Sunday, April 22, 2012

The balance of painting and motherhood

As I mentioned in my earlier postings, my advisor is less concerned with painterly style or the formal aspects of painting, but more interested that I explore who were the subjects of Alice Neel and Lucian Freud. It is not surprising that these artists would be friends with fellow artists and paint their portraits, so selecting a fellow artist to paint seemed like a natural endeavor for me as well.

Littleton Alston is a figurative sculptor who does both life size public bronze pieces in addition to commemorative busts, so there is already a mutual kindred interest between us in regards to the face and figure. In his own words, "The human form holds endless fascination for me, and it is this vehicle through which I believe can best express the joys and sorrows of the human condition.  The face holds a subtle yet complex reflection of each persons life, this I seek to create in my work."

He also knows that I have been wanting to paint his portrait for years, so in some regards, I should thank my advisor for now giving me the opportunity to do something that I had never allowed myself the time to do before because I have always been very busy illustrating or working on commissions and taking care of my boys. So, this was one of those "Aha!" moments for me when she told me to get away from NF. Littleton graciously allowed me to spend an entire morning with him. I flitted around him, clicking photos while he did various types of sculpture work: mold making, welding, scultping in clay and even hammering on some sort of contraption. His studio in downtown Omaha is very large in order to accommodate the enormity of his work and to provide good ventilation for all the dust that gets in the air from all of the plaster work. He also had prepared for my visit and had a great magnifying glass and sea shells ready on his desk just waiting for my 5 yr old's curiousity.

As with the Reggie painting, I am initially not sure what I want to do in the background yet. Rather than wasting time trying to be overly profound, I might as well get started on the actual portrait in the foreground and see what ideas develop as I paint. One of the best quotes I have heard recently came from Chuck Close on an interview done recently for CBS This Morning. They did a video segment called "Notes to Self" in which Chuck Close said to his 14 yr old former self "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." That stuck with me. I can either hope that a lightning bolt hits me squarely on the forehead rendering me an artistic genius, or I can just simply get to work and see what happens knowing that all the research, seminars and readings are shaping my artistic decisions as I proceed along.

I am going to spend a few paragraphs digressing from pure formal aspects of painting and painting process to discuss something of equal importance: the role of my work with my youngest son. My son is five years old and he spend every morning with me in my studio. He does not have video games or a personal DS or anything even remotely modern. Now, it's not that I am against technology (I'm blogging aren't I?), but I didn't want him to just play video games in one room while I painted in another. It was important to me as I started this program to make Fred be apart of my journey as well. So, while I am working on my paintings, he paints his own pictures, draws, works on puzzle books and plays with his matchbox cars. At times, he sits on my lap which is awkward for me to keep painting. However, he is only 5 once and I know that all too soon he will not want to spend his time in his mother's studio painting as he will grow up and want to be off with his friends. So, in some ways, this program has been invaluable for me in the amount of quality time he and I are spending together.

Now, I have to also be forthcoming that Fred, is only a little boy, and at times gets weary of so much time in the basement studio. He is a very animated child and sometimes will just plead "MAMA!! When will you be done painting?!" I snapped this picture of him when he was at his wit's end. I relented. We took a break from painting and went to the park. I do not want to get so consumed with my  work that I forget the people in my life who are important. It is a matter of balance. Fred will go off to kindergarten next fall, which means all my morning painting sessions will be solitary. While there are definite positive aspects to not having to worry about juice boxes, markers, a racetrack for the matchbox cars and listening to his same They Might Be Giants cd over and over...well, it will just be a bit lonely and sad too.

This has been a wonderful semester for myself and my son. And to finish this blog post, I am pretty happy with this grisaille underpainting of Littleton as well. I had never planned to do this painting in the grisaille method, but I kept reading about Ingres and looking at his under paintings, so it just happened. I know that all of this work will be covered over, but I don't mind. It's all just a journey and not having a preconceived notion of an outcome is very liberating.


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