It's come to my attention recently that there's a certain sense amongst people who look at and read my meanderings that I'm fiendishly 'productive'. This ties in with conversations I've been having with people who make and paint and write who believe that they're not. Or, who are made to feel that they're not by the random comments of others.
This is so far from my own sense of what I'm doing that I want to laugh out loud. For the last few weeks, since I got the studio, in fact, whatever it is that stuffs me up and stops me from working has gone into overdrive. I've spent quite a lot of that time, for example, trying to 'carry on' with the large drawings that made me want to get the studio in the first place (or so I thought). But there's just no carrying on to be done. Every large drawing becomes more aware of itself, and consequently of the ways in which it falls short of the spirit of the two early drawings that came out with no intention at all. Here are the first two:
Awareness of these seems to be preventing any possibility of a new drawing coming out on its own terms.
It's just no good, every mark made at the moment keeps harping back to what has passed; assessing itself against what came out so freely, longing for the assured satisfaction of those past processes. There was an easy connection in the making of these, an unconscious flow. When they were done, they were done, and I felt none of the irritation and dissatisfaction that I feel every time I make anything at all at the moment. They just were, like a little puddle I might find one day in the road.
Whatever is coming now seems to be insisting on change and development. It's as if the whole process is currently fighting for its freedom, its right to emergence. And as my frustration with this grows, I become more and more destructive of whatever it is I'm making. Although there are actually some marks or parts that are perfectly fine, at some stage, the frustration keeps pushing, scrawling all over areas and parts that, actually (I sometimes seem later) were not really any less interesting than the things I liked in the early ones.
Scrawl, scrawl, scratch, erase, smudge, bring in the black, finally give up in disgust. If I didn't have my process of photographing, increasing contrast, selecting bits I like, posting online to see at a distance, everything I've done in the last two months would have been destroyed.
Whatever I think or feel about what I want to produce (ie. 'more like the first two, please...') the whole process seems to long for difference, for emergence, in a way that is completely beyond my control. The more recent marks may seem to bear similarities to older ones to an onlooker, but to me, inside the process, I can see that they're not, and never can be. It seems that there can be no repetition, even in terms of a general container within which, you would have thought, different things could emerge. This means that at the moment there is only radical uncertainty and constant dissatisfaction and destruction.
Apart from the self-consciousness of process that seems to have been induced by the move to the studio, the other thing that I suspect may be happening is that, whether I like it or not, there is a higher degree of intention now than in the work that I produced over the years leading up to my exhibition in 2013. I always knew that I had been able to begin painting again only because my unconscious had cleverly come up with a way of working that I could not control or sabotage with my mind; a process-led thing that succeeded in feeding the instant gratification monkey sufficiently to make it feel like carrying on, cleverly sidestepping the destructive ego-monster. Most of the paintings of those first years came from responding to the nature of watercolour, which, literally and materially, creates its own fractals and shapes. All I had to do was follow and respond. Now, there's no watery fractal to guide me. When you draw, you make every single mark that goes down with a movement of your hand.
The first two of these large drawings came out in an unplanned and similarly responsive way to the watercolours, in that I put on some music and moved around with a chalk at the end of my arm as an embodied response to the music and to the emergent line, with nothing in my head about what I was doing or what I wanted. I have, of course, attempted to create the same conditions, but it's no good, there's nothing doing. 'Change, please, something new, somewhere we haven't been before', they all say in concert, all those voices that are doing their best to guide me out of my slothful rut; to turn around the tanker of a lifetime of disbelief and self-sabotage.
The other thing I perhaps need to remember is that one of the reasons these drawings wanted to appear was that my mind was focussing on working on drawings of the Indian dancers. I remember quite distinctly a feeling that I couldn't bear to sit at the desk every single day and do this close observation and drawing work all the time. Drawing the dancers was taking me forward with something that I also want, which is a more conceptual and consciously made kind of image, which I hope is going to grow out of the study of the images made by artists in the past who fascinate and inspire me. Come to think of it, I just came back with a new haul of those from the British Museum....
Perhaps there is something pleasingly cyclic here. Perhaps it's time to return to the more conscious, directed study and just move on from whatever satisfaction was derived from those elusive larger drawings....
You might say, oh, for goodness sake, just get on with it, stop thinking so much. But artists do think, and I've been doing everything I can to 'just get on with it' and it hasn't felt good at all. I can no longer rely on an entirely intuitive process, because that not only has limits that I want to experiment with going beyond, but it also can be thrown off by external factors, which are always going to arise.
Having the stuff in chronological order on my facebook page gives me some insight into all this. For example, having been convinced that I had 'done no work since moving in to the studio', a week or so ago I had a look at the images that appeared on my timeline during the time that I was moving in there, and trying to work there every day. To my enormous surprise I saw that, although I hadn't been able to do all this computer stuff and various things that I now know I need to be able to do as part of my process, in fact, I had done some perfectly good work there.
It didn't feel like that at the time at all. And though I can put up with a certain amount of irritation and frustration, I can't only feel disappointment and hopelessness, day after day. Strange as it may seem to those who are trying to spend less time with their screens, the computer/facebook process is actually a lifeline for me.
So the next time you think that I'm 'being very productive' (and perhaps find yourself thinking that you 'should be'...) know that the endless posting of bits of random work is in fact a happy side effect of the process that I have in place to stop myself going completely mad with disgust and frustration. Photographing, enhancing, chopping, selecting, collaging and finally posting, are my system for getting a distance from the thing I am currently fighting the desire to burn.