Saturday, January 14, 2017
I am starting over. It’s been a couple of years. What happens during and after hiatuses in an artist’s life? I had to stop for almost 3 years but others have been know to go for decades. Many things can and do halt the trajectory of creative process: sudden changes in health, financial circumstance, relationship status. Births, deaths. Relocation. The one hundred thousand things that comprise human existence. Some artists navigate changes in their lives with minimal interruption to their art practice and routine, especially if they are lucky enough to have resources that soften or lessen the stress and disruption such changes produce. Some of us are tougher, younger, more resilient, better loved, have a good support system and network. Some of us have privileges in one area but liabilities elsewhere. Others are genetically predisposed to optimism: whatever happens in their lives including misfortune is treated with acknowledgement, acceptance, and dealt with in the best manner humanly possible—and then they just get on with it. A few of us managed to avoid situations where things could have been worse. A lot worse. Others discovered that when one crisis arrived, more followed until it felt like one thing after another. Such is life.
In my case, it started out with a broken ankle. That in itself was hardly remarkable when considering the standard time allotment for bones to heal. In the grand scheme of things, 6 weeks is a month and a half out of commission. I’ve actually had previous derailments: dislocated shoulder, fractured foot—that came and went before I knew it, during my youth. I continued not only painting but going to work, travelled solo on buses, socialized with friends and family—in short, carried on pretty much as usual; just on one leg. However it’s very different to do this in your 20’s than in your 60’s. It takes longer to recover when you’re older and even then, things aren’t quite the same afterwards. The ankle mended but ached for two years. Two months after the injury, I returned to my part-time job and my shoulder froze within weeks. I suspect it was the result of using crutches (ladies in their 60’s should not walk around with sticks in their armpits). That issue took another year. Then my cat broke my heart by dying but gave me the sad gift of doing so 4 months before a quieter, smaller, albeit more expensive unit became available in my building, thereby freeing up funds to afford a move and new apartment, now that I no longer had pet expenses. I also switched from a daytime to evening/night schedule at my job.
With the move came the inevitable down-sizing which included a ruthless purge of my own artwork. I know artists who keep stuff they did in high school or art college. My work then didn’t warrant any nostalgia or fondness. I ditched almost all of it: one minute gesture drawings on cracked, yellowed and peeling newsprint, matted framed assignments on illustration board, rolled canvasses of unsalvageable experiments that went no further than expectorations in paint. It felt great! However, resistance came when it involved the efforts of other artists. Something winced and balked inside to even consider doing to their work what I was doing to mine, namely in terms of disposal or give-away, notably the small painting done by a now deceased artist whose donation landed in my safe-keeping when it was never retrieved after a fund-raising auction. I didn’t know her; barely met her at an annual dinner. Over the years, I tried to contact her; at one point managed to arrange for pick-up but nothing materialized. I also owned from other artists, fragile, torn, hand-made cards and works that aged poorly. But there was nothing wrong with this unclaimed painting other than the fact that I just didn’t want to take it with me. Generally, it was only this piece that caused such reservations; the rest of what I owned from other artists, I truly did want to keep. My major hesitation concerned how I’d feel if someone else, for example, had the same awkward, conflicted response about a painting of mine in their possession, they no longer cared as much about anymore. I had no qualms about dispatching my own work especially if I found it substandard. But the idea of somebody else discarding my work was hard to separate from their rejection of me personally. It’s like falling out of love, not being liked anymore, no longer special. Being put out with the trash.
Eventually, the painting was offered in a swap meet organized by my building. It was taken—by whom, I don’t know, but ultimately, I’m pleased someone else wanted it. I finally relented and recycled other artists’ flimsy, aged pieces in deteriorating condition. In my new place, I have at least one artwork on display from everybody in my collection. I found a method to resolve the dilemma of what to do with original artwork I no longer wish to keep. If I allow myself the option to pass on, or recycle another artist’s work in my possession for whatever reason, then it is only fair that others be granted the equal right to do the same with mine. It has to go both ways. Therefore, to anyone who currently owns one or more of my paintings: I give you permission to do as you please, especially if that work no longer serves you or your needs in any way. You are free to give it away, sell it, paint over it ( if you are another artist) or leave it at the curb.As far as the doubts and insecurities about one’s abilities after a hiatus—just paint. Or do anything creative with your hands. The old muscles will re-awaken including the one in the heart that remembers the love of the doing like it was the first time, that first discovery of a passion not evident anywhere else or known before in your life. So much time spent in the absence of working creates fears of losing what one once had: skill, craftsmanship, motivation and endurance. A loss of connection with not just the art world but the world itself particularly for those who felt art was their connection to the world. And for many of us, there exists anxiety and concern over a loss of connection with a major part of ourselves, who we are, how we see and define ourselves. Start small. Those of us returning after a hiatus need to build up strength to tackle larger projects. However, power to anyone who recovers better going the opposite route: full-bodied immersion, assertive, focused intention, and fierce commitment.