I envy painters who can consider a block of work, plan it out and execute it as some kind of linear process. A friend once showed me a drawing he had done, a preparatory sketch for a large painting, on which he indicated all the detail he could as to how he imagined the painting, including notes on texture and specific colours. It seemed to me the nut for him was in that magic gap between the drawing and the painting.
I can’t remember ever drawing in preparation for painting. Often I draw on my paintings or sometimes I’ll draw in order to try to work out a problem with a painting or group of paintings. Sometimes doing that leads me in directions I hadn’t anticipated.
The thing is there is still a huge element of mystery in painting for me, and I guess that’s in a large part why I keep at it. That mystery is tremendously compelling for me. When I exhibit paintings, and look at them out of the studio, I can often remember very specific moments working on one painting or another but at the same time I also often wonder how I got there. How did I make up that image? Why is that way exactly?
Some painters maintain a continuity through years of work, in some cases through a career, exploring, refining, examining, reinventing. I admire that, in part because I can’t do it. I’ve always found myself going back to the beginning over and over again, to really basic questions like, how can I make some kind of image that will stick. I can’t just draw it up and transfer it to my painting surface. Even when I go into a new set of paintings armed a starting point or a specific direction I’ve been chewing on, most of the time I need to shed that baggage before I can get down to the real business at hand.
When things are going very well, each time I settle into a bout of work, I feel as if I’ve narrowed the gap between painting and thinking, and at those times I can improvise fluidly. Other times there is just paint and canvas, colour and form and ideas and wishful thinking. Then I feel as if making a painting is next to impossible.