Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting Past Middle


Encaustic, Acrylic & Graphite
on panel

Today I finished a set of 3 larger paintings for my current series (Rearranged). The shifting of the contents happened while in the middle place. This 'middle' place is where I often find myself doubting the work. Do you feel anxious in the middle?

I know this anxiety is part of being human and of course as artists, who doesn't go through this often enough in or out of the studio. We know it so well... we can opt out but at this point of my renewed disciplined studio practice I don't.

It isn't so easy to opt out especially when I've just returned from a 12-month freeze. Showing up and pushing through -- relieved that I'm not wrestling with depression. Each of these weeks during the past month, while working on these pieces, I've been hit with too much reality. Outside the studio -- death of my favorite aunt, a painful breakup that won't go away, educational decisions for my teenage daughter (who has Aspergers Syndrome) and aging parents....I don't like being in the middle of this sandwich. Again...the 'middle'. When are we 'not' in transition?

Reaching the middle is when you can sometimes feel the anxiety or excitement for the work to go in another direction. This is what happens to me. Facing the compulsion to suddenly change the palette or form out of boredom is something I must understand about myself. It's actually not very different from how your personality is in life and how you deal in the studio with your work. Pay attention to your choices and how you cope in the studio. You may be surprised to notice that you're not that different inside the privacy of your studio. I have been fantasizing about turning my back on the world to paint, but so much of the world is what makes me who I am everyday.

This work started out a very tight grid with more than 7 colors! Excessive but it's what I needed to do-- color is what drives me and then form. The childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer never materialized so I create design and color in my paintings.

Rearranged #4
Encaustic, Acrylic, Oil & Graphite
on panel

So, back to the halfway point and the shift that happened. I have the original 4 paintings hanging in my living room and began seeing 4 to 6 paintings in each! A lot going on in these little 24"x24"s! You know, a very full plate of life. It's true and I rebel every chance I get.

Each day in the Studio I showed up working on this new set of 3. Format changed from 24's to 48"x24"'s! Challenging? Yes & No... I obviously needed a larger container. As I predicted, silence was good in the beginning. The absorption replaced anxiety and concentration. Blaring music, mostly jazz piano, gospel and hiphop broke the tightness. Dancing in the studio is always good.

The same nagging question of "why do you work so hard?" started to kill my flow. Music had to go and I think steam was coming out of my studio and felt at my friend's studio in San Francisco. She actually told me so.

As in a spiritual practice, it's very simple. It comes down to discipline and working hard. It's like those nadis that get stuck in your chakras that make you wanna crawl up in a ball and never leave your cave. Yet another push to go "deeper"! Big... OM...namah...

Deeper I went cursing a lot to my surprise. Remembering critique class -- what a drill. So, alone I sat with a glass of wine, and critiqued my work seriously and humorously. You have to be as honest as you can even as painful as it can be. I distanced myself from the work and mentally knew what I wanted to do, but sat on the new ideas for several long studio sessions. Could I really loosen it up? Will the transition be a good one?

Music is a strong influence in my life and it helped make the shift. Creating a new color to integrate into an already colorful palette was making me very crazy. Nothing worked. I pulled out every color index book I owned, leafed through a dozen art magazines and stared at my halfway there paintings. A lot of cursing went on during this process. I got it! Like in music, there's a bridge, a transition, reharmonizing, building tension, and rhythmic elements... I realized I had a tightly arranged melody.

The moment came and my favorite Color Index by Jim Krause with over 1100 combos and formulas inspired me. The work was too tight and I needed to make a transition. It was extremely complex working it out. I threw up my brushes and began mixing. All any artist can do is rely on waiting, intuition and process. Or, more like blood, sweat and tears...

It has been a good exercise in resisting the safety of keeping it the same to only expanding it on a larger format. This makes me think about how a music artist takes standards and reworks them. As painters, we rework familiar material to our own design and give it our treatment.

At a certain point, you have to go to the edge of the cliff
and jump --
put your ideas into a form, share that form with others.

____Meredith Monk


  1. I think however you process it, you should accept that the final outcome will always be good, regardless of how it may intimidate you or challenge you, the final arbiter is not you, or your critic, the final arbiter is someone who will come long after you and marvel about what the artist was thinking and what were her motivations when she crafted this intimate piece of shared beauty and mind. There will always be those that love your work, and those that do not care for your work, but in the end all that matters is that the piece will end up with someone that loves and appreciates it, and marvels at who this person is that crafted this art. Listen and dance to the music and paint on, you may not realize this but I see dance in your paintings... an eclectic dance, to an eclectic sound, not confined to one genre, but open to all...

  2. Leon, thanks so much for your spirited and soulful response. Love the encouragement and that you 'get' me...I agree...eclectic is so me and you are keenly perceptive thru viewing my work. That in itself is a treasure to are remarkable dear friend.

  3. Great post, Cyndy- and your work keeps evolving. Great to watch you grow!

  4. So much here that resonates, and you articulate it much better than I do. I agree with Leon that you need to just paint and dance, and know that it will be good no matter what.

  5. thank you Lissa & M for your supportive comments! A girl needs all the good ones in her life...not to mention a girl with an artist life like ours...i admire and respect you both as artists and treasure your great wishes for me!!!