In keeping with my goal to try and give a bit of insight into my painting process through my blog posts, this time I thought I would broach the subject of how I finish a painting. Here is one I finished recently.
The matter of finishing a work, or knowing when it is finished, has often been discussed in artistic circles, as it is one of the crucial aspects of an artist’s practice. It is an area that many artists, particularly abstract painters, struggle with. I read somewhere once that Jackson Pollock would often ask his wife and fellow painter Lee Krasner the big question – ‘Is this painting finished?’
Titian was much criticized by his contemporaries during his late period for not finishing his paintings. To this day there is debate as to whether some of his works are finished or not. Picasso is another master of the ‘unfinished’ painting.
I personally think that these artists did enough for the painting in question to come alive. No more was needed. In Picasso’s case this point might have taken an hour to reach, whereas Titian may have worked for 10 years on a painting. Velasquez and sometimes Rembrandt also fall into this ‘unfinished looking’ category. Other artists, in my opinion, over finish a painting, making it so perfect that it is no longer alive. It becomes too tight, rigid. This is not to say that loose is better than tight. For example, someone like Ellsworth Kelly, with his razor sharp edges and completely flat surfaces is definitely not too finished.
Reaching a point of harmony
Many art critics and historians, as well as artists talk about composition – the organization of the relationships between every shape, colour, tonal value, volume, spatial relationship, etc. on the picture plane until perfection is achieved – as being a key to a good painting. The painting is finished when harmony is achieved.
The problem with that, I think, is that you can have the most harmonious painting ever and it can still be completely inert!
Looking for little miracles
To me there has to be a revelation. I keep working on a painting, not blindly, but responding to what the painting is asking me to do, until the painting reveals something – or itself – to me. It’s like witnessing a little miracle. This ‘revelation’ is the painting’s true subject.
Therefore, the crux of the matter is for me to be open and sensitive to the painting enough to be able to feel it and what it needs. Also the more I understand my materials the more I can offer to the painting.
I think that every great painting is a little miracle. That is perhaps why I’m not the most prolific of painters and a painting of mine can take years to be finished – I’m setting myself a very high goal, miracles after all, don’t happen every day. But hopefully that’s what makes these paintings more precious and valuable. Here is one of my favorites which was sold to a private gallery in Spain last year.
Next time I’ll explore something of the nature of these miracles.