It goes back to my very first attempts at painting in oils back in 2008. One day running on the beach I saw a weary cormorant on the beach and realised it was dying. Perhaps it was the very next morning that I went down to that beach to scout for potential photos with by brand new camera when I saw the same bird awash in the surf. Caught as it was in the fried egg-like surf's edge it seemed to be flying, as if in death it had come alive again.
At the time the subject had a lot of meaning for me as I was myself taking a leap of rebirth into fine art as opposed to the advertising animation that had been my vocation to that point. More than that, it was a conscious attempt to break free of a way of life based on the noisy but limited thinking mind and into something transcendent beyond it.
I liked the bold strokes suggesting feathers and wondered as 2 more years passed how I'd interpret that in the very much larger canvas I had in mind. Eventually at the end of 2012, after weeks of deliberation, I finally started painting on a canvas just less than 180x120cm. Nice and big.
Rather like said love affair, had I known the dance it was going to lead me I'd have reconsidered that smugness. But there it is. Life will do as Life will do. Not to bog the story down, I'll fast fwd to the first time I thought it was nearly done, around March this year.
Something kept bugging me about it. Something was missing and I didn't know what it was. So after a whole lot of buggering about with solutions that weren't solutions, each tossed out in turn, layers disappearing beneath layers, and then more of the same, I understood I had to darken the left of the image to give it weight.
A major disruption of my careful solutions. A long deep breath. Begin.
About 2 months and a whole lot of agonised tweaking later, here's the next time I thought it was nearly done, last week:
You guessed it. I still wasn't happy. Yes I wanted the left trailing behind the bird to be noisy, but it just seemed too noisy. And just too damned...fussy. In fact it was so fussy it was embarrassing.
One of the hazards of the creative process - in love affairs too I guess - is the temptation to hold on to little things that you like. The way the paint landed at a particular spot, the way colour glows at another and so on. Each of these precious little details is carefully preserved, with modifications to them done in the gentlest possible way so as not to upset them too much.
What I had here was a collection of preciousness that finally I realised I just couldn't live with. From the very beginning I'd wanted bold strokes as suggested by the oil sketch, and what I ended up was a whole lot of fiddly neurosis. The whole way through the journey of this painting I'd been wanting to slash BIG BOLD strokes through it to meet that vision but had lacked the courage needed to pull it off. So I'd settled for the safe timidity of delicate tweaks and fallen into the trap of not wanting to ruin my pretty marks.
Looking last night at the product of 6 months of careful incremental tweaking I knew I could stand it no longer.
And so it came to be - cue drumroll - that I arrived at one of those threshold moments in the life of a painting. With a batch of sloppy white paint mixed I stepped up to the canvas and without even thinking about it slashed huge white lines across my months of precious fiddling. Followed up with equally unthinking modification of the white with some bits of folded up canvas.
It's fascinating to look at those moments as if a spectator. Some kind of animal emerges from the cage of careful control and follows an instinct unlocked by sheer embarrassment of the timidity revealed in the work. After the thick white lines had landed their modification was more like rugby than art. Call it guided savagery. Or perhaps zen. "It hits", Bruce Lee tells us. "Stop trying to hit me and hit me!" Morpheus says to Neo.
It reminds me of ubermensch Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's "Fountainhead" slashing lines through all the fashionable pretty adornments with which his architect employer had required him to clutter up his elegantly functional blueprints. He got fired, and walked out with his first client. Death and rebirth.
The large image below is what I now believe to be the final version, an update from the one above with fairly delicate additions of colour not immediately visible at this size. I'm not sure how well this will work as I've not tried it before, but try this Picasa link to view a hi res version. There's a zoom button there but it seems a bit temperamental depending on the browser used.
Phew. It's been a long journey.
I was told the other day I should do a self portrait. The answer to that is, they're all self portraits. This one seems to be something of a summary of a lifelong struggle to break free of all manner of hidden stuff, y'know, the life that happens while we're busy making other plans. So it's not surprising that the painting's been a bit of trek.