On Tuesday my physiotherapist showed me how to do a really deep neck stretching exercise. She thought I was ready for it. I wasn’t. My poor neck. This kind of forward and backward progress of healing mirrors where my painting has gone over the past few weeks. I was not happy with the studio landscapes so I switched to portraits. The outcome so far has been a couple decent portraits and two “meh” ones. I did get out to plein air paint once and came home with a landscape I am happy with.
This situation is frustrating all ’round and yet… I will look at it as a time to ponder where I am going with the work and to be inspired by others. My friend Fiona pointed me to the work of Edwige Fouvry. I prefer her landscapes to the portraits. Her work is extremely loose and though I don’t see myself going to that extreme, I do appreciate it. My work is not loose enough yet so it makes me want to push myself. Perhaps loosening my painting up will allow my neck to let go!
As an exercise in building muscle strength, new muscle memory in better posture and a return to work activities I have been incorporating standing painting sessions into the therapy and rest that makes up my day. Plein air painting has pretty much gone by the wayside given that I can’t stand or sit for more than an hour at a time (more like ten minutes but I do tend to push it) and you really need to be out there for a good 3-4 hours. My body has made it abundantly clear that it wants to be in motion but it also needs to rest and heal right now. I had forgotten the perspective standing versus sitting to paint gives me, both physically and artistically. To step back, take a turn around the studio (however small it is) and give the work a once-over from a number of angles helps to position the progress of the piece in itself and in the context of my practice, my body of work.
I’ve been struggling with my studio landscape work not matching what I envision myself doing. Pretty pictures with little boats is just not me. When I am out in the field, the colours, shapes and stories come directly from the landscape and the results more often than not reflect that immersion and lessening of ego. I am just an interpreter in that moment. I let go of artistic direction worries and enjoy the full sensory experience. And I miss it.
Andrew and I signed up for a 4 day portrait painting workshop with the fab and mysterious Teresa Oaxaca at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio in June. Not having done figurative oils for uh, eons, my ego started talking to me; what if you suck?! Add to that my need of a change in subject matter and I decided to try my brush at a portrait.
Gone are the post-art school days of hanging around the Gastown loft studio pondering large-scale figurative paintings over a cuppa real coffee or a glass of wine with my mates in between gabbing and Tarot sessions. Nowadays it is an herbal tea or litre bottle of water beside my palette in my quiet home studio, often solo as Andrew works his day job. But the urge to paint the figure is a thread winding it’s way through my life so here I am on that path again. At least until my body says it’s safe to go back into the woods.