‘Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.’ So said pop artist, Ed Ruscha. I agree, but there are various reasons for being perplexed by art! I find myself ‘scratching my head’ in front of a hyper-realist painting, thinking, ‘why would you do that when a camera could have done the job for you?’ A much preferable reaction to any piece of art is, ‘What is the artist trying to say? What did they see here that I haven’t noticed yet?’ To provoke that reaction there needs to be some ambiguity in the image, or in the artist’s handling of the subject, something that makes you stop and look again.
I’ve been told that there is a hint of surrealism in some of my work.
The Surrealists tried to depict the world intuitively, letting their minds ‘automatically’ dictate their imagery. Some seems weird, some amusing and some has had people scratching their heads for a century! I don’t work in that way as a rule, though I have once or twice, and yet, when I think about it, every painting ends up that way. The decisions that bring it to final fruition are more intuitive than planned. As Paul Klee said, you know it’s finished when you stop looking at it and it starts looking back at you, in other words, when you can look at what you’ve done and not see every brush-stroke but rather, an homogeneous whole.
But another aspect of Surrealism is the symbolic nature of its content. That is what occasionally creeps onto my canvas. I want you to look at what I’ve painted and ‘scratch your head’, wondering what I’m getting at and then having one of those delightful moments when you suddenly see a thing or an aspect of life as you have never seen it before.
Here’s another quote that’s been on my desktop for awhile:
“Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of materials.” Anni Albers said this and, once again, I agree, with some caveats. Certainly, when I am making prints, the whole process is driven by the materials I have to hand and the end result is rarely what I had in mind at the beginning. Painting is a different process, though. For me, it tends to originate from something or somewhere that has had an influence on me. A particular view, a walk by the sea, the rustle of a walk in the woods, an object I have collected, a feeling about something, any of these can cause one of those experiences alluded to above, ‘when you suddenly see a thing as you have never seen it before’, or become so entranced by it that you want the whole world to see it as you have seen it. That’s why I make art – to share with you how I feel about life, living, this magical wonderful world we live in and the incredible Intelligence who designed and created it.
Simply reproducing nature doesn’t do that for me. No reproduction can ever be as good as the real thing. What I can do is try to infuse what I paint with the feelings I have about it. The result might be recognisable, a familiar memory, like ‘Picnic in the Park’.
But it might also be an abstract agglomeration of colour and line that just feels good!
I became aware of how much my work is affected by the feelings I have at the time of its creation some years ago when I was battling ME/CFS and struggling to do anything at all. I managed to create one piece of work using a print I had made years earlier and the torn shreds of other less successful ones. Coming back to it months later I saw that what I had depicted was my exact frame of mind at that time. It was something I had never articulated in any other way or even recognised at the time. This is the image I made:
When I was tearing the pieces, it was totally random yet there is a hand reaching out as if longing to be outside that window. The feeling of entrapment so often accompanies chronic illness. Your mind is still willing, but the body won’t respond. I had days when just getting up and dressed was so exhausting I needed to lie down again. Keeping going, making yourself do the things that are harder than usual is a real test of character. It also builds testimony. Many days I could not do even what needed to be done without help. Not physical help. I am fortunate to have a husband that is totally devoted to providing that. There is another kind of assistance that is available from nowhere else but God. He can understand feelings you don’t understand yourself, bless you with answers to prayers you didn’t know you had prayed, because He loves you and knows you as an individual one of His children. He has known you for eternity so He knows you better than you know yourself. In the extremity of illness, I learned how powerful prayer is and how much my Father in Heaven wants to help me.
When I began to recover my prints took on a different aspect.
I still could not operate heavy printing presses so I would hand-burnish prints, setting the plate in a jig to hold it still and taping the paper in place over it so that, when the energy ran out, I could leave it for ten minutes’ rest and go back to it. The colours I chose were bright yellows and reds. The square images were simple and often linear. When I put them in a group show with some friends someone said, ‘Ah, there’s Wendy’s happy corner!’ Oh, the joy of being able to think creatively and work again!
Now I’m wondering whether your mood affects the way you buy art, too. Are there some paintings that you gel with more when you are feeling low? or feeling happy? Some you like to contemplate when you need to chill? I’d love to hear your thoughts.