Speaking My Own Language July 24, 2017 14:14

I started my most recent painting over three times (one of the great things about painting flat with acrylic is being able to start over on the same support). First, I tried some color combinations that I've always liked but never used. I realized that they just weren't me and that I should avoid using these combos in future and instead seek out the colors *I* like to paint with.

Old portal 1 work in progress by Harold Roth 2017Next, I fell back to painting stuff I used to paint: flowers. This datura blossom looked great but didn't belong in the painting. I painted over it.

Then I thought that the remainder of the painting needed too much work in order to make it be what I wanted it to be. So I painted over the whole thing.

Normally I start with an orange or pink ground. This time I started with a butter yellow in hopes that it would jog me to something different, something more me. The painting structure is the same as in the previous versions, and the idea of a portal in a canyon is the same. But I decided to move away from a realist rendering. 

I've been wanting to leave realism behind for a while but just have not been sure of my direction away from it. I've already posted about the possibilities of Impressionism, but...

At the same time, I was wrestling with the idea of having two streams of paintings: one composed of my more challenging, personal, or subconscious paintings, and the other of a more mainstream type of painting, like realist landscapes. After all, I've been painting realist landscapes as backgrounds for my more challenging work. And landscapes are popular, and why not make some money and expand my audience? 

And compete with jillions more artists, many of whom are using oil paints, which have more "value" than acrylics, and painting on linen instead of panels, and framing in real gold-leafed closed-corner frames instead of black floater frames, etc. Just not me.

Moon of the Dead work in progress Harold Roth 2017Before I started this portal painting, I completed one I call Necromancer's Moon (although I'll have to change the title because it turns out to be something from a game). This began as a very Symbolist/Impressionist type of painting, very different from most of what I've done (although some of my favorite paintings are in this style, if not the subject matter, like Blue Afternoon). These less detailed paintings have never sold, though, so I haven't pursued that style much, even though I enjoy it a lot. Still, I thought this style could help me better connect to the subconscious and to the images hidden (occulted) there, that this style might be a means to more powerful imagery. And it certainly wouldn't require as steady a hand painting as a more realist style.

Moon of the Dead by Harold Roth 2017At any rate, this particular painting began with me allowing images to arise from the juncture of the paint and the subconscious, but then I chickened out and finished it in a more semi-realist style with hooded figures all over and a central motif like my emblematic paintings (a moon circle with necromancer and spirit inside).  I was dismayed by the hooded figures. They seemed hackneyed. What next? A graveyard? (although I love to look at fancy mausoleums--as a child, I wanted to live in one--and graves with sorrowing angels and all the Victorian hoohah, and sometimes I look at them online for hours).

What really surprised me, though, was how many people liked this painting. Hmm.

I decided to talk to some other artists about whether they had two or more "lines" of paintings where they did different things, where some paintings were more of a challenge to paint and others were less so or maybe even done just for fun.

Lots of artists said they in fact DO paint more than one type of painting, and that often that means making paintings that don't especially challenge them but that sell. And we all need to earn our bread and butter. I actually heard an interview from a successful painter recently who said he had supported his family with his landscapes for years and only now was he getting his more challenging and personal paintings into museums and whatnot. So I thought, well, this would be ethically and artistically okay to do.

Meanwhile, though, I thought I should then really make my "challenging" paintings much more challenging--not necessarily technically, but in terms of what goes into the image. That I should pull up images from a deeper level than I normally do. 

Eastern Portal acrylic painting by Harold Roth 2017I already had the structure of the portal painting sketched out and had intended to make the cliffs realistic. But I said no. I will make them with the patterns that fascinate me. And the portal, instead of being relatively mainstream like depicted by light or dark, should be outlined with the "energy lace" that I have created for several other paintings. And that's what I did, and it was very very satisfying.

Then one morning, when I went to look at some art blogs and saw paintings that were in fact realist in style, I felt like maybe my non-realist painting was lousy. I had to go sit in front of it and look at it a good long while, and I could see that no, this is a good painting, and what's more, it's original. It's me. It's my language, not someone else's, not the language of a movement or a style, but of me. 

That's what makes it satisfying to paint, but I also hope that will help it sell, because one thing I have learned from running a shop for 17 years is that what keeps you in business is not what everyone else sells but what no one else sells. What is unique. Creating a niche that is totally your own and where you can have no competition because no one but you can do your thing. This is the biggest lesson I have learned from retail. 

Paintings in my own language might take a while to sell. An audience has to be created for them. But eventually that audience will assemble, and I can offer them something original, something that no one else has, and that satisfies me greatly to paint.

However, that does not mean I won't have a second line of paintings. And I thought, maybe something more in line with my necromancer painting would be appropriate. Kind of continue that vibe. That's why I decided to try painting my coffin idea--a pile of coffins in a Victorian street, complete with gaslights. Why that? I don't know. It's what I saw for a second while I was watching a show (that was not showing anything like that). I assembled reference photos of Victorian coffins (there are a great array of styles!). And I ordered a set of blocks that I can use to arrange the "coffins" to get the most pleasing pile. This painting won't be personally challenging for me to paint, and it won't draw up symbols from deep in my subconscious, but it sure will be FUN. And I hope people enjoy it.

I painted a study for the coffin painting right over an old abstract painting of the river Styx, which was full of purple. I use some of that purple as ground and even as coloring for the coffins and background, and the gaslights morphed to orbs. It was a quick and easy study to paint, and I enjoyed it.

But looking at it after it was done, and having just completed Eastern Portal, I could see that it was nowhere near as good (IMO) and never would be. The idea was not original, so no matter how well I rendered the idea, it would never be what I consider to be good art. So now I'm not sure I will ever paint the large version I intended. 

But maybe that's one of the purposes of a study--not just to test out the colors or composition or whatever for a larger planned painting but to see if it's worth painting at all. In this case, I think not. But it was fun to do. And I might well do more small paintings like it just for fun. I will see if it sells at all.

Meanwhile, I finished Eastern Portal and put soft gel (prior to varnish) on all my most recent works. Now to gesso another panel for a new painting.

I also made a decision to get a couple of 36 x 48" panels so that I can have three sizes of the same proportions in my paintings: 9 x 12, 18 x 24, and 36 x 48. The big guys are expensive, $70+ apiece, but I think I am getting to the point where I can handle that size for a complex painting. 

If you have struggled over speaking your own language in art, I'd like to hear about it.