Nothing is easy, it seems. For years, I have been aware that much of my practice has been concerned with painting my way through painful circumstances; through the deaths of my parents, the loss of a pregnancy, the collapse of a marriage, through isolation and poverty and fear. I have been enormously grateful to have had access to my talent in a world where many do not, and I credit it with saving me from despair and violence and destruction of other kinds. Painting has made me empathetic. It is impossible, for example, to paint a tree without feeling deeply what a tree is; it is impossible to paint a human being without taking on some part of the weight of the soul in the skin. As my work becomes more abstract, I find that my relationship with small pieces of the world, with shadows on ceilings and cobwebs in corners and light reflected from the throat of a loved one, that all these fleeting fine things become my intimates and I love the world more because it offers itself up to me in these ways a million times a day, and the challenge is to always be looking, to not forget that the astonishing abundance of surprises lies in the fluttering instant.
A few months before Tim died, we were walking the dog out on Hardscrabble road in Wells, and the sun was filtering through hanging lichens and landing on trunks in a way that seemed random and circling- a way I could not have anticipated and which delighted and fascinated me. I had said to Tim at that time, I wonder why it is so difficult to paint joy? I wonder why all depth and all gravity seems to lie in painting sorrow? We talked about it a little, and we concluded that joy is something we have easy access to, but that facing sorrow takes a kind of existential courage and that is what makes sad art deep. And then he died, and the question of making joyful art conveniently slipped my mind.
When I look around my studio, the majority of the work therein is steeped in the worst pain of my life. Losing Tim changed me utterly- it rearranged my every thought, seemingly my every molecule. And yet there is not a piece there that I would look on as a sad painting. Not one of those paintings is bogged down in anything- they are all reaching for something, they are seeking something and hopeful that they will find it. That, I think, is the secret of joyful painting. I don’t think I would have stumbled across it in any other way.
In recent weeks, I’ve stumbled across happiness in other forms. I’ve had exciting and engaging conversations. I’ve had long, connecting stretches of time with my children. I’ve put my hands in the ocean pretty regularly. I’ve spent time with friends I’ve known now for longer than I knew my own parents. I’ve had the great good fortune to have become acquainted with a remarkable man with whom I have been spending quite a lot of time. This is one of those things- one of the profusion of joyful events- unexpected and unrepeatable, and would have been a large and unknown loss if the chance to do so had passed me by. These things are affecting me in a series of ways. One is that I am just, straight up, happy. Another is that I am making work that is profoundly different again from the work that preceded it- I am taking far bigger risks and allowing myself to come far closer to failure than I have in the past. I am trying hard to let the work itself dictate its own direction- to engage in a dialogue with the action of painting. It’s a difficult impulse to explain, much less to trust, but it’s the way things are going. And in the same way that a spider spins webs and a dung beetle rolls dung, I find that there is joy in the work and that the work feeds joy, and I am happy. And I think there’s courage in painting this way that matches the hard work of painting sorrow. I think it takes a lot to find and face joy. Nothing is easy.
And here’s me talking about some stuff.