I have a painting that I did a few years back hanging in my bathroom. I love this piece dearly and – after sending it to a show in London this past Spring and having major separation anxiety – have decided that it is the only one Ive made over the years that I am not going to sell. I spend time looking at it daily and appreciating it, not as a painting that ‘I did’ but as an image that has its own life, its own mysteries. The constant source of wonder that I get from looking at it is precisely why I’m so attached to it; I did not cerebrally arrive at its design. In fact, if I had, I would have changed elements of the figure that are obviously anatomically incorrect.
If I do not “think” the image, how can I formulate it? How can I recreate the same set of parameters to allow such paintings to happen? How does one structure practice and build technique while still being open to otherworldly input? Essentially, how does one be both painter and medium, not merely a medium who paints or a painter who thinks about spirit?
Reflecting on this painting and asking myself these questions has me going back to my “Rules for Painting”, the creation of marching orders for how I create and how I focus the creative process. Good timing, I guess, with the New Year upon us. So here’s my personal list for 2017:
1. Begin with ritual. Be meticulous about a practice of clearing and centering before each painting session. It does not need to be complicated, it does have to be regular and repeatable.
2. Keep it simple. Do not attempt to bite off large ideological chunks, work complex ideas or try to be smart while painting. Leave this for late night whiskey fueled conversations with your friends and keep that shit the fuck out of the studio.
3. Listen carefully, act impulsively. Do track seemingly random fragments of words, smells, colors and images that arise while painting. Incorporate them into the painting as quickly as possible to avoid intellectualizing them (see point 3)
4. Go where the fear is. Adding impulsive, unplanned for action into your well planned and long labored upon canvas will most likely create anxiety. If you are afraid you are going to fuck it up with your next move, you are probably working in the correct direction.
5. Write it down. Not all information can be immediately applied to the canvas. When that is the case either write it down in a journal and forget it, or write it on your studio wall and repeat it to yourself until it becomes nonsense.
6. Step back. Spend as much time being with the painting as you do making marks on it. This should not be used to think about what step is next. Rather, this is a meditation on letting the image in process speak to you. Napping by the work in progress or free writing while in view of it also count.
7. Take care. Do not cut corners in the process. Avoid distractions. Don’t work when mentally or emotionally tapped. Don’t act out of frustration. Know the difference between fearlessness and carelessness and create accordingly.
8. Play. Encourage looseness and spontaneity in planned pieces by doing more free drawing while listening to music or being read to.
9. Notice repetition. Take special note of images, symbols and words that reoccur. Track these for use in creating a larger symbolic language.
10. Keep your eye on the bigger picture. At this time, do not concern yourself with the continuity of work in the short term, stylistically or otherwise. Larger coherent bodies will be created over time through the repetition of time based influences.
I hope this will inspire you to create your own list to guide your creative process in 2017. If you do please share, I am always excited to hear your thoughts and reflections on such subjects.
Blessed and beautiful New Year to you!