takes longer to prepare such a large canvas, longer to paint and, if it works out, longer to finish and frame.  This is time not spent on other projects.  Wasted time is by far the biggest risk in facing such a project and that is something I have to take into consideration before embarking on large projects.

He also asked whether I can reuse the materials if I don’t like what I’ve painted.  Sure, for the most part.  Especially canvasses.  Actually, the piece shown here was such a piece.  I had a concept in my head that floated around for months and I finally started putting it down on this 30″ square canvas.  I spent probably a day’s worth of time and got quite far into it before I realized that it was a flawed concept, that I was down a path that was way off the route I had envisioned.  It was dull and lifeless, even at an early stage.  It was crap and I knew that there was no hope for it.  I immediately painted it over, mainly to keep me from wasting even more time by trying to resuscitate it,  and this piece emerged, happily for me.

Tom also asked if I ever “crashed and burned” on a piece or if the worst sort of failure was that a piece was simply mediocre.  Well, I guess the last paragraph says a bit about the “crashed and burned” aspect, although that is a rarer event than one might suspect.  The beauty of painting is that it’s results are always subjective.  There is never total failure.  It’s not like sky-diving and if your parachute doesn’t open you die.  At least, that hasn’t been my experience. 

Mediocrity is a different story.  That is the one thing I probably fear most for my work and would consider a piece a failure if I judged it to be mediocre.  I have any  number of examples I could show you in the nooks and crannies of my studio but I won’t.  They have a purpose and some have remaining promise.  The purpose is in the lessons learned from painting them.  I usually glean something from  each painting, even something tiny but useful for the future.  But most times,  the mediocre pieces teach me what I don’t want to repeat in the future.  A wrong line here.  A flatness of color there.  Just simple dullness everywhere.

But, being art, there are few total failures, and many of these somewhat mediocre pieces sit unfinished because there are still stirs of promise in them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come to what I felt was a dead end for a painting, feeling that it was dull and lifeless, and set it aside.  Months and months might pass and one day I might pick it up and suddenly see something new in it.  A new way to move in it that brings it new life.  These paintings often bring the greatest satisfaction when they leave the gallery with a new owner.  Sometimes failure is simply a momentary perception that requires a new perspective.

Okay, that’s it for now.  I’m sure I have more to say about failure but it will have to wait until a later date.  I’ve got work waiting for me that doesn’t know the meaning of the word failure and I don’t want to risk that it might learn it.

Tom, thanks again for the great questions.  I’m always eager for good questions so keep it up!

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