Does unfinished artwork provide insight into the creative process?
La Montagne Sainte Victoire vue des Lauves, 1901 – 06, Paul Cézanne
Is an artwork ever finished? Some artist can say yes, sign it, and let it go out into the world. Others, unless (it goes into the world) will keep changing and refining it. So we have finish as in “complete” and finish as in “process.”
When I did a little research I found that Paul Cezanne was among the painters who left many paintings incomplete. One historian blamed some of this on his analytical methods and his use of thickly placed layers of paint since it likely took months to finish any piece. But editors of a book called Cezanne Finished- Unfinished explain that the unfinished areas were possibly experimental at first but were later deliberate and provide us with insight into his creative process.
This all started because I am constantly “finishing”—one of those who fits both definitions. Just a few days ago I decided that a small portion of a large painting that had been hanging for at least two months wasn’t right. A shape in the corner seemed to lead your eye off the page so of course I had to fix it. And now it is “finished” again.
To be home we must find solace. It must stir our heart.
Sometimes home is the place where we live physically—where we earn our living, where our children play in the park, where we walk our dog. Other times “home” is another physical location, somewhere else—away. Because to be home we must find solace. It must stir our heart.
Some of us have several homes, but they are not structures. Don’t get me wrong. I love the house I share with family, but the place that gives me solace is nature: the mountains, the rivers, the fields, the marshes, the ocean. I think I am made of a bit of it all. I breathe it in and become part of it.
“Away” was inspired by a trip to the barrier islands of the Carolinas.
We all know you can’t prepare for everything. We want change that is gradual and slow so we can see it coming, but life has way of sideswiping you when you least expect it.
Almost 6 years ago my husband had a “heart incident” as we like to call it. His heart fluttered, skipped a beat and threw a small clot. Even the paramedics could find nothing wrong when they arrived, but he felt a pain like “toothache” in his chest. So just to be safe he went to the hospital. While there was no damage, we discovered that sometimes he has an irregular heartbeat. “Sometimes” was really hard to deal with at first, but now after so much time he just exercises, eats right, and carries nitroglycerine in his pocket.
I was reminded again of how slowly, and quickly, things change and could change, while hiking the trails in Stone Mountain State Park. The large rock faces with layers and splits big enough for climbing were formed by geological exfoliation. While they seem impenetrable, as if they will be there for thousands of years, the reality may be different. The change to these rocks is climate related and normally happens very slowly, but according to the park rangers because we don’t know the depth of the splits there is always the risk that rocks, particularly those with vertical and horizontal cracks, will shatter and slide. Of course, should there be an earthquake, they could crumble very quickly.
It’s both a bit scary and a bit comforting how human life parallels nature. Mostly, the changes are gradual, but we are all shifting.
Nothing makes for a happy day like being an art volunteer at your grandson’s school. What else made it happy: meeting his organized and well prepared teacher and engaging with his classmates, most of whom seemed to enjoy the opportunity for creativity.
The teacher did an amazing job setting up the lesson by having the students watch a five- minute video about contemporary African American artist Nick Cave who creates “Soundsuits” using fibers, buttons, and found objects in his sculptures. I’m not sure of the source of her segment, but there is a good interview on Art21(https://art21.org/artist/nick-cave/).
So what did I really do in my job as a volunteer. My work—well it was way too easy: sharpening pencils (And they really had a great sharpener, not a joke. I’ve never seen so many different size holes). I tried passing out a few papers, but my grandson quickly took over that job. Then I showed two students how to spatter paint like a pro, which on second thought perhaps wasn’t a grand idea, but all in all, watching them engage for 30 minutes or so (girls better than most boys) was fun.
I had to laugh when I heard my grandson tell his art teacher that I was a really famous painter. But if you’re going receive praise who better to hear it from. Yes, an inspiring day.
Graveyard Fields is a ghostly, but enriching landscape that leaves me feeling very large, yet very insignificant at the same time.
This new painting was inspired by a hike in late August along a trail called Graveyard Field in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a flat mountain valley just off the parkway surrounded by mountains like Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and Sam Knob. The day we hiked the goldenrod was already evident as were the wild blueberries, and many people left carrying overflowing hats, pails, and milk jugs.
It was an easy hike except for the climb to the falls, but I was most fascinated by the boardwalks that keep the trail elevated in areas that tend to flood—and the flatness even though you are at 5,000 feet elevation. The Park Service history says the name may have come from a windstorm fell that downed hundreds of trees or extensive logging in the early 1900’s. Either way the stumps eventually resembled moss-covered graves. Later fires devastated the entire valley, apparently heating the soil enough to sterilize it so that plants had difficulty growing. Now some trees, shrubs, and grasslands are slowly thriving.
It is a ghostly landscape, but an enriching one as well. Like most of my trips into the woods I leave feeling very large, yet very insignificant at the same time—and very much at peace.
Despite my current distrust of words, I still find them so incredibly important and so beautiful. I have always loved words, how they sound, how they look on a page, the different connotations, the emotions behind them. I can never seem to leave them out of my paintings. And as Elizabeth Alexanders says in her poem, Praise Song for the Day, “We encounter each other in words.”
This past weekend was the second time in as many weeks that I visited my mother and she did not know me. There are many possible reasons for this—medication, the progression of her Lewy Body Dementia, the fact that she is waking from a deep sleep.
It saddens me in many ways, but once I tell her who I am and help her connect, there is lucid conversation. When I tell her about my four-month-old grandson’s crying and tummy troubles, she remembers my brother (who died in August). Then she says: “You were no trouble, always happy.” Of course, this is not what she said while I was growing up or what she would have said a few months ago, but it is lovely to hear. I have to fight the tears because I want us to talk about happy memories, and I want to keep her connected to family as long as I can.
So how does this relate to art? I think it has to do with the layers that I texture, paint, and collage. I was reminded of this when teaching a workshop this past weekend. My paintings have so many layers, some of which I like and some of which I don’t. I may bring one to the surface and then decide I don’t like it or don’t like part of it. Or I may create a layer that is a combination of what is below and the new elements I add to the top.
Putting something new on the surface doesn’t change that initial layer; it just adds to it, making it richer, more complex. The layers connect each idea, but allow me to focus on what is most important. Life is like that too.