Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Sea of Unpredictability

Life as a visual fine artist is remarkably different from most other life pursuits. It is a path taken when the passion to create art and become better at it usurps even the most rational thought processes about traditional academic education; about steady, reliable income with reasonable expectations of financial growth; about licenses, degrees, certifications, or just the consensus of experts that our knowledge, skill and qualifications are sufficient to earn a living or gain entrance into specialized organizations; about acceptance and acknowledgment from experts in the field; about social interaction at our daily workplace.

The life of a visual fine artist is rewarding, satisfying, and, sometimes, necessary. Like many other endeavors, it has its good points. We enjoy what we do. We can do it anywhere. We can do it in our pajamas. We enjoy the process. We can often make money at it. We can teach it, earning extra money, and enjoy sharing our knowledge. We can listen to music while we work, we can decorate our homes, we can make gifts and donations of our life’s work. Our families can be with us. Our friends, relatives, clients, teachers and our peers pat us on the back and tell us how “good” we are.

But the life of an artist also has its not-so-good points. Art is one of the first products to suffer in a recessionary economy. The quality and beauty of our work, even for the most successful and skilled artists, is always subjective, always in the eye of the beholder, and subject to trends and fads. While some may think our work belongs in the Metropolitan Museum, others, including jurors, newspaper critics, gallery owners, and art collectors (and even some relatives and “friends”), may tell us to keep our day jobs. We may get into a juried exhibition and win a ribbon and not even make the cut with the same art in the next one. We may apply to one prestigious organization and be welcomed with giddy gratitude for “someone like you” being willing to participate, only to be rejected by another for work that is not to their standards, or lacks maturity and depth. The style and quality of our work may earn us a highly touted exhibition in a reputable gallery, while an equally successful venue nearby wouldn’t consider showing our work. A piece of art we consider our best work sits on a gallery wall without notice, while one we didn’t want to sign our names to receives a stream of accolades.

While our real “mission” is to make art, selling it, having it positively judged, and having it accepted and praised are integral factors in the measurement of our success. Confidence, a positive spirit, and motivation can be difficult to maintain in this sea of unpredictability. One week we are on a high due to an acceptance or award, and the next we are trying to understand why our work was declined. We have difficulty assessing the quality of our own work. We fully understand that each juror who views our work will have a unique opinion, we understand that we are at the mercy of that one single person, yet we can’t help but feel inadequate if our work is not “accepted.” Now we may even consider going back to our day jobs! Or, in an effort to preserve our psyches, we may decide that the juror doesn’t know good art when he sees it!

So how do we cope with the emotional roller coaster, with the ups and downs of our careers, with the less than steady incomes? The answers to that question are as different for each one of us as the art we produce. I believe it is important that we support one another, not just with praise, but also within our organizations, with critique groups, with educational opportunities, with shared information about techniques, tools, methodology and theory. And, yes, help with constructive criticism or suggestions. Read, share with your friends, and comment on each other’s websites, newsletters, blogs, facebook entries, and photos. The more we put art in the public view, the greater the number of artists we promote. The more the public views our art and reads artists’ comments, the more aware and, hopefully, appreciative they become. Maybe they will even become collectors.

When our muses are sitting on our shoulders and we are free from insecurities, we are able to paint with excitement and vigor. But even on less inspired days I believe we must continue to work hard, remaining vigilant for that elusive sensibility that will allow us to move closer to excellence, and tune in to the satisfying realization that the artistic hunger of our souls is fed by every mark we make.

Completed Oil Still Life with Progress Photos

Oranges, Pear, and Eucalyptus, (Only Just Begun),oil on panel, 16 x 20, copyright 2009 Pat Aube Gray

Oranges, Pear and Eucalyptus, (Almost There), 16 x 20, oil on Panel

Oranges, Pear, and Eucalyptus, oil on panel, 16 x 20, copyright 2009 Pat Aube Gray

This painting was started in April the week that Charles Walls was a guest instructor in my teaching studio. This was the first painting I had ever done on Ampersand's gessoed panel and I absolutely LOVED the surface! I only got as far as somewhere between the first and second photos that week, and worked on it many more hours than I thought I would have to in the following months! But I was very happy with the finished painting, which was sold before I finished it! I just love it when that happens!

