Monday, 7 March 2011

Painting the battle of life.

   I have only recently found out what I want to be when I grow up.  An artist.  I have no masterpieces to back me up, just a few inklings of "something" indefinable.  This knowledge is a holy grail to me.  I have spent the past forty years in a bewildering pathlessness, following transient "desire lines".  As lost as Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari.  There is a great article here on desire lines, Purposely straying from the path: Robert Finch.

Battle of Anghiari, Peter Paul Reubens, (copy after Leonardo da vinci) 1603.
  It was an envy of craftsmen that led me to this personal discovery.  My mind was often filled with the idea of being a baker, getting up early and baking bread, whilst in reality a lay buried under a quilt, stalling the onset of a new day.  I thought it was their seeming ability to rise early every day, finding happiness in the repetition and perfection of their trade, that I craved.  But it was not only their tradition and consistency, it was the fact that they know what they are.  This is what I had been missing, the piece that could complete me.  A knowledge which could transform me from being half a person.  But what makes me an artist ?.  Am I an artist ?.  Have I the right to call myself an artist ?.  Not yet I don't think, but at least I now know what I am, and have started to get on with it.  This blog is about the discovery of art's place in my life.  Art as religion, fulfilling an irrepressible spiritual need, and art as therapy.  A channel for the self, that prevents madness overwhelming.

Miss E Hughes with the cottage loaves which she still baked in an ancient oven at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, and sold in the village.
 For me, painting has always been a battle.  A fight for expression.  I hear painters talk of "joyous peace" whilst working.  I have been aware of "the zone" on occasion, and riding "the flow" of creativity is an exhilaration only surpassed by the feeling of love.  What bliss to find this meditation, but an inability to render an image in my mind, has invariably left me feeling wretched.
 Trying to reach the actualisation of the paintings I carry around inside my head is at the root of my struggle.  Whenever I look back on memories of difficult times, I see what I have experienced as a painting, the scene set inside a life-size canvas.  Whole finished images that so far have been carefully stacked up at the back of my mind, waiting.  I have tried ignoring this artistic tendency, but the impulse to paint these images does not go away.  It writhes and surfaces like sightings of the Loch Ness monster, it festers and blackens into a thick, black slug of depression that eats into dreams, and then it bangs on the window of consciousness, inducing headaches and restlessness until it is heard.
 So I have been framing my experiences, and now I am at the start of my journey to bring these images out of suspension to try to do them justice.  The picture below, was an attempt to capture feelings always just beyond my grasp.  I used pastels for their cold and remote quality.

"Within dissociation I found a face" Pastel on paper. 23x23". 2011.
 I hear of painting being a hobby, a pastime, but my life choices have meant I have never had time.  Every moment I take for painting is guiltily stolen from a continuous stream of chores and distractions, arising like the porridge in  The magic cooking pot, the fairy tale by the brothers Grimm.  I have often poisoned precious moments of found time, with doubt and procrastination.  Maybe motherhood and domesticity has acted as a self-sabotaging subterfuge against my artistic creativity, but I treasure the adaptability and perseverance motherhood has honed in me.   Having eight children must have been the level of S.A.S. endurance training I required, to get myself into gear, and truly appreciate my time.  I am now a ninja time juggler able to focus in extreme distraction with heightened peripheral vision.  Qualities gleaned from watching three toddlers move in different directions, and remaining aware of all of them. I am sure this will serve me well when painting.  Remaining aware of the whole of an image at the edge of my mind, whilst focusing on detail.

Abstract portrait, "A search for self". Oil on paper. A1. 2010.
 It was a personal promise to myself, made in the depths of early motherhood that finally set me free of these self-imposed limitations.  After reading a book on Francis Bacon, I noted that he became a successful painter in his forties.  Previous to this his output had been small and infrequent.  My promise was, that I would at least begin my art by 40, reasoning that if it was good enough for Francis Bacon to start art late in life, (a painter I had admired more than any other), it was certainly sufficient for me.
  Not long after my 40th birthday and wondering when "life" would begin, I searched for local art courses on the net, as a means of bringing art back into my life.  I found a Year Zero course which is the introductory year of a Fine Arts degree.  Inquiring via email to find out more, I was invited to look around and have a chat the following week.  Shocked by the pace of events, I went along and showed the Programme Leader a photo on my phone of a painting I had done.  I was told they wanted me on the course, the interview would be a formality, oh, and bring your portfolio.
Dad portrait (detail) Oil on canvas. 2007. This photo got me on the course
 I didn't have a portfolio.  I had 8 weeks to produce a "real" portfolio of work for my "pretend" interview. The huge boost to my confidence and having a deadline and a purpose, enabled me to break free of my procrastination.  The words of my Junior school teacher came back to me as I left to go onto Secondary school, "Don't ever give up on art Julie, don't ever give up on art.".   I am now in my second term of studying this course on a part-time basis.

  Francis Bacon tried to move away from narrative painting but it seems I am trying to move towards it. Not in the traditional sense of depicting historical or mythological scenes, but narratives drawn from real life's story that we all share to some degree.  He wanted to side-step the intelligence and hit you first in the emotions, creating a response in the senses.

"Some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain."~ Francis Bacon

My challenge will be to portray my personal happenings without losing their impact, leaving the image open for a viewer's own interpretation.  My next quandary is, if I explain my images with the written word, will it accentuate or diminish viewing of my future art.  The question is, should the viewer know the story behind the art, or should the picture hold the thousand words within.


  1. "My mind was often filled with the idea of being a baker, getting up early and baking bread, whilst in reality a lay buried under a quilt, stalling the onset of a new day."
    I could have written this myself! Love your art!
    Campbell Jane

  2. Hello, thanks for the comment. It's great to have struck a chord. Really like your altered pages blog. A great idea.

  3. Julie ... really enjoyed this posting, even more than your first one. You have set the scene for the reader to follow your becoming as an artist.

    Are you already an artist? Of course! The label is created not by what you produce but by the passion in your soul. You are thinking, dreaming & creating as an artist does ... therefore you are an artist.

  4. So good of you to say. It has taken me a while to realise this truth, and claim the label "artist" for myself. It is because only I know how far I have to go, but you are right an artist is a way of being.

  5. Julie, I've really enjoyed reading your blog and felt quite excited when I first found it. I'm embarking on a similar journey at the moment, developing a creative talent and trying to balance this with a very full life (albeit without 8 children!).

    I look forward to reading more about your journey and feel confident that your posts will give me some inspiration. Good luck!

  6. So glad you have let me know. It is brilliant if I have helped to inspire. Makes me feel worthwhile writing this blog. Twitter has really helped me to stay focused on my own creativity, sharing the constant stream of artist's works helped connect me to a creative world that's so easily lost and forgotten in the day to day of life. Thank you. Don't give up following a path that has heart.