You have recently seen me box my own ears over the worrisome possibility that it is getting too easy for me to paint the things that I paint. Now I'd like to argue against myself again, by means of two examples.
Here is the current Blue Leah painting - one of two torsos I am planning for the series:
I think this is going pretty well. During the last session, I painted the belly. I slouched toward this passage feeling fairly lowly about it, having in mind everything I had said about getting too good at what I prefer doing. If there's one thing I prefer doing, it's painting women's bellies. I love bellies. I've painted a lot of them (bellies, I mean, but women too, who have bellies). So I kind of felt like a complacent jackass, getting ready to paint this one.
But then I started, and all that self-disgust evaporated, because I came face-to-face with a fact I had forgotten since last time I painted a woman's belly: that painting bellies is as hard as fucking hell.
Every single time, it's that hard. It doesn't get easier. The belly is a large expanse of subtly varied structure, reflected in subtle shifts of light, shade, and color. Too much subtlety and you get mush - too little, and you get an anatomical cartoon. To paint a belly is to skate over a vast floe of difficult choices, each of which must be resolved correctly and in the moment to produce an overall sense of bellitude. I spent seven and a half hours painting this belly, from the bottom of the breasts down: three with Leah present, and another four and a half alone and tearing my hair out. Then I gave up.
Not long after I gave up, I looked at this belly again, and I thought, "This is a good belly." And I breathed a sigh of relief.
Every single time, it is a struggle.
Let me tell you about a different struggle I had recently. Here's a painting of some strands of algae, part of a group of paintings of microbes about which I'll tell you more very shortly:
This is quite a large painting - 48"x60," in fact. Here it is in context, so you can get a sense of scale:
I spent several days painting those strands. I knew what the painting would look like when I got done - I think it looks cool. I think it is luminous and carries a feeling of translucence and aquatic clumping and drifting. But painting those strands of algae, while not technically difficult, was in the aggregate not unlike watching radar. It was brain-burningly repetitive and maddening. It gave rise to paranoia and despair. Sometimes you just force your way on through - for days and days.
Two struggles: to do it right, and to do it at all. I should worry less about complacency, and more about just doing the work. The work will take care of everything else.
Now, what about this group of paintings of microbes? As you may have guessed from the in-context photograph, it is part of a show, my first two-person show. I'll tell you the whole story in the next post.