Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Funny thing - Inspiration. It can take on many diverse forms; it can come from the oddest of places; it can leap out and surprise you at the strangest times; it can elude you when you are in most need of it; it can bring you to your knees or it can sweep you off your feet; it can turn your emotions upside down. In short, inspiration can be a hard thing to grab hold of and once grabbed, can be a hard thing to hold on to.
As an artist, inspiration can be the basis for being able to move ahead with an ongoing work or to be able to begin a new project. Sometimes, the doldrums hit and inspiration is nowhere to be found. Sometimes, inspiration can be overwhelming and you need to step back and pull yourself out of a tangle of competing ideas and concepts.
For me, inspiration creeps into my field of vision from all sorts of hiding places - a piece of music that sets my emotions to churning, boiling or deep thought; a sudden discovery of something or someplace new to explore; a color, cast shadow, sparkle of light, overlay of textures; a sound or smell that grabs up a long dormant memory from deep down in my bones.
And when inspiration hits like a bolt out of the blue, I need to stop and make myself aware of it all, take notes, sketch, photograph, grab the moment in my mind's eye and file it away. You never know when inspiration will lead you off on a wonderful run and you can't afford to pass it by.
So, when I am on a self-imposed deadline like I am now, for getting out new work for fall showings, I seek inspiration and hope it will poke its head out, crook its little finger and beckon to me.
For some time now, I have had it in mind to do a number of works based upon African themes as it has been a rather long time since I have had any major African works come off the drawing board. Living in Maryland, as I have for the past 8 years, inspiration has come from many surprising places that I would never have dreamt it would, ten years ago. So, horses, sheep, cows, barns, rural landscapes and much more have become predominant subjects in my compositions and thoughts. It is simply a fact, I feel, that whatever presents itself as inspiration at any given time, is what becomes the focus of one's work.
The 'present-sy' of things is how I view it. What you see and experience in the here and now is what you deal with in a creative flow. It's a natural thing to become more focused on what is current in mind, as things that once were inspirational and current in days gone by tend to recede into haze and lose their focus. I can not say that I like that things that once were right there at the front of my head, fully in focus and begging to be worked up into drawings, have begun to fade and lose their luster as time has passed.
Every so often, I will open a special drawer in my studio, a drawer in which the mists of time and the haze of passing days has begun to chip away at ideas that were sketched out, sometimes years before, and that were once so potent in my creative eye that I just knew they would be wonderful things to work on and complete. At a time like now, when I am figuring out what I want to be working on over these next two months toward a major showing in mid November, needing somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 18 new works, I go to that drawer and hope that by reviewing scraps of paper, notations, fully fledged sketched out compositions and such that inspiration will crawl out of the haze.
This past weekend was the opening of this year's edition of Birds in Art at the Woodson Museum in Wisconsin. Even though I have a work included in the exhibition this year, I did not attend the opening reception as I have for the last many years. I have always found great inspiration during the three days in Wausau, viewing the work of fellow artists, many of whom I know personally and many who I only get to spend time with this one weekend a year. I never fail to return home greatly inspired by all the wonderful and creative artwork that I am immersed in there. This year, I have had to content myself by vicariously enjoying the exhibition by way of reviewing the catalog, which arrived yesterday, and by relishing the comments of artist friends who attended. It's not the same.
Sitting and enjoying lunch this past Sunday with artist friends, including Matthew Hillier who I don't get to see as often as I would like now that he and wife, Julia Rogers have settled on the eastern shore of Maryland (a good two plus hour drive from my studio now), the conversation turned, as it would naturally because of the specialness of this particular weekend in September, to Birds in Art. Matthew too, has a work in this year's exhibition but did not attend either as he was just back from gathering reference material and doing field study at Yellowstone.
With their move across the Chesapeake Bay, both Matthew and Julia have begun taking great advantage of the 'present-sy' of their new location right on the water. Both have begun to paint boats and the water that surrounds them and both have done some stunning pieces. It is obvious to me as a friend and should be to others familiar with their animal art, the inspiration that has now begun to permeate a lot of their studio time, comes directly from what they see every day in their own front yard.
Matthew talked at length about how he felt he might need to reinspire himself to bring more animal subject works into his frame of view in the studio. I spoke of my desire to rekindle the emotions that always, in the past, have sparked great joy in working up ideas based upon my seven trips to Africa. We both agreed that the immediacy of the present and of what surrounds us as artists today, will always take center stage, but that the ideas and places and memories which we have found so inspirational in the past will too, remain within us and with a little nudge now and again, be brought to the forefront in our creative pursuits.
I am about to begin a new work based upon hours spent yesterday, digging through photos and notes from time in Africa. I hope that these first, tentative steps will encourage that, to now, illusive friend, Inspiration, to reopen my eyes to the wonder that has, in the past, brought me such joy in focusing on that great continent.