Cape Cod National Seashore between Brush Hollow and Newcomb Hollow, 6 November 2021.
Six weeks ago, one of my paintings was damaged in transit. I agreed immediately to make a new painting for the client, and started to conceptualize it right away. Then we corresponded a bit about the need to talk, and the project slowed. On Friday, after a long game of phone-tag, we talked and the project came to back to life.
I do a lot of commissions, but this isn’t exactly a commission. Commissions begin with an idea of what a client wants, a place, a feeling, some reflection of the quality of painting desired, and proceed toward interpretation. While I love commissions, mostly because I love the relationship at the heart of them, they also raise anxiety in me. I’m being watched, the painting will be scrutinized as a solitary object (as opposed to being discerned from a suite of works). People who’ve taken painting workshops with me know that I often undertake commissions with a twin ‘anxiety painting’ — the place I turn when I think I’m getting ‘too safe’ or ‘too stiff’ in the commission; a place I can break out and take risks (which often translate back to the commission painting). This project, which I’ve set up as offering the client a selection of three paintings created in proximity to the place where the original was made, carries some of that anxiety. My offer of creating three simultaneously is an effort to mitigate the anxiety of the solitary object.
My reliance on an ‘anxiety painting’ speaks to a deeper process. I sometimes fear that there’s not enough diversity in the content of my work. There are some artists whose paintings all depict something new. That’s never going to be me. I have a motif (maybe a few) to which I adhere fairly tightly. I work in series. My paintings aren’t singular objects, but fragments of a larger narrative.
While I feel badly about the damage to the original painting, and about the disappointment felt by the person who purchased it, there’s something delightful in being asked to return to a place I love painting, and to be given permission to return to that investigation without my (mildly lurking) fear that I’m being repetitive.
My friend, Jo, and I have been talking about the nature of ‘projects’ in a painter’s practice. I know projects are a tool in my toolbox, but I’m sometimes flummoxed when asked to name my projects. Because my work is grounded in place, it’s easy to say, ‘this is an on-going investigation of Ballston Beach.’ But that’s too easy. My central project isn’t about the depiction of this place, but rather it’s about how this place feels. It’s about the body as much as it’s about what’s seen. The question that continues to vex and animate me is ‘how do we feel beauty?’
Field Guide: Walking & Painting on Cape Cod is a fundraiser to support Provincetown Commons’ artist studios, co-working facility, meeting spaces and exhibition gallery. Please donate at our website: https://www.provincetowncommons.org/fieldguide-walkingandpaintingcapecod