I started working on a new series of paintings recently, and it was all going marvellously well. I was in Flow. It was almost feeling like it was too easy! Then I suddenly became creatively paralysed for a couple of weeks and couldn't make a move forward. I couldn't even go into my studio without feeling sick to my stomach whenever I looked at the paintings I'd started. I don't often get so badly stuck, especially for this long, so this was a surprising turn of events and another chance to dig a little deeper into my artistic psyche! What was THIS about??
Creative blocks and resistance can happen for a multitude of reasons so it's important to be really honest as to what might have triggered it.
I realised that, in my mind, I was looking back rather than forward. I was fixated on the successful paintings I had sold last month. I wasn't exactly trying to recreate them but, for a moment, I had lost my nerve and was mentally holding on to them too much as a safety blanket, trying to work out what it was about them that had been so good. This was Fear looking for a fix.
Each of my paintings goes on a voyage and even though there are similarities between them, the process is always one of exploration and discovery. There is no point looking back because it's already been said. I can analyse my past works and decide what I liked best about them but in creating new ones I have to go forward with curiosity and a feeling of visually saying something new, even if it's only subtly new. There will be continuity alongside evolution.
The solution, once I had gained this much needed clarity, was startlingly simple. I turned towards one of my paintings and asked myself "what do you WANT to do next?". An important distinction from "what do you think you SHOULD do next?". Suddenly, I realised I wanted to shift the colour palette a bit, and this then prompted a whole series of other decisions. Before I knew it I was in the flow again.
Keeping a grip on the games our minds play with us is essential if we want to flourish (in life as well as art!). Fear and Resistance will never really go away but we can acknowledge it for what it is and choose to act despite of it.
“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Recently, I watched an interview with a fascinating opera singer, Anthony Roth Costanzo. He's a countertenor (a rarity - a man who sings in the range of a mezzo soprano) and when asked about his art in the wider context of world affairs he recounted a conversation he'd had with a friend (not an opera fan!) who was a legal ambassador in Iraq, trying to make peace in a war zone. Anthony had just been fretting about how he could have sung something better had he just got the shape of the vowel right.
His friend said: "You spend all your day thinking about the shape of a vowel and there are people dying.... there are important things happening in the world", implying that Anthony should get a grip along with some much needed perspective on his trivial 'problems'. He then spent a long time wondering about this and what his role in the world is as an opera singer and artist.
Do societies and communities that have art as part of their world have a better harmony and understanding between people? Do we all benefit from feeling heightened emotions when hearing music or seeing beautiful art? Can we reconcile the pursuit of this elevated art form whilst wars rage in distant countries?
I think it should not only be reconciled, but we can all aspire to it. We are incredibly privileged if we live a life where we don't just try to survive, but we actually get a chance to live life as fully as possible. We get to make or listen to beautiful music, we get to create art or have it in our homes for the sake of making us feel good and to give us something beautiful to look at and think about. Some of us even get to perfect the shape of a vowel to get the most sublime sound which moves others to tears. That is a level of existence way beyond mere survival and it can be considered a luxury. Something that’s arguably valueless yet priceless.
Something interesting happened to me whilst exhibiting my work at Contemporary Art Fairs Surrey last month. I was showing my largest work to date, a 150x240cm diptych called "Serenity Reimagined" which I blogged about previously. It was pretty audacious perhaps, full of wild energy and it's sheer size made quite a statement. I absolutely knew that the right home was waiting for this painting and the right person would see it and connect with it.... and indeed that is what happened. But I'm not congratulating myself for my powers of fortune telling or manifesting - I wanted to shine a spotlight on what happened before I sold the painting.
"You use a glass mirror to see your face. You use works of art to see your soul." George Bernard Shaw.
A gentleman stopped to look at the diptych. It had received a lot of positive attention throughout the weekend and I had had many conversations about it with visitors. But he didn't stop to tell me how much he loved it - he stopped to tell me all that was wrong with it and was visibly irritated, even angered by it. I was absolutely fascinated by his response! I enquired what it was that he saw and all that I could deduce was that he was quite annoyed by not being able to make sense of it. There were too many straight lines (and in fact he thought there were too many abstract artists making too many straight lines in general!). All he could see was a void. He was confused. Abstract art shouldn't look like that!
Wow!!! A whole ten minutes spent telling me this when he could have just walked on by and ignored it? I was genuinely amazed at the intensity of this response. And I wasn't in the least bit offended by his opinion - I stand by my work and I know that the right person will be drawn to it and will totally get it.
So it got me thinking about what it is we recognise when we look at art, especially abstract art. Because it is a recognition - we see what is already inside of us and connect with it, or... we completely ignore it if there is no recognition of anything at all. There are, of course, countless reasons why an artwork might trigger strong negative emotions - maybe the viewer cannot stand the colour blue, or has a low tolerance for the sheer visual tension in the painting, or a certain combination of shapes creates an unconscious association for them which triggers a bad memory. Maybe they feel it's "Just Not Art". But maybe, sometimes, we also see or feel something that we know is missing....? Maybe that touches a nerve? Who knows, but in any case, it is the viewer's experience of the art that completes the artwork. For them.
