For the past five years or so I have scrutinized my reasons/motives for every project well before I begin. As with many painters, ideas and urges seem to pop into my head and they are always interesting and amusing – at least at first. Since I work slowly I have plenty of time to think about various aspects of possible new paintings: How does it contribute to or dialog with the past and/or contemporary painting practice and culture? Is this merely an attempt by me to hit the same target twice or does it extend or enhance what I have done before? Will it show me something I have never seen before?
The list of questions can go on and on, but the point is that I need to know why I am working. Sometimes the answer is that I believe I will be doing something new that reflects my experience as a painter in my time. It may be that it helps me to understand things I have learned studying the art of others. And there are times when I want to do it because… just because! But the point is that I must think it through. Many artists believe that their work should be spontaneous; a response to their circumstances, but I do not think that is enough. I need to dig as deeply as I can into my motives, expectations and the possibilities of the work. In doing so, I find ways to enhance and extend the ways in which the work fits into my past and points towards future ideas.
A few years ago I wanted to do a still life with a couple of old tarnished silver pieces, but I didn’t want to do just another still life. I wanted to do something different. Over many weeks doing other things I kept thinking about how to present this in a unique, but meaningful way. Eventually, I decided to layer a panel with a smaller panel that would contain the smaller object in the foreground. After even further thought I added chrome hex bolts to make it look as though the small panel was fixed in this way to the larger panel. Problem solved. Since the silver were trophies won by my father and I the still life became a statement on family ties while making a hopeful comment on realist painting. The silver was deeply tarnished while the securing bolts will never change.
I was concurrently planning a landscape of rough weather on Lake Michigan and what do you know? I decided that a layered panel would answer the need make a more interesting landscape. This time, however, I used bronze carriage bolts of the type used in marine construction. Another problem solved.
Then I starting thinking that maybe I could use this “bolt thing” for lots of other projects, but one-by-one they fell away. Nothing I thought of could make it work, the bolts would just be an affectation, an insincere gimmick and I have no interest in turning out a “product.”