Someone recently asked me if I remembered my first abstract painting. I did not hesitate when trying to recall it. I remember it vividly, so I thought I would share with all (WARNING: Long drawn out story ahead:))
When I was young I use to take art lessons on Saturday mornings from an artist named Elizabeth Herron (I think that is how you spell her last name). She was a sweet older lady who had converted her 3 car garage & workshop into an art studio. I will always remember her as being a strong art Maven, and strong source of influence in my early creative life. She offered group classes to younger students in her garage and had about 5-6 students at any given time – approximately ages 10-14 (give or take a few years,) and it was usually an all girl class.
We worked on group oil paintings/studies together , as well as individual work of our choice. Some of my individual projects included gawky oil paintings of kittens (I was completely obsessed with baby animals as a child), a vivid Macaw parrot perched on a branch with a complementary rainbow in the background (I was also obsessed with rainbows – I was a child of the 70’s you know) – and a few Texas Bluebonnet landscapes – which my Dad loved and encouraged me paint for his office.
I also remember studying printmaking, and ceramics for a stint. That was fun.
I was always the youngest one in the class, and I was painfully quiet and shy. Some of the girls in the class were in middle school, so I hung on their every word, and looked up to them – even though I knew they were complete witches (insert real cuss word here.) They just ignored me because I was so young. I was invisible.
Anyway, I was waiting for my mother to come pick me up one day, and she was embarrassingly late as usual. I was all by myself waiting with Mrs. Herron and I decided to use that time wisely and paint something different – and using my feet. I spent my childhood drooling over Norman Rockwell paintings/illustrations – so I might not have really know what “abstract” was at the time. Anyway, the final product is depicted above. My soccer team name was named “The Footprints” so it had special meaning to me.
To this day – my mother swears it is her favorite painting I ever did and she still has it hanging in her house. And believe me she is not one to loosely give out compliments about my work – I had to rescue the other paintings from a garage sale!
Initially I disregarded the piece and chalked it up to mere experimentation – not really a “work of art.” It also served as a constant reminder of my chronically late Mother. However, I did remember the whole process being so freeing, and because it was experimental I thought I was getting away with something. I loved the fact that there were no rules. It could be anything I wanted it to be. I was not desperately making an awkward painting of a stylized Persian kitten – I was giving life to a subject that really didn’t exist. I did not think I could rightfully be judged for something so “inventive.” So I guess that gave birth to my art confidence.
Which is how I feel about my work today. I think there are too many rules and expectations regarding subject matter.
I prefer painting from my mind. Not listen to critics. I try not to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. I am my own worst critic anyway.
I think all art is subjective, but far more so in abstract art. I mean, most everyone can enjoy a pretty picture of a flower, or lush landscape – for what it is. Monet’s “Water Lilies” – who does not love that?
Not everyone enjoys abstract art, and can appreciate the art for arts sake. It also has a lot to do with your personality type. Many people can’t relate to it, don’t find beauty in things that seemingly don’t make sense or are non-object. It is frustrating , not obvious, and makes you strain and labor too much over the meaning; trying to find logic in the whole thing. You can not reach everyone. Abstract art is always contradicting itself: It makes you think, yet it also allows you to clear your mind, and you need to understand it for what it is. It goes with the flow, is not necessarily structured, yet it is. Each body of work different as their maker. Like a visual footprint; a diary of sorts.
I sort of like all that nonsense.
With abstract painting, I find the possibilities are endless, the exploration and experimentation is exciting, and what keeps me interested on a day to day basis. It is exciting to evoke a feeling, or memory, just by using the color and energy I conjure up. I like creating depth and layers of lusture in a seemingly 2-D space. It is fun injecting a modicum of (mostly hidden) meaning into my work. Like exposing a secret, but not really. Like making an attempt to communicate with the viewer, but not really. I think it is an extension of how I relate to people in real life (not very well). There are no rules, yet I know when something is finished and when it is not. I like to constantly discover and rediscover new areas of a finished painting. I am adventurous, yet patient, and don’t like to over think or second guess myself. I just dive in. You will never be free with your art until you can trust yourself to do this. About 3 years ago I abandoned most traditional forms of subject matter and strictly went non-objective; intuitive. I found it more challenging and rewarding as an artist. The possibilities were endless.
When I was in college, we use to hang out at this place we cleverly called “The Cliffs” – which in fact were cliffs that surrounded an area of lake Tuscaloosa where you could hang out while secretly enjoying an assortment of beverages and/or smoking material of your choice, go swimming, jump off the cliffs, and even start a camp fire. I remember the first time I jumped off one of those cliffs into a lake. It must have been a 50-60 feet drop (or just seemed really high back then). I was really scared, but I was not going to stand on the ledge squealing, and hoping for the courage to overtake me in order to jump – like everyone else (the girls) did. I remember quietly waiting about 20-30 minutes, thinking, then stood up, ran and jumped off the edge. And my friend Laura was reluctantly waiting for me to go first – she jumped in right after me and practically landed on my head!
My point being – just do it!
You should really look closely and study the work you are most drawn to. Aside from it matching your sofa, can you articulate why you like it, or is it just a feeling? Surely you can recognize when a person just slops some paint on a canvas and calls it a day. Their work looks one dimensional, soulless, and contrived.
As an adult artist, like many, I have read The Artists Way, and completed the corresponding writing exercises. One of the exercises is listing your Creative Art Demons (people or situations that have belittled or tried to stomp your art existence) and Art Angels. Mrs. Herron is defiantly one of my Art Angels, a supportive Art Maven. Thank you Mrs. Herron! I will always remember her. I have no idea what she is doing today or if she is even alive.