This is why I always say there is no tyranny in my abstract work. It is open to inidividual interpretation and to me, that is what I find so beautiful. You get out of it what you bring to it - the painting is just the catalyst.
My new work will be on show at Contemporary Art Fairs Newbury, 10-12th May. Come and see if you love it or hate it 😉.
Below are some of the stages the painting went through (some of them rather ugly!). It may seem like a waste of time and effort painting in so many layers when they will ultimately get covered up but each and every layer plays its part in the finished painting. And.... it's fun!
These luscious details, the depth, texture and colour complexity, would not exist without this layering process. The composition evolves and refines until.... I feel there is no more to be done.
I'm really excited to be showing this painting at Contemporary Art Fairs SURREY at Sandown Park Racecourse 15-17th March!
I was driving along the other day, feeling pretty good about life, thinking about how amazing it is that I get to do THIS thing where I paint these expressive paintings that end up in people's homes, and.... and suddenly I thought: "so why didn't I do this.... ten years ago????".
What was I doing ten years ago? I was a glass artist. Making glass requires a lot of technical knowledge, you have to get certain things right (firing programmes for instance) or the glass will crack or get a scummy film on it that you can't remove unless you sandblast it! You are constantly battling with the laws of physics trying to get the glass to do what you want it to do. The technical execution is everything otherwise, frankly, it won't look very good! Without getting too much into the craft vs art debate, it is a "craft" in the sense that the maker strives for..... Perfection in its execution. In the quest for Perfection you have to be in.... Control.......
Yep. I was a control freak. I loved making stuff but I had to control it. So the answer to the question "why didn't I do this before?" is that I simply wasn't ready. I wasn't ready for... Expression. To express whatever goes on in the deeper recesses of your mind and soul means you have to release the vice-like grip of your conscious mind from time to time. As an enlightened person recently told me, to have Flow you need to stop strangling the hose!
Peripheral Discovery 2018, Mixed Media on canvas 100x162cm
I've grown up (a bit), I've evolved. I could not have produced this work back then because it would have been too scary to let go, and too scary to show so much of myself in my work.
So here I am now, trying not to strangle the hose too often (!) and showing up as more "me" than I ever could before. I call that progress!
So here’s what happened. Last weekend I was working on the biggest painting of my series (1m x 1.6m). I was certain it just needed a few final touches. I was determined to resolve it (dammit) and was under the illusion that it was nearly there (it wasn’t). The more I worked on it the worse it got, the more I started to panic and doubt myself. Nothing made sense anymore, I couldn’t see the wood from the trees and no amount of composition or colour theory was able to salvage the situation at that moment. It was nearly midnight by the time I had concluded that it was a lost cause and that perhaps I was Not An Artist after all. I even lost half a night’s sleep as a result!
“When we stop fearing failure, we start being artists” Ann Voskamp
So what had happened? Until then I’d been happily working on my other, smaller paintings, not feeling much pressure for any of them, they were evolving nicely and a few were looking like they were almost done. It took me a while to unpick the thought processes that had led me to a mini-crisis which I felt deep in the pit of my stomach.
You see, of the 16 paintings I’ve been working on for the Windsor Contemporary Art Fair, 14 of them are either 50x50cm or 30x30cm panels. One is a bit bigger. And then there is this massive one. THIS BIG ONE was going to take up the WHOLE of the back wall of my stand at Windsor. That’s a big risk and a lot of pressure on one painting! I was betting the ranch on this and it needed to be the best, the most fantastic, perfect masterpiece of a painting. And as a result, it was becoming anything but!
No wonder I seized up! My desperation to bring the painting to a successful conclusion caused me to resort to overthinking, timidity and comparison! A complete block to creativity. It was actually an immense relief to realise this and it was the first step to overcoming my tortuous creative impasse. So, I rowed back from the “it’s nearly finished” mindset and spent 10 minutes going slightly mad with it, having fun and taking it from 90% finished to only 50% finished. To further take the pressure off, I started another large-ish one (1mx1m) and really let loose on it. Phew! Sanity and creativity restored (for now) and I’m back on track.
The mind games we play with ourselves as artists are the biggest obstacle to success. One day, I WILL get out of my own way!! 😁
To see what all the fuss is about, come and visit my stand at Windsor Contemporary Art Fair 10-11 November 2018 with a Private View on the 9th, 6-9pm. If you sign up to my newsletter here: http://www.kasiaclarke.com/contact.html I’ll send you a free ticket!
