Saturday, December 27, 2008

It Figures


It has not slipped my mind that I will need to be writing some sort of statement regarding the figurative work that I have been working on recently. At least if I want to do something with it, other than to continue tucking the finished pieces away in my flat file.

So I guess I'll start here on my trusty blog. The place where I can rattle on and on and maybe get some feedback too.

I was an illustration major back in college so there was a lot of emphasis on figure drawing. Endless hours of drawing from a model daily. I loved it but also hated it just a little bit, it was so draining. But my drawing skills were pretty good and got better and I still value that so it was all good. Later on, much time was spent on capturing likenesses, a pretty important skill if one hoped to work as an illustrator. we worked from life as well as from photographic reference and I did pretty well with both I think. Once I did a painting of Bette Davis (above) using a photo that had been printed somewhere. It was great fun to do, but I never really felt that I wanted to keep painting portraits in such a realistic manner. Even then it didn't feel right to me.

Around that time I got a hold of some my old family photos and became really intrigued with them. I was doing a lot of monochromatic paintings, which was actually the beginnings of the development of my current underpaintings, and so I began working from the images I had. Here are a few that I did right at the end of college, around 1988 or so.


Doug has always encouraged me to paint portraits, but when I began painting seriously again a few years back I didn't know what I wanted to say, although I had a lot to express. I fell into the landscapes by chance really, we had moved to this beautiful area and I figured I'd give them a try. About a year ago I started to really yearn to do something different and again Doug encouraged me to go back to portraits, and so I guess I just picked up where I had left off after college, deciding to work from photographs again as well. Not to faithfully interpret them, but to make my own interpretations, my own conclusions, my own stories about the photographs I collected.

In many ways the process of using a photographic reference for the figurative work is the same as how I use references in my landscape work. The photos are a starting point, a reminder, the beginning of a story that I can tell. The difference is that with the landscapes I mostly use my own photos, taken in a place that I have been, a place that I have experienced and have felt. Oddly, I have so far been unable to work effectively from photos that I have taken of people. Perhaps that will change in time but for now working from other family's old photos is something that is resonating with me and I will continue on in that direction for now. However, I view the process of interpreting the photographic reference as part of the painting process no matter where the photo originates. The process is still me and there are obvious similarities (palette, composition, drawing) no matter where the image comes from.

And a few more details. I am not interested in getting the likeness, although it is very tempting sometimes, especially if the photo is very appealing or if it is someone that I know in person. I am also not interested in doing commissions. I know this because when I was younger and was doing more realistic work, I did a few and it made me miserable. Few people are ever very happy with how they are represented by an artist and I couldn't handle feeling badly about how they felt. I suspect I have not matured much in that area and so will be refusing commissions, already I have been asked (casually) and I politely say no. Which brings me to the next point: I am not doing nice things to the people I work from! I am not making them more beautiful or more graceful or happier or better! I do hope to express though, my respect for their lives, their place in time and the relationships they have with others. There are also visual aspects that are important to me; color, form, looseness, patterns, the curve of a leg, the impressionistic drawing of a shoe, an arm, a hat, those are things that I love to be able to express.

So that's what I am thinking about this work. Of course, I try NOT to think too much, often thinking and planning messes me up. When I am actually working, hands and/or brushes in the paint, I am going on instinct and am not plotting out what I will do next. My work is really all about me and my instincts, for better or for worse, I suppose.

7 comments:

Charlotte said...

I really appreciate you showing some of your earlier, more realistic work. I am at that point in my artistic development that I want to break away from blatant realism into other areas, especially mixed media and collage. I find it a struggle to make this break because I don't want it to appear that I don't have the technical skills. Did you struggle with this issue?

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

my GOD you're talented....

Tracy said...

Definitely, Charlotte! I still struggle with myself especially when it comes to the faces! I want to really render them because I know I can. But I don't WANT to paint highly rendered figures and so I have finally settled on a bit more detail in the underpainting and then by keeping it washy with the color, they don't look too finished. I hope, anyway. My basic drawing skills help to keep a basic bit of reality, then I have the freedom to go more into abstraction later. It is definitely tough though and it's like walking a tightrope every time.

Thanks Gary....

Maryanne said...

There is a struggle between the artist's interpretation and making marks that portray a realistic image. Sometimes we have to "subdue" our technical prowess to make the kind of image we want to. Having technique at our command is part of our art making tools, taking it beyond that is part of the thrill of making art.

Laura K Aiken said...

What a great post Tracy, just like Gary said, you are talented!

Tracy said...

Nicely said, Maryanne, you are right, of course.

Thanks Laura!

Shanster said...

Fabulous post! Love your discussion about where it comes from and why you choose what to do those pieces. Amazing work.

I'm not an artist - almost went to art school actually but went to CSU for their agriculture program instead. Almost as opposite from art as you could get I think.

Love hearing the inspiration...

Does it help you? I sometimes think when I'm struggling emotionally with something art could have been a really great outlet for me.

Now I go out and ride my horses... and that is an art form in a way I guess. Maybe a little like impressionist dancing? grin only without a beret...