Thursday, February 9, 2017

The difficulties of escaping a creative pigeonhole while still keeping the lights on.


A hole or small recess for pigeons to nest;
A small open compartment for keeping letters or documents
A neat category which usually fails to reflect actual complexities

Common failings of pigeonholing schemes include:

Entities may be suited to more than one category. Example: rhubarb is both “poisonous” and “edible”.
Entities may change over time, so they no longer fit the category in which they have been placed. Example: certain species of fish may change from male to female during their life.

As you all probably know – I paint architecture and the urban environment. I started to paint twenty years ago and, as I developed my skills and gained a following, I was painting demolition sites, buildings, walls, doorways, graffiti and signage. I was earning money, but not enough to support myself.

Then, ten years ago, I needed to become self-sufficient very quickly. I considered getting a job, an idea that lasted for a few minutes until stubbornness/pigheadedness – call it what you will – kicked in and wouldn’t allow me to let go of this “painting thing”. So my art had to pay my bills and keep my lights on.

Previously a couple of paintings of San Francisco piers had sold quickly so I did some more. They sold. I did some more. They sold too. Piers became the predominant subject matter of my total creative output, my vendors “encouraging” me to do more because they sold easily. At some point that encouragement turned into a resistance to other types of work, mostly delivered with discreet hints but sometimes with clear requests. I found that by creating a demand for pier paintings I had reduced my vendor’s willingness to show other work. They too have bills to pay and the desire for the easy sell is understandable. I love painting piers but I started to feel constrained by their popularity. The creative urge to explore new things is hard to ignore and I believe that a pigeonhole, or formula, sounds the death knell for an artist’s development.  The idea that I divide my time between piers and other work sounds sensible, but my creative process is labor-intensive and slow, whatever the subject matter, and a large painting can take up to a month to complete. Those lights cost money! When I did the math I thought that the only way I could afford to do both would be if I decided to forego sleep and any kind of personal life! That is…until I could find buyers for my “other” work.

The story has started to improve: In the past couple of years I risked spending some time away from money-earning piers to work on a series of architectural interiors. I also completed a collection of paintings depicting old sinks at Alcatraz. And there were sales! Not through the galleries or dealers who represent me but to the San Francisco art-loving public who came to my work space during two Open Studio events.

Heartened by this I allowed myself total “studio playtime” during December and January to explore the interaction between paint and collage. While many of my friends were spending the holidays overseas I was in my studio cutting up old street posters – and having a ball! 

Now the really good news: I submitted this new work to Artspan for their annual Selections Gala and exhibition. I was one of the ten artists selected and two of the three pieces accepted were the result of my holiday playtime. This has given my creative morale an enormous boost! I now have the confidence that, financially, I can afford to spend more of my time exploring.


In the meantime I am working on two large pier paintings in my studio. My lights are still on!