Monday, 3 February 2014

the instant gratification monkey

I used to have a few people reading here, but I'm not sure how many are still around after my long absence.... I thought I was going to do regular reports from India, but in the end the technology was impossible. And it was good to be away from the computer. It was good to be out there in the world, bathed in new sights, in colours and shapes, in atmospheres that were different, to be penetrated by alien sounds.

For nearly four weeks I absorbed, and looked, and watched, and noticed.

I came back with a completely different relationship to my 'creativity', to my art, to my work.

I would say now that I was starved. Starved of things that spoke to me from the world, trying to find everything inside myself. Which is where the response and the transformations of material take place, but I was empty. In the vacuum, I had been trying to think things into being, dredging for memories, feeling shadows brush past me too fast to see.

When I made that model for myself a year or so ago about feeding and digesting, I had no idea what that could feel like, in terms of the visual. So full now, it's a little easier to forget about the conceptualising, to just look, and look.

And, finally, to act again. At the end of the trip, I realised that there was going to be no further escape from dealing with figurative elements. Helped by a couple of marvellous blog posts about procrastination (here and here) I understood that I had been balking at this for years. My first Indian dancers came through in spring 2012, but they confounded me. It was just too hard.

I saw how again and again, throughout my entire life, I had fallen back from creative activities because I hadn't been able to believe in the chance of any kind of real success. There would be a little progress, but then something would come out that I deemed to be rubbish, and it just felt too disheartening to continue. This was linked the bigger problem of not knowing what I was trying to do; all I knew was that I wanted to paint, and that I didn't want to paint ordinary representational things. So, what?

My painting of the last few years was able to appear because my soul found a way to confound the voracious critic; in the terms of these procrastination ideas, something started to happen which satisfied my instant gratification monkey and myself, and I was able to carry on. But there has always been a problem of structure - ie. what, exactly, am I painting, what am I doing with these colours? The intuitive approach of the past was successful, in the sense that paintings were able to keep coming, but it was also torturous, because I never knew what I was trying to do. That's always going to be the case, but sometimes having no idea what to do next is dangerous. It worked, albeit sporadically, up to the show; it had its own momentum, but when I needed  a break after that, it was hard to find the way back in.

There are other complexities of process that have come to light since this great filling up with visual images from India. But the main thing to report in terms of discoveries that have a chance of being useful to anyone else is: a) the effect of seeing clearly for the first time how I tend to always fall back and give up when the going gets hard; and b) the power of one brick a day. Reading about this in relation to difficulty and procrastination, I suddenly saw that I had been hoping/trying to give birth to an entire house every time. If the house (satisfying painting) didn't appear, I got despondent and gave up.

So now I'm not expecting houses. If something happens that I don't like, if the drawing is ugly or the colours crass, or the whole is unimaginative, I just say, ok, that was today's brick. Today I learnt that approaching things in that way leads to that result, and I learnt that that result is not satisfying to me. I'll try something else tomorrow.

Everything is a brick, however it comes out. And if you lay one brick a day, and the end of the year, you have a house. Wonderfully, also, a house that you cannot conceptualise, or dream/work out in advance. I'm reading David Sylvester's interviews with Francis Bacon which is another story, but this stood out for me this morning:

'The pictures come as accident, through the working.....'

Indeed they do.


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