Studio Outtakes

Untitled, oil on wood, c. 12 x 9 in., c. 1995
Painting is a very inefficient practice. A lot of work never makes the final cut. An artist's studio eventually becomes a warehouse of failed projects or experiments that are either waiting to be resolved, abandoned, recycled, or discarded. A student of mine many years ago was married to a businessman. Looking at his wife's abundance of unsold, unseen work he suggested that she do an "efficiency study" to determine what kinds of things were successful, and what were not. Armed with this rational knowledge, he suggested, she could simply cease doing what wasn't successful and become more "efficient." In his mind "success" meant sales and little else. (They've since divorced.)

From the plethora of CD box sets of previously unreleased studio tracks and outtakes by great artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and others, it is clear that visual artists are not the only ones who produce great quantities of work that initially doesn't pass muster. For me, I find that there's a curious lag in my judgement about certain pieces. Going through boxes of abandoned work years later I often find myself appreciating the rawness and candor of those first "recordings" where once I saw only disappointment.

Shopper, pastel over monotype, c. 6 x 4 in., c. 1990
In the heat of making a painting one is never so aware of, or tormented by, the gap between what one aspires to and what one is actually getting. Lucian Freud characterizes it as a feeling of great "insufficiency" that comes over the artist at some point and that ultimately drives him to create again. With time that gap can close and the work simply declares what it fundamentally is - a document of what happened in a given moment of simply trying to respond honestly to a motif. Sometimes I come across old, abandoned pieces that in the present moment seem perfect in their own peculiar way. Into a frame they go, and like those recording studio outtakes, I'm ready to release them into the light of day. What is the appropriate date of such work? Is it the original date, sometimes ten or more years ago, or is it the present moment in which one finally sees, acknowledges, and approves the resolution of the problem? The older I get, the longer it seems to take me to "see" and pass sentence on what I have done.

 Festival Go-er, oil on panel, 12 x 7 in., c. 1992
Other pieces remain just as unsuccessful and "insufficient" no matter how much time has passed. Like those recorded noodlings that musicians lay down to preserve an impulse of an idea, these are things that I'm finally ready to "play with," to see if I can impose some new order that finally redeems the work. Time has a way of cooling the attachments one had at the moment of making, allowing one to declare, finally, that certain things just don't work and let them go. It's very cathartic to rip into bad work. Sometimes the effort to revise pays off but other times it doesn't. No matter what you do the work remains defiant in its badness, just in a different way. Certain canvases or panels seem almost to be cursed. At such times the idea of a ritual bonfire becomes very appealing.

I've recently been going through my own warehouse, pulling old stuff out of boxes and giving it a go to see what can happen. These are a few of my studio outtakes that I'm finally ready to release.

Tidewater Landscape, 2005-2019

Giornaliaio (Newstand), Pegugia, Italy. Oil on paper, c. 9 x 7 in. 1998

Eastern Florida Landscape, oil on panel, c. 8 x 15 in. 2003

Barbershop, acrylic on panel, 10 x 8 in. c. 1990

County Fair, acrylic and oil on panel, c. 1992-2014

Still-Life with Orange Juicer, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 in. 1998

Table with Flowers, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 in., 2005


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