A CHANGE OF PACE
A sweltering summer is here and, with it, comes a distinct slowing down in studio activity. This is a time for a very different daily routine in general whilst school is out - even though I’m sure I could find an occasional slot of time to paint, I’m just mentally not there at the moment. Whilst I was definitely ready for a break, the artist in me finds this incredibly frustrating and I always fear it will be a struggle to reconnect with my work. The interruption of “flow” feels so unnerving every time, even though I know I’ve always managed to pick up more or less where I left off, or maybe redirect myself slightly, but I’ve always regained that precious flow eventually. But who knows, perhaps the time away will ultimately benefit the work....?
SKETCHBOOK TO THE RESCUE
I’ve tried to keep the creativity flowing with some sketchbook activity. That has been fun and a change of pace - quick and easy to pick up and put down again, just pure play and experimentation. I don’t actually have a consistent sketchbook habit - I either have a season of painting or, like now, a brief season of sketching but it’s how I work right now and it seems to suit me. Ideas from my sketchbook pages might later appear in my paintings, intentionally or not!
A NEW WALL
I did make some progress recently on my studio makeover, though. I dedicated my only windowless wall and turned it into a painting wall. This involved two simple ingredients: sheets of plywood attached to the wall and some evenly spaced rows of screws onto which I could hang my paintings at various heights whilst they were in progress. It also involved a rather heated argument with my normally wonderful handyman/builder who just couldn’t grasp what on earth I wanted to achieve and why!
LOOKING TO AUTUMN
Autumn will be busy as I work on bringing my series of paintings to completion in time for The Contemporary Art Fair in Windsor in early November. This will be my first major art fair since changing medium from glass-making to painting and I’m really excited to be getting out there again after a good few years. I’ve always enjoyed doing the fairs and meeting people face to face, and I’m so looking forward to hearing people’s reaction to and interpretation of my work and what they see in it. It’s like a painting isn’t really complete without that final step - someone seeing it and reacting to it.
Have a wonderful and relaxing summer and do leave your thoughts in the comments. 😊
PS. If you’re not yet signed up to my newsletter, I’d love to have you on board!
A number of people have recently asked me incredulously: “But how do you find the time to paint??”
It’s actually not an unreasonable question - my youngest (of three children) is only two years old and I have limited childcare and, therefore, limited time to do what I want or need to do without the distraction of the “terrible twos”! I’m forever rushing around from one school run to the next, and making choices how to use my precious “free” time: do I cook a nutritious meal (that no doubt they’ll refuse to eat!), do I sort out the never ending chaos in the kitchen, do I get my hair cut, pay the bills and do admin, or... do I paint?
Little and Often...
Quite often, I choose to paint. But I have to snatch brief opportunities for studio time and make the most of every moment. My studio is at one end of the house, near the kitchen, so after 20-30 minutes of playing with paint, I might quickly run and empty the dishwasher! Then, I will flit back and paint some more, before sorting some laundry and then jumping in the car to pick the other kids up from school. I might pop in to the studio again to check on things whilst the dinner is in the oven and maybe, if I’m not too exhausted, I’ll have an evening painting session too. It really is a back and forth affair with not a lot of time for leisurely creative contemplation
Working in a Series...
I’m preparing for a large art fair in the autumn and currently have 16 paintings of various sizes on the go. The little and often approach to a series means that I don’t need to watch paint dry. I work in layers and I can switch between paintings quickly and easily, making my studio practise much more effective.
The Golden 30 minutes...
The first 30 minutes of each session working on a painting is where the gold is. There is a burst of creativity which, when unleashed onto a painting can sometimes really take it to another level. For me, spending many concentrated hours on one activity can lead to creative fatigue and an overworked, fiddly painting. Working in short bursts keeps the freshness and energy in an artwork.
I know what I want to achieve and why - I am working hard to restart a career doing what I love; something completely aligned with who I am. That gives me the motivation to juggle my time in this seemingly chaotic way.
Of course, I can’t get as much done as I want to and my kitchen is far from an Instagram-worthy state. But I’m doing something, I’m moving forward and I’m making art 😊.
Someone asked me recently how I decide on a title for my paintings so I thought it might be good to share it here.
Here are three recently sold paintings and their titles: From left to right we have: Nebulous Ceremony, Parable of Two Colours, Exhalation in Blue Minor.
When working on a body of work, I keep a small notebook of words that FEEL right, not necessarily for specific paintings yet but for the whole body of work. I emphasise the word FEEL because I try to hush the analytical brain as much as possible. It’s intuitive and I don’t want to second guess it with analysis. Then, once the paintings are finished I look through the notebook and pick words that FEEL right for that particular painting. Sometimes I turn it into a phrase. Some painting titles just jump out at me immediately (Parable of Two Colours 🤷♀️) whereas some take a bit longer because nothing fits yet.
And that’s it! Once a title sticks I don’t dwell on it, it’s done and that’s that.