Because the surface of the panel is relatively smooth (do not confuse this surface with Ampersand's clayboard surface or much earlier version of this panel), toning it first helps give the paint a little more to grab hold of. As you can see in the first photo, the background, for example, is still rather transparent. There are a few more layers on the final version, but the luster of the finished painting is wonderful! (I used M. Graham's walnut alkyd medium, which also adds to the quality of the finished surface.)

You might note that there is a fourth branch of eucalyptus in the finished work. The actual set-up contained only three, but the space between the eucalyptus and the highly lit pear really bothered me. It was as if there were no connection between it and the remainder of the subject matter and tended to lead the eye up and out of the picture plane. Adding the fourth, rightmost branch, directed at the pear and catching some of the light, helped to tie it all together nicely. As artists, we must continually reassess the painting in and of itself, regardless of what the actual source displays. However, I must admit that a more thorough assessment of the set-up in the first place may have revealed this shortcoming!





Oil Still Lifes, Still a Work in Progress

Time for Tea (Just Started), Oil on Panel, 24 x 18, Pat Aube Gray

Time for Tea, (Still in Progress), 24 x 18, copyright 2009 Pat Aube Gray

I have wanted to paint a still life revolving around tea, and this is my first attempt to do that. I started this painting when Charles Walls was a guest instructor at my teaching studio. These were all objects that I brought from home and set up for the concept Walls was teaching, that of of using depth and aerial perspective in a still life set-up. I did not get very far on this painting that week, but worked on it a good bit at a later date. As you can see, it is far from finished. These photos were shot in a very dark environment, so they are very grainy. Hopefully the photos of the completed painting (if and when) will be much better!




The Homestead, Watercolor, with Progress Photos

The Homestead, Watercolor, 22 x 26, copyright 2009 Pat Aube Gray



I truly enjoyed painting this commissioned watercolor for one of my favorite collectors. (It was of particular interest because I was teaching a weekly class in linear perspective at the same time I was working on this.) This was her grandmother's antebellum home, located in Athens, GA, and my client has amazingly detailed memories of the house and playing there as a child. Sadly, the home burned to the ground in the recent past, but this painting will serve as a lasting reminder of family ancestors and a cherished childhood.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

3 Portraits Accepted in Portrait Society of Atlanta Exhibition




Click on Image to Enlarge

I am pleased to announce that the above three portraits, "Katie", "Ben" and "Chance," have been accepted by juror, Michael Del Priore, into the Portrait Society of Atlanta's Spring Members' Exhibition. Membership in this organization is national in scope, and some of the nation's best portrait artists are included in their ranks. Today I delivered the paintings to Mable House Art Center in Mableton, GA, the venue for the show. The show opens June 1, 2009 but the opening reception and presentation of awards will take place from 7 - 9 p.m. on June 6, 2009 and is open to the public. There were some outstanding paintings standing against walls waiting to be hung, so the competition for awards is keen. This will be an exhibition worth seeing.

I retrieved these three paintings from my client's home on Sunday. It was the first time I have seen the paintings in their "home" and the first time I have seen all three together, as they were painted one per year. It was really a strange feeling seeing them that way, as each one gets so much of my personal attention and hours and hours and hours of work. Seeing them together in their completed state, not having seen them two of them in quite a while, gave me a "first impression" of sorts. I was actually astounded at how "alike" they were, in style, in finish quality, in feeling, though each child's distinct personality was present in the paintings. Perhaps the strangest sensation was that of recognizing that they actually looked like they had been painted by the same artist. I don't know why I found that so surprising, but I really did. I remember years and years of wondering when my "style" would surface in my work. I think perhaps it has!

Michael Del Priore is the juror who awarded my painting, "Nicomas", the Second Place Award in the 2003 Portrait Society of Atlanta's Fall Exhibition. My understanding is that he will be presenting the awards himself at the reception on June 6th, which is unusual. Though I have met him before, I look forward to seeing him at this exhibition. And maybe I'll see you there as well!