The other day I had a long-time friend ask if I had any health problems. I was a bit puzzled about what prompted this inquiry but answered that I was fine other than being slightly rounder than I would like.
He continues “Oh, I was just wondering if I could cash in on those paintings of yours anytime soon. But I think you have to be dead first.”
He was teasing but it is not such an odd question to ask about an artist as I first thought. At a recent international art fair this was a common curiosity for art buyers – was the artist still alive and are they in the mature or later stages of their career? This is all a polite way of asking if the artist is dead yet or how much longer until we can expect them to be dead. Of course, then the collector or potential purchaser has to decide if they have a chance of outliving that artist in order to cash in on their holdings. This is the rather lifeless, dark side of the whole art business which I am not so fond of thinking about.
I admit to being a little weirded out by this whole line of decision-making or checking up on your art investment. So I just want to say, for the record, I am in good health, eat well, exercise regularly, do not smoke, spend ample time in nature breathing clean air and sometimes have a glass of red wine with my dinner. Chances are fairly good that I have several years of painting left in me yet and I shall be around for a long, long time. No quick return on your investment is reasonably expected here. Then again we never really know do we? After all, I am closer to 60 than 50 years old now. But I provide you with summary this information and leave it with you to calculated your odds.
Now that we have that out-of-the-way, there is another kind of being dead as an artist that is far more dangerous than a last breath. This is the death of risk taking. Playing it safe, in whatever creative medium an artist uses, is not recommended. Sometimes the worst thing for an artist is to figure out something that works and is appreciated by viewers and collectors. Under these circumstances, we can lose focus, desire, drive and passion quicker than the heart can skip a beat. We must keep ask – I wonder? and – what if? and then go for it! The life in our work depends on this risk taking as much as our body relies on fresh organic fruit and vegetables. Yes, we can stop asking the questions for a short-while. But we will develop artistic scurvy if it goes on for too long. Let me show you an example of the kind of risk taking I am talking about….
My paintings don’t just appear on the canvas with each bit perfectly formed. They are coerced, poked and enticed into existence. I start with an idea about how I want to handle a particular subject and gradually it starts to take shape as the layers of paint and brushstrokes are moved onto the canvas. Bell Towers of Florence Countryside – 16 x 20 inch walnut oil on canvas has been more than a year in the musing and thinking process.
I start the landscape with my usual warm underpainting …
I began working right on top of the wet underpainting. I wanted this warmth to be come integral to the later stages of the painting.
The main themes and compositional elements of the painting are still fluid and transitory. It is coming along nicely.
Slowly my ideas start to solidify – just a bit…
I begin building up what seems to be working…
I keep going…
There is some variation in colour between stages because of the lighting condition at different times of day. But you get the idea. Finally the painting is getting close.
If you are walking from Florence south via del Podesta which is part of the old road to Rome take via del Portico to the right that is above Galluzzo. It is the medieval Chiesa di Santa Lucia in the foreground. The church has two bells from the 14th century. The Monastero della Certosa del Galluzzio founded by Niccolò Acciaiuoli in 1342 is on the hillside in the background. Today there are cars and freeways running lengthwise between these two places but from this view one can imagine there being only foot traffic moving along the narrow roads between stone walls from one place to the other. Thinking about what it was like standing in this spot, I make a few more changes and then I am ready to leave the painting to “rest” and decide if it needs anything else.
Well, I slept on it and I thought about this place some more. I then thought about the state of the world and so on. I could have left this most pleasant, idealized scene just as it is. The painting is fine. No risk taking is necessary really. But what would be the use of that? Do we really just need one more perfect picture of a grand view? No we don’t. I know we don’t. I have more to say than that and I had best figure out how to say it. We are often dazzled by dramatic light and memories that deny an imperfect past. This is even more pronounced to me when looking at these old churches, monasteries and bell towers in the Florence countryside. The whining hornet-sounds of motorcycles on the narrow road are an invisible reminder of our fossil-fuel reliant present. The young olive trees on the hill are young because of a hard frost a number of years ago that was attributed to changes in weather patterns. We seem to be wiping out our past and our present even as we observe this magnificent view. Like cataract suffers, we keep focusing on the bright spots and missing the rest. We are slowly going blind and this beautiful view will soon be lost to us. How can I possibly show this with paint and my brush?
Risk taken. I believe we now have more than simply a beautiful landscape and one that is very much alive, just like the artist who painted it.
What risk are you currently taking in order to be very much alive?
© 2015 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.
Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.
Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch
From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada
For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to http://terrillwelchartist.com