Art In History Art Blog
The Winter Aconite are in bloom in my garden, edging out the Snowdrops, and a good week or two before we'll see crocuses. These spots of yellow are always the first, peeking through late snowdrifts, and foretelling the more insistent yellow of daffodils and forsythia. With the glories of goldenrod in late August and September, these are the yellows that frame our New England Summer season.
In the old days, Spring always meant spring cleaning, in the house, yard and garden. As an artist who produces abundantly, it also means deciding which paintings do not make the cut and should be recycled. Since I paint on panels which store very efficiently if unframed, this is not a necessary process physically, but it seems to be very important to me psychologically. At least until I start selling work as fast as I can produce it (yeah, right), I need to recycle old work just to convince myself I am not littering.
As I paint, my work seems to fall into three general categories: "keepers": work that if clearly successful and to be saved, "failures": work that can be wiped down before it is even dry, and the vast middle ground. The third category will live to see another day, or year, but if it is not sold it may eventually fall under the sander.
The middle ground contains work in several categories. One group is "ambitious failures", works where I was trying something very difficult without real success: complex scenes that do not organize easily, atypical compositions. I need to study these works for what they can teach me, but I won't keep them forever.
A similar group consists of works that have wonderful passages, but don't succeed as a whole. These are the works that most artists would continue to improve upon, and with luck bring up to a consistent quality throughout. That process seldem works for me. I will make modest corrections, or add final accents to the dry surface, but beyond that, for every "improvement" I pay an unacceptable price in freshness and truth.
Another group is the works in my passion of the moment, whether it is rocks, clouds, dried grasses or snow. With the exception of the obvious failures, I want to see all these work together, side-by-side, the growing collection further fueling my passion. The ones that may not be kept forever still help in the short run to lead me to better efforts before they die.
My art vacations always produce similar collections of work. I work in a new locale, at white heat, producing two or three works a day and saving them all. Only when I return and have spent some time looking at the collection as a whole do I begin to weed out the failures and partial failures. A year or two later I may be down to half the original number.
I should say that this is not really a Spring ritual; it happens at odd moments throughout the year. Last year I rephotographed all my old work for submission to ICN, the Independent Coffeehouse Network, a process which turned into a major selection and thinning out. Works were recycled which had survived many years of cuts, but which didn't stand up well to others of the same general character. Only by doing this periodically can I justify to myself the number of painting I foist upon the world.