An artist I greatly respect once said to me, ‘you will come to a point in your art career where you will reach a crossroad. At that crossroad you can either decide to carry on producing work that is familiar and safe, that you know will sell; or you can try the untrodden path and create work that is different to what you’ve done before, maybe commercially risky, but which gives you life.’
I have great admiration for the artists who tread that path; like going from realism to something more abstract. In my home town just recently, I was very provoked to see a successful and well established artist do just that as she experimented with new styles and mediums. I am sure it took a lot of courage.
I myself came to something of a crossroad last year when I was invited to have my first solo show in a commercial gallery. Of course, I wanted my work to be well received and for people to like it enough to want to buy it. Like any artist, I wanted the validation, not just for myself, but for the gallery who had taken a chance on me!
But at the same time, I knew in my heart that I wanted to create a body of artwork that I felt excited about and emotionally connected to. I tend to lose that connection when I feel like I am just churning out the same work, reproducing the same images that have sold in the past. It may be sellable, but I take no pleasure in it, it leaves my work feeling dead, and that’s not what I wanted for my first solo show! I am sure this must be a dilemma for many professional artists - take the safe path, the familiar path, the same old path that yields no secrets and requires no risk. Or take the untrodden path, the uncertain path, the path of discovery?
I knew which path I needed to take for this solo show. I decided to produce a body of landscapes - something I had only recently begun experimenting with. I also began exploring the possibilities of using clay, and introducing it into my encaustic paintings. This was all uncharted territory for me and as I began to work on this ‘Marshlands’ series of artworks, I knew it meant letting go and not worrying about whether the show would sell or not. Instead, I allowed myself to enjoy the process and be much more concerned with capturing the beauty of the landscapes that I had grown up with.
Thankfully the show ended up being a success; not just because the paintings sold, but because of the people who seemed to be moved and to have felt an emotional connection with them. That is always the most humbling thing for me.
What if the show hadn’t been a success? What about my next solo show, now scheduled for August 2019?
All I know is I need to keep walking that untrodden path. Because if the day comes when I am no longer excited by what I am doing, or have lost the emotional connection to my work, then I will know the time has come to hang up my blow torch!