In every young artist's life (I use the term 'young' rather loosely because I'm 33, which, to my parents translates as young, but for the rest of us, LET'S BE REAL. It's non-young. 33 is the age we never thought about as it melted into a bland, no-name oldness. A decade that encompassed baby making/raising, lame references to music heard in high school, caffeine restriction, and, OH YEAH, the death of JESUS. So I guess it's a pretty significant decade)...
Let's start again.
In every maturing artist's life an opportunity comes along that sounds big, smells big, and therefore is big enough to swallow you whole and spit you out the other side, quite disoriented and better/worse for wear.
Well, that happened to me. And I feel old now.
Once upon a time a commission came down the line to paint my interpretation of an all-time classic, The Last Supper. I don't remember the first time I fell in love with the original. Da Vinci's piece has been with me as long as I can remember.
Sunday school: LAST SUPPER.
Catholic School: LAST SUPPER.
Getting bit by that dog: LAST SUPPER.
First Kiss: LAST SUPPER.
Deep, many-years-long depression: LAST SUPPER.
First dog: LAST SUPPER.
First divorce: LAST SUPPER.
Freedom from repression: LAST SUPPER.
Peanut Butter: LAST SUPPER.
I think you get the point (I spared a lot of details and you are so welcome).
Anyway, I took the job.
It went down like this:
Them: "DO SOMETHING INCREDIBLE."
*Privately in studio - "I'm scared!"
(One hundred exclamation points.)
(One hundred thousand.)
The most common question I receive as an artist is, 'what do you paint?'
I can not speak for all artists, because, quite possibly, some artists have a great answer for this and receive it with relish:
'I PAINT CELL BLOCKS.'
'I PAINT COMPLEX ALGORITHMS.'
'I PAINT YOUR PETS.'
I have no such clear-cut answer, so when faced with this question I make a weird sound and oh- so-casually change the subject.
I paint everything that holds my attention for at least five minutes and nothing that doesn't.
I paint things that come to me by accident and things I have to search out with diligence.
(I will also paint your pets.)
I believe a question that elicits a more thorough and truthful response from any artist is, 'How do you paint?'
The time between the beginning of an art project and the end is what encompasses the day-to- day of my life. It has a clean word, PROCESS, but really, it's everything I'm doing when not taking a shower or trying to figure out the ratio of rice to water in a pot on my stove, again.
So, when asked to paint The Last Supper, I paint The Last Supper.
Well, it took over my process/life.
I work on multiple projects at the same time, but a commission of this scale and complexity dominated my studio. The painting soon evolved from a third party sharing the space with me and my dogs into a sci-fi soul that followed me around town, questioning, pleading, nagging, cheering. This is around the time when I began wearing nothing but sweatpants.
I have a clear vision when I begin a painting, but I never get attached to it. The image of the piece remains nebulous while the context retains definitive statements in the back of my head.
These statements can be as clear as:
'The tension remains in the background and the third man's elbow.'
Or as vague as:
'Triple cat. Triple nude. Veil.'
I call these the 'bones', and the process orients around this skeleton.
I paint and then I edit. After initial editing I paint more. Then I edit more. As soon as I've painted too much, I edit too much. And then I paint more.
This piece took my process off guard, spun it around, got it drunk, stroked its ego, spit in its face, shook its hand, kicked my ass.
This is the beauty of extending ourselves into uncomfortable places.
This is where we confront ourselves. This is where we make things.
I have learned to appreciate scaring the shit out of myself by making things.
The whole experience reminds me of that time I casually agreed to watch the musician Katy Perry's documentary, thinking it would be a simple deviation from my normal routine, only to find myself moved to embarrassing tears.
I had to smoke three cigarettes and kick some tree stumps to pull myself together.
ART. IS. HARD.