Glorious Descent

Glorious Descent
Acrylic on canvas 60 x 40cm

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Madeleine is now taking commissions

I took up a commission earlier in the year, to complete a landscape oil painting of an English sea port town in Winter. It was to be a nostalgic memento of the client's home town, with the expectation that it would be a realitic 'impression' of the Snow capped location. Some what begrudgingly I agreed, it was not that I was adverse to the money, or actually being paid for my 'trade' but rather i was fiercely protective of my precious studio time and the priority I wished to maintain of my own practice. I did not want to focus my energy on a project that wasn't my own.

In addition to this, already being a landscape painter of sorts, I had reservations as to the extent to which I could adequately render a place that I had not visited and had no personal affinity with. The client had given me a photograph, which again, I had never used as a tool for my painting practice. Even when I was producing a lot of portraiture years ago, my painting was informed by multiple sketches completed during sittings with my subject. When I tried to use photography it often failed, for the drawings in their primary rawness were synonymous with the energy I gained from the person and thus translated more effectively to brush.

With these reservations at the fore front of my mind I wondered how I could honestly approach this task and gain anything from it. My morale drained from odious employment, where I felt like the monkey with a drum, I resented the prospect that I would simply be churning out a painting - 'whipping something up', as my mother likes to tease.

A heated discussion was had on the subject one night at the family dinner table, when I mistakenly expressed my reservations and concerns. The likes of money, integrity, sensibleness and being 'reasonable' were all tossed about the table. For some, including my parents, the issues I had with the commission may seem over the top and ludicrous, but they represented core principles that I felt were being raised about the practice of an artist, and I needed to address how I felt about them. Of course, it wasn't received like that at dinner. I remember a high pitched exasperated screech from my father: 'If some one asks you to do something madeleine, just do it !' - Not the most empathetic response for some one contemplating integrity. Or my mother's comment : 'People love your landscapes madeleine, unlike this ( pointing to a large abstract painting from my honours year )which people just don't get ! you need to consider what people will buy '. My final comment went along the lines of something like this: Art is a bitch, you should never expect to make any money out of it, all you have is the love of it and your integrity to the practice to keep going, you can't compromise this and your time by doing something you don't believe in.

I didn't touch the commission for months.
I hadn't arrived at a decision where I thought completing it was a compromise of my ideals but rather the whole debate that had ensued that night meant I didn't particularly want to revisit the tranquil landscape photo that harboured such conflict. If anything though, it remained a compromise of time and I was too engaged in my own paintings to want to pursue some one else's ideas.

However, I did complete the commission. It features on the top of this blog. And I have a confession to make: I enjoyed the process.
From a technical perspective I found the commission a welcome return to the application of colour theory and draughtsmanship skills that I possess. I appreciated that the parameters of the commission encouraged me to interrogate systems of landscape space, perspective and compostition. I was initially intimidated by the prospect of rendering snow, but once I embarked on the challenge I enjoyed discovering its subtle complexities in colour and realised the cliche - that less is more.

Secondly, a different level of engagement with art making was called upon that I have not used in some time, but certainly have the skills for. In my practice I have become expressive and increasingly abstract in my rendition of the world around me. This is often perceived as the easier alternative to picture making, but as I have learnt, incredibly exhausting too. Its incredibly subjective nature means I am constantly in fits of self criticism and I often don't even know why. It was a welcome relief to focus my brain in a far more mathematical rendition of the world, it was meditative to 'look and put' and satisfying to see obvious success. As I often feel lost in my own reality, by completing this painting I began to relate to the satisfaction gained by workers who apply themselves to regimented tasks. How nice it is to know you have completed the brown under coat and can now put brushes down and walk away with a sense of accomplishment. Much like how I imagine a gardener may feel having dug a flower bed and sowed the seeds or a baker letting his dough rest. Measured levels of accomplishment that exist in a grand plan.

So much of my modivation and art practice is built purely on trust. That instinct will locate ideas, that highs will follow lows, that inspiration will prevail. There are few text books to sewing plushies and making extravagant edible food events. People often don't get it, sometimes I don't either. Therefore it was a welcome reminder that I do understand the building blocks of what I do and where I come from in this great mess they call ART.

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