As artists we paint what we see. In the visual arts this, of course, makes sense. But we see things many different ways and my art comes from the various things and ways I see. I remember being told the old art adage, ” Paint what you know.” And this makes powerful sense. Creation of Art is such an intense thing, pulling something from nothing. This is not easy, if done well. If you paint things you don’t know intimately then you run the serious risk of painting only superficial art, postcards from travels to places we don’t understand. You have to look and look and learn and learn to know something inside and out, to paint it well. Not to capture the surface detail. Hell, getting a likeness, of a tree or a house or a person, that is basic, easy, Art School stuff. Surface likeness is shallow, just basic art rendering. But it is telling something important about the thing that is the challenge. The challenge that keeps expanding if you let it.
So being told to paint what I know when I was young was terrifying. I was young. I was dumb. I didn’t know anything so how could I paint? But then it dawned that it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn more, know more, draw more.
So really painting is not about art but about jumping in and EXPERIENCING. This is the route to having something to paint, knowing more. Just go and dance. This is assuming that as an artist you want to paint something powerful, something with vision, something strong. And a powerful painting can be many things…it can be a huge dramatic painting condemming war, or a small simple glance of sunlight on the edge of a summer bouquet. It is not what you paint but how well you have seen and how you paint it.
To paint something you need to know it, learn it, study it. Draw it so many ways that you can move it around in your head to fit any angle, any life you want to give it. The more you look, the more you see.
Often I pose models but they are posed to fit the vision I already have in my head. I see the figures inside first, sketch them out and then find models and poses to flesh them out.
Which brings me back to what I first meant. We paint what we see. Sometimes that is what is in front of our noses right now. Sometimes the seeing is in our heads and the “vision” is made flesh on canvas with our paint. And often paintings are a mysterious combination of the two…and who knows what else. Often in my work, things from many years ago, things I saw, people I drew, ideas I had, inform and merge into current paintings to bring a reality to new paintings. Old joining with new to make a painting. And as I walk down a street I may see a twirl of hair by someone’s ear that suddenty fits well into my current painting or a thought bubbles up from years ago and seems to fit into now. My paintings may look like moments but they are more like woven stories from many days.
So paint what you see, paint what you know, but never stop knowing and seeing more. The more you look, the more you will see. The more you see, the more you will understand and take into your core. And then, just maybe, with perserverance, we will paint well. It only ends when we stop seeing.