Easy come easy go.
Some paintings are like that. I've been in the studio almost continuously for the past few weeks. My motivations are all the good kind: the gallery sold three paintings within the past two months and have asked for replacements, I have figured out something visually and need to reinforce the ability while I still remember it, and I have been haunted by the need to paint a particular image that skids away from me each and every time I try.
I enjoy the easy compositions, when the paint goes on in one go and is the perfect color/value/edge, and I'm smiling from start to finish. The satisfaction I feel spurs me on, not to a feeling of virtuosity, but to a kind of courageousness. As if I could tackle anything. This is actually a good feeling and if you encounter it you should exploit it - courage is so necessary in the creation of art. And so in between painting the compositions that felt comfortable and exciting in their own way I began to face off with the painting that has been haunting me. For the challenge of it. To see what I could see.
It started with my studies. Artists that interest me often paint scenes that combine the ordinary, the unexpected, the ugly momentarily turned into a abstract painting of luminous color and light. And while on a day trip that combined looking for new fishing locations as well as subject matter outside our immediate area, we took a break in Maupin. Now Maupin is best known as a jumping off place for white water river rafters. It's a collection of small houses stacked up the tiers of the rimrock canyon overlooking the Deschutes River, which is wide and sleepy and deceptively show on the surface. We parked in a city park and went exploring, and that's where I found it, a jumbled collection of fences and a box and odd pieces of junk set up across the creek that drops out of the high plateau and feeds into the larger river. Signs forbade any fishing whatsoever at the creek. Overhead, the cool spring sunlight filtered through the trees that were starting to swell with the promise of new growth while underfoot lay a tangle of the remnants of winter storms and old wood. The odd shapes and arrangement belonged in a painting. I could see it, feel it, feel my hand painting it with wide swaths of color and the perfect abstraction. Later, a visit to a fly-fishing guide shop revealed that what had so fascinated me was a fish weir. The fish weir is set up to trap all the returning salmon on their way to the spawning grounds further up the stream. The weir master kills all the fish hatchery salmon but lets the native, wild species through. Something about wanting to preserve the wild species but no one seemed to be able to explain why it was necessary to kill the hatchery salmon, unless there was limited space, sign up for your advanced spawning reservation, only real fish need apply.
I knew it was a painting that had to be painted. My first version was so bad I cut the canvas off the stretchers and threw it away. It was beyond me. All the skill that flowed so fluidly with the familiar compositions was sitting on the sidelines. I tried again. Courage found, courage lost. I began to worry about the canvases I was wasting, the time, the energy spent frustrating myself and proving that I would never, ever be a real painter.
I wanted the image to go away, to stop taunting me with the possibilities. But no: I am more of a captive now than I ever was. So I make the effort to think of the earlier efforts as studies, which is what real artists actually do, even the famous ones like Sorolla who often did studies in gouache and hid them from the public because he considered them so crude. I now know what won't work. I grit my teeth and load my brush like a soldier ready to do battle. I may be suffering from an inexplicable inability to give up but the vision I'm after is closer than it ever was. It is a difficult birthing process and it may still not be over.
I have - for the time being - accepted that this is the best that I can produce, that I have managed to capture some of what I was seeing and feeling, and did it with some moments of joy. Someday I know I will paint this place again. By then I would hope to have more skills and less inclination to judge myself so harshly, but I think part of that unlikely. I read recently that we automatically make judgments based upon an incorrect understanding of relativity: is it better than Sorolla, instead of is it better than paintings I did last week, which is also the only real measure that matters. Should matter. I am an old dog and not so likely to learn new tricks. But who knows?
"Fish Weir at Bakeoven Creek"
18x24, oil on linen on panel