Artist’s Statement II

IMG_1995-1Though unpracticed at improv, I think I understand the principle—place faith in skills you’ve developed and, when the moment comes to invent, you will respond. The same feelings apply to every art form. There are hours of experience… and right now.

For about twenty years, I’ve been painting abstracts. Most of that time, I’ve sought only to play with marks, colors, and shapes to please myself. Every stage alternates pattern and variation, processes I commit to and then violate. Each layer superimposes on the last until the final picture emerges as something unexpected. I know artists who express frustration when their final product doesn’t match their visions, but I rarely feel that. Surprise satisfies me most. If the end point is unanticipated, that’s enough. I await serendipity.

Or failure. At some stage, I hate the painting emerging from blank space. I worry about sophistication most, whether what I’m creating is complex or interesting enough to reward scrutiny and whether it possesses enough skill to seem virtuous. Of course, I can’t see my art as others do—like a grown child, each stage remains visible to me in the final product. But all art, I suppose, rests on faith. If you like it, you think, someone else may possibly (hopefully) like it too.

IMG_0711-1And, anyway, only a fool expects people to appreciate abstract art generally. When I show my work, most people profess to like the colors or specific interesting shapes. They ask, “What did you have in mind—what were you thinking about?” I have answers—a cracked sidewalk, a koi pond viewed from overhead, roots laid bare by erosion, failing paint beneath leaf shadows—but we’re both being polite. Most of the time, my making supplanted my thinking. Referents appear only in retrospect.

Jackson Pollock described his work as “Energy and motion made visible—memories arrested in space.” Abstraction, Robert Motherwell said, is “nakedness, an art stripped bare.”

I try not to care whether I’m any good or not. I mean only to open a conduit to my unconscious and what I’ve seen and absorbed and can offer back—however mixed up—without excessive interference from impulses that might organize or otherwise impose.

IMG_2050Writing, the other great creative venture of my life, is different. In discussing visual art, I feel the danger of explanation. Writing essays like this one, I think explanation might be everything. Gerhard Richter once compared abstract art to fiction. Abstract paintings, he said, “make visible a reality we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate.”

A closer comparison  might be poetry, an effort to represent the most elusive elements of experience. After so many years of trying to say exactly what I mean, Richter’s “postulation” has much to recommend it—regardless of what, in the end, it says.


Filed under Aging, Ambition, Art, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Home Life, Identity, life, Meditations, Rationalizations, Thoughts, Visual Art, Worry, Writing

6 responses to “Artist’s Statement II

  1. This was so interesting, as well as the work you show here. Lacan I think it was who said that the purpose of language is not to inform but to evoke responses, and I think that is the purpose of art as well. Your piece and the art shown has done that for me. There’s something that resonates that makes us want to respond. Often I don’t know how to communicate what it is in a painting that resonates with me, and words do seem inadequate, so I resort to mentioning the “colors”, some “shape” as you say. But it is the colors , the shapes that resonate, as well as the movement, the energy or tranquility, or just the “interest” as you say, exploring the work and finding all these tiny odd, whimsical, arresting marks. How do you explain what it is about all this that moves you? That makes you want to return to it, that makes you glad that you happened upon it and know that the experiencing of it will remain with you in some way even when forgotten. It is the first painting in this piece that moves me the most–the reds and golds, the black accents, the divided page speaking to each other, the calligraphic marks, something almost zen, asian, about it. It does speak to me but what it is saying I can’t tell you yet. Thank you for all this.

  2. dmarshall58

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I’m grateful my art registers, especially as, you may imagine, it’s so hard to know exactly whether a painting speaks in any clear direct or indirect way. I have so much affection for Asian art because it often lands between order and disorder. I hope to settle in that spot—it’s where I often am, somewhere. What moves me is the discovery of strange territory. The older you get, the more finite you feel. With visual art at least, I sense unexplored territory. The greatest consolation is potential. You’re kind to endow my art with meaning, and I thank you.

  3. I like your work. I also paint abstracts. I had an art teacher who said, “The purpose of art is not to please.The purpose of art is to involve.”

    • dmarshall58

      I love your teacher’s statement. When we look at abstract expressionism in my American studies class, some students are, predictably, dismissive, but some find a kind of basic joy in the paintings we examine. “I don’t know if they’re art or not. I just like looking at them,” one student said. That really warmed my heart. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Abstract art, like poetry is the least explicit form. And if there were a prize for creativity, out of novels, short stories and poetry, poetry would win hands down!

    • dmarshall58

      I worry sometimes that what I call “unconscious” is really “easy,” but maybe working in the “least explicit” form is the true appeal. I like imagery that seems to be behind what everyone sees, which is, as you say, the appeal of poetry as well. So good to hear from you!

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