Tonight the organizers of the show at the A. P. E. Gallery, Observing Ourselves: 50 Women’s Self-Portraits, had an artists’ talk. Six artists were on the panel and many others who contributed to the show, including me, were in the audience. The six panelists, who included the organizers, Jane Lund and Rachel Folsom, talked about how their portraits came about. Then the question was asked of the audience about why the show was so popular. Lisa Thompson, who runs A. P. E., said the show was immensely popular, with people revistiting it, people who knew people with pieces in the show, but also many who just walked in off the street. Of course, when you have dozens of artists, you have all the people associated with them coming to see the show. But that doesn’t quite explain it.
So the portrait is done and delivered to the gallery. I find that I have a very different feeling about it than I would if it were a still-life, or a portrait of somebody else, or just about other subject matter. Part of that stems, I think, from it feeling rather strange to portray myself. I have never taken or even thought about taking a “selfie”. It’s just not something that ever comes to mind. I guess it feels a bit narcissistic and that feeling flows into how I feel about this self-portrait, just a bit odd. In some ways how I feel about it is similar to that feeling one has sometimes after a conversation, of wanting to say, “That’s not quite what I meant,” or “I’m not finished – I have more to say.” I haven’t done a self-portrait before, so I don’t know if everyone feels that way.
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life. All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. Albert Einstein I have been crazy nervous about this self-portrait. Part of it is just the fact that it feels so exposing to do a self-portrait Certainly I’ve never thought to myself that I’d be doing a one. I can’t decide if I’m glad Jane asked me to do one or not. The jury’s still out – I see-saw from liking it to being really uncomfortable with it. But I’m loving working on it as if it’s my actual job. How jealous I am of those who can do this full-time. I remember watching the documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, where he would kiss his wife goodbye in their kitchen and head out with his bag to go lie down in the driveway, let it rain all around his silhouette, then photograph the dry spot where his body had been. I thought then, “I want his job!” Well, maybe …
I have been invited to take part in a show organized by Jane Lund and Rachel Fulsom, Self-Portraits by 50 Women Artists at the A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton, from November 3 to December 3. My first reaction to being invited was, of course, that it is a great honor, especially when I look at my fellow exhibitors, and also a great responsibility. And then very quickly, not panic, that’s too strong a word, but the weight of having to come up with a way to present myself that felt true to who I feel that I am, not gimmicky (I hate what I think of as “gimmick art”), and allowed me to use pastel in the way that I love, with intense color, and so that, up close, the pastel application is beautiful on its own, as if each inch of the picture is a tiny abstract painting. All-in-all, a formidable task.
So this little toy gun, and I do mean little, is marked “REPLICA”. Phew! I thought this gun, which is less than three inches tall, might be the real thing. (No, not really.) It does beg the question of why someone would want a really tiny replica. Something to fit well in the hands of really tiny children? Something convenient to carry to scare off those accosting you, hoping they won’t notice it’s too tiny to hurt anything larger than a gnat? OK, I’m out of guesses.
OK, there are a few parts I like in this picture, in the shiny part on the front of the barrel, where the turquoise, gold, white, and purple-black swirl together. And on the base and trigger guard and body, in the front, where the reflections allow so much color in those tiny areas. But I made this pastel, 9″ x 12″, struggling the whole time because the size is just too small to really allow me to have freedom with the pastels, to create beautiful, abstract areas of color within the representational picture. So I decided it would be a study, not a final product, a study for one in a series I have planned, American Still Life.
Today I gave up the charcoal pencils and two pastel pencils I was using, trying to channel Jim Dine, for my Sennelier and Girault pastels, still in just a few colors, yellows, golds, blood red, and black/gray/white. I’ve never been able to limit my palette before. I’m not sure I always want to do that, but I like it in this picture. I think it’s the Dine influence, still a bit there, letting me do that. Pastel is definitely my medium. I just love its richness, despite the nuisance of the mess, it often feeling like I’m drawing with a broomstick, the difficulty of framing and preserving them, etc. The richness and texture and depth of color trumps all that. In the background of this picture it is thick enough, even on this Strathmore pastel paper – no grit – to let me smoosh it around, my absolute favorite place to find myself with pastels. People often can’t figure out why I use Senneliers, because they’re so soft, but they do that smooshing thing so nicely. …
I have been struggling with thinking I should whip off drawings that have a freedom and life to them, particularly at the Sundial Still Life Sundays and for warming up and sketching in between working on fully finished pieces. Part of my motivation is that all the drawing books/classes/etc. say that you should do this, that it will make you a better artist. The other motivation is that I feel that I’ve had a very static, fill-it-all-in, pretty boring way of working in all but maybe one of the pieces I’ve done. But when I sit down to whip something off, I haven’t been able to do it. When I try, what I produce is just a sloppy mess; I hate what I’m doing, don’t think it’s worth any time, and quit drawing for the day altogether in total disgust and discouragement. I realize one thing I’m forgetting is that drawings that have the qualities that make them look whipped off might not be.
Today I am trying to figure out how to draw in spite of my crazy anxiety about how much I have to do in my life and for the business (www.sundialwire.com). And after I typed that sentence I thought, “To hell with that!” and went into the sunroom (studio, such as it is) and finished the picture I’d started at the last Sundial Still Life Sunday. Here’s what I got done during that Sunday session:
One reads a lot about how going out of your comfort zone boosts your creativity. I don’t know if that’s the case with the activity described here. A few years ago a friend told me about Dr. Sketchy’s. It is themed drawing sessions in a bar with the models whittling down their costumes to nearly nothing as the evening winds down. Burlesque, purposely strange and amusing. You can see how it all started (in NYC), and why, at the Dr. Sketchy’s FAQ. Note that the Northampton branch is not nearly as snazzy as the pictures on the official Sketchy’s page would indicate that at least some of the other branches are. Dr. Sketchy’s Northampton is decidedly funky, but that’s a compliment.