Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
A while Ago I saw Bettye LaVette on Later with Jools Holland. She’s an amazing performer and what really struck me was her total commitment and letting go in this song. Of course she’s a fabulous singer but what really gets me is her passion and follow through. It’s something that not all performers have the ability to do, and not all visual artists either.
Many artists including me find it very hard to bring any physical self to the art making process and its also something not many artists talk about. With artists like Jackson Pollock where we can see the physicality in the stroke, or the slash of the lines and splashes in the air it, but it can be something that never gets mentioned. Modern painters talk about the surface but they don’t seem to talk about how its gets there.
When I was doing my recent sculpture of my child’s head I was very aware of that physical action as I made it, but it’s almost like a hidden language. As no one talks about it, it’s then very hard for me to say exactly what I was doing in my work. You find your self using a bit of a personal language of maybe not even actual words, in your own head.
But what do I even mean by letting go? I mean, letting go of your ego or your criticising mind, or the stiffness in your body, or even the usual way you work to try something new. It’s a pretty flakey concept I admit. Sometimes its just letting go of whatever is going on to totally immerse yourself in your work. Some mediums are so particular and fussy that they require more of a total concentration than a letting go. My next question is what is the equivalent in visual art of the performer letting go? It’s not running around screaming and doing a body dive into the crowd, because that’s performance. Maybe its letting your mind go to some pretty odd places when you are thinking of ideas.
Above: in 1960 artists Yves Klein was trying to go beyond the brush stroke when he came up with his idea for his work Anthropometries. A model [ bottom image] would crawl, roll, be dragged across or pushed onto paper or canvas [top image] while she was covered in paint.
I always liked this idea but found the fact that the artist separated himself from it by using models rather curious…. [ I don’t want to be rude about Yves Klein, but I have always had a bit of a feminist twitch with this work. I mean he didn’t use any normal looking people it had to be beautiful models, it had a rather saucy edge to it. There was a band playing with a whole bunch of men in suits standing around watching….ooh lala]. In any case I have always thought this would be fun to do, but with your own body. Have you ever fingerpainted or painted with your feet? It’s very freeing and especially with your feet you start to really enjoy the squelchy sensations of the paint, and you begin to make marks coming form a less planned or rational part of the brain. Its good. It’s Letting go.
I read an article recently by pianist James Rhodes about finding an activity you love to do then letting it kill you.. I’m pretty sure you don’t need to take it that far, but the article is about going for it. Stop dicking around on the edge of something you love and do it.
The much maligned process of mark making can be a good introduction into letting go, where you let your censoring mind have an hour or so off and you let your body and eyeballs work together instead. I mentioned artist John Wolesley once before in my post You dont have to cut up a shark to make good art, and I mention him again because he knows how to draw energy in. In an episode of Painting Australia, John Wolesley is drawing sitting in the bush. Suddenly he jumps up and runs through the bush letting the burnt ends poke and spike his drawing. He let’s go of control and lets randomness have at it for a minute. It’s true he is a bit of a nut, but he is also a master mark maker, because he gives him self the freedom to do what his work needs.
Above: John Wolesley running through the bush with a painting and a piece from the exhibition, 2004: Australian Culture Now. ‘Sometimes the trees themselves played a part, their blackened fingers doing the drawing as I moved the paper with different gestures over and within them in a kind of dance’ wrote Wolseley in his artist’s statement.
In the series Painting Australia, 3 emerging Australian artists go with the host and an experienced artist [in this case its Wolesley] to a part of the bush loved by the artist. In this episode they are outside Bendigo in country Victoria. The experienced artist guides the others as they paint [draw, print whatever] in what is usually a totally different world to their normal one. It’s delightful to see how some artists will take some leaps and bounds into the void and just see what happens.What I found fascinating [ and I will break my own rule of not criticising artists here to make my point] is that in this episode there is one artist who cannot let go at all. He is an older man new to art making, and he has dropped into a sort of stylized way of painting people and scenery. Even for the two days of this show this guy couldn’t let his new found style drop and hear anything that Wolesley was saying, which is a shame because you don’t often get a one on one session from a really good artist. He did a painting exactly like the ones he always did, including putting one of his stylized people in the scene. He just got nothing out of it because he couldn’t let go. I hopes he went home and let the experience affect his work in private.
‘Ahh’ I hear you saying but shouldn’t an artist stick to their own style and not be copying someone else? Yes totally, but artists will always bring themselves to the party anyway so you don’t really need to consciously insert yourself, or your style in your work, you just let it happen. If it’s that forced or stylized its going to be pretty dead anyway.
I’m not sure exactly what I am trying to say in this bronchitis fueled, feverish rant. Let yourself do that crazy thing you thought of, make that mad piece of art. Do the idea your boyfriend/girlfriend thinks is wrong. [ I once had a boyfriend who asked why I had to be always drawing bones and creepy things, why couldn’t I paint some nice flowers instead…. he didn’t last long.] Let yourself get lost in the making, go nuts.
Make the thing you want to make, not the thing you think you should make.
Right, well I’m off to find a very large tray and fill it with blue paint…