About the first thing anyone asks me, (asks any artist, I suspect) is “Where do you get your ideas?” How should I answer?
I could say “well, from the Artists’ Handbook of a Thousand and One Ideas.” Or I could say, “I start a new piece by sitting down with a sketch book and then ideas just fall out of the end of my pencil.” I could say ideas come from places I’ve been, books I’ve read, poems I’ve written, from folk art and kids’ drawings, from music, possibly from all of the above. But the truth is I don’t know where ideas come from, so I just keep making up stories about ideas.
Last year it was a lot of rain I painted, hoping the drought would come to an end. This year it seems to be birds, but why birds? Another story to invent. I could say, “Well, Audubon asked me to do something about birds and I got hooked on birds and couldn’t stop.” Or I could say, “Well, it’s because birds have this deep mystical meaning for me.” Or, “They are embodiments of lost souls.” Or, “They remind me of my mother.” (Truly, hummingbirds would come sit on her finger). Or I could say, “Birds are these tiny bundles of life. They bring messages from the next universe.”
Closer to the truth would be, “well, I got tired of making flying fish.” Besides, there are only one or two places fish have been known to walk when I needed them to. But birds are trim, sleek shapes that provide direction and movement in a painting without my even asking. And you can play with their expressions, even when they’re only masks.
These past years of course dogs have been my favorite companions and so they often sneak into my paintings. The trick for me when I start a painting is to let go of the real world and wander into one of magic and fantasy. I’ve never really done a “theme show” because that imaginary world is constantly changing in my mind. People ask if I paint my dreams. They should be thankful that I don’t; I myself would run from them if I could. But in a painting you can turn emotions inside out and create whatever reality you choose, perhaps wistful, colorful, humorous, and maybe even deliciously sarcastic. An artist can actually escape into a painting the way Alice entered through her looking glass.
Then there’s the next question, “What in the world does this mean?” Which demands another story? Occasionally I can make one up to fit a particular piece, on a particular day. I know what I have in mind when I start but then the painting takes over and tells its’ own story. It’s my job to listen as best I can. That doesn’t mean I know what it’s about in the end. If I did I probably wouldn’t say because I would so limit what viewers might see. So, stories are invented, meaning as are multiple; I hope each person will bring their own story to my work. And, as always, I hope they also bring a smile, and a question.