Inspiration, impetus, or … just making art

Inspiration is for amateurs
::: inspiration: noun in·spi·ra·tion \ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən\  1. something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone  2. a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something  3. a good idea ::: impetus : noun im·pe·tus \ˈim-pə-təs\ 1. a force that causes something (such as a process or activity) to be done or to become more active 2. a force that causes an object to begin moving or to continue to move  / Merriam Webster Dictionary

I’m a great adherent of Chuck Close’s declaration that “inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” There’s more to that quote, about the work producing the direction, and how you won’t get much done if you wait for inspiration. I don’t know; maybe that’s a purist’s point of view, and maybe I’m too old to become a purist. But I’ve been in a slump for months, now, and not painting much at all (except for the demo piece for my last painting class, and that was dreadful). I’ve been meaning to sew — an art I also love — but not doing that either. Meaning to clean up my office and studio, getting a bit done but not much, and of course, meaning to paint. But not. Even meaning to doodle and sketch, for pity’s sake, but not doing much of that either. I’ve been reading, mostly. Reading good stuff — mostly Margaret Drabble — but not painting with any will.

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Breakfast at the Roycroft Inn

However. A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday, Sweetie celebrated my 65th birthday by taking me on a rural New York State ramble, unbooked, unplanned, heading roughly in the direction of Niagara Falls via secondary roads. The weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful — I’m sorry I took so few photos! Stops at the Glen Curtiss Museum, a stay in Brockport, a brief excursion past the falls in Canada, a stay at the wonderful Roycroft Inn (and campus), and finally, a long stop at the amazing Corning Museum of Glass, before heading for home under the threat of thunderstorms… so refreshing.

Bronze statue of Artemis and a deer - Greek or Roman, Late Hellenistic or early Imperial, 1st cent. BC or 1st cent. AD
Bronze statue of Artemis and a deer – Greek or Roman, Late Hellenistic or early Imperial, 1st cent. BC or 1st cent. AD – Metropolitan Museum of Art

The following Saturday, I got on a bus for NYC with a group from the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier, and spent a fabulous day in the City looking at great art with fine companions — including a visit to the Met’s John Singer Sargent collection and the Artemis/Diana bronze (which is the basis of my current painting, Moon Watcher).

And I’ve had this bunch of lovely new-to-me paints, given me out of the blue by a colleague, just waiting to get into a real painting instead of minor dabbling…

So: was it inspiration that got me painting again? Or impetus? Is there a difference? Would Chuck Close see one? I kinda think not, but that’s the way that cookie crumbles. I’m just happy to be working again.

 

River Watcher

River Watcher
River Watcher: oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

I worked on River Watcher and Night Watcher (see the previous post) concurrently, switching off as one dried enough to work on, and then the other did. Each time I switched – rolling my taboret cart from one to the other, shifting the left-hand easel (River Watcher) to fit the taboret between or beside each piece – it was emotionally difficult to leave the one I was quitting. But I’d gamely work into the current piece, and eventually be reluctant to leave that one! Guess I’m a bit obsessive.

GreenBoat Studio
Working concurrently in GreenBoat Studio

I have a penchant for the 19th-century visual sense, both the popular esthetic and the experimental high art of the time, and it’s showing more and more in my painting. Maybe it’s hokey, but it’s me – at least for the time being. The figure in River Watcher is from the same photo shoot, same cemetery in Manchester, NH, as the one in Night Watcher – another muse-like beauty. She’s placed beside the Susquehanna River in Endicott, NY.

This is the first piece I’ve done, since childhood, which features an expanse of water, and I’m quite pleased with it. A lot of the underpainting is left to show, and I like the resulting depth.

River Watcher presented more challenges than the previous piece, as you can see in the progression below.

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.

 

Night Watcher

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Night Watcher – oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

On with my Watchers series. This is Night Watcher, a piece I’ve been meaning for a very long time to do.

It was an oppressively grey late afternoon when I went for a photo shoot in a large old cemetery in Manchester, New Hampshire. We’d driven by it many times since we’d moved to Manchester, and I had always meant to go back with a camera. The place was FULL of 19th-century statuary and elaborate gravestones – obviously it had been a resting place for the wealthier dead. The day I finally went back was a bad one for me – I’d gotten a flu shot the day before, and had woken crushingly depressed yet restless. I had to do something, get out of the house, and for some reason the cemetery seemed appropriate. The light was diffuse, so there were very few clear shadows, yet it was bright enough and low enough to make the figures into mostly silhouettes. At best I’m only a point-and-shoot photographer, and the digital camera I used was not all that good – the year was 2005, and I didn’t even know how to eliminate the timestamp on the images. I also didn’t know just what I was going to do with these images. But it was a satisfying task, and I found out the next day that the flu shot that year had caused depression and anxiety in many people.

I’ve tried a few times to use this particular image in artwork – I still have a couple of attempts in colored pencil, and one in graphite pencil – but until I gave the landscape and figure a night sky, it hadn’t really worked.

Here’s how the painting went together:

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.