While updating my catalog with today’s in-progress photo, I realised — to my utter surprise — that I did not even have an entry in the catalog for this painting. Over the last few years, I was generally quite disciplined in keeping this internal record of my work up to date, adding in-progress photos and, occasionally, some notes every day, not to mention regular “internal reviews”. But even well-ingrained habits have the unlucky tendency of slipping though cracks in one’s attention and dissolving — in this case, even without me being aware that this has happened at all. It’s been a long time that I’ve let so many weeks — nay, months even — go by without ever pausing to review my current work; to reflect on where I am and what it is I am doing.
I did make some in-progress photos, but they were just sitting there in the folder of “Camera Uploads” — as though to remind me just how long I have been torturing this painting — and being tortured by it in return. Such a long, dark process, much longer than a sonnet painting usually takes. And with such a seemingly simple sonnet, too: with all the visual imagery right there in the text, ready to paint.
I began months ago with sketching sailboats from life, in San Francisco. And then it transformed into a long study of Van Gogh’s seascape; just because it linked itself with this sonnet so powerfully. This, at least, was a good thing — a deeper connection to Van Gogh than I had ever achieved before. But turning it into a sonnet painting was harder than I could have imagined. As I am writing this, I feel that I cannot really express the roughness and depth of this despair — even now, looking back, I cannot quite let myself feel it fully. The disappointment; the fight with this superficial prettiness and conventionality that the painting kept sinking to. The tension between platitude and depth.
There was a strong beginning, I remember — and then something went terribly awry. At some point, there happened a really disastrous idea to introduce overt reds into this painting, in a misguided attempt to straightforwardly link it with the previous sonnet. The reds of this painting should have always remained as hidden as they are in Van Gogh’s seascape: these small, nearly invisible spots, like drops of blood. Getting rid of my overpowering, vulgar reds was the first step towards the breakthrough with this painting, but it wasn’t enough. I suddenly realised this morning that I have to go back to Van Gogh’s original to strengthen the shrillness, the inner dissonance of the foreground wave — and then suddenly, miraculously, all elements of the painting started to fall into place, to unify themselves into a whole. It is beginning to feel right.
All these weeks I was dragging myself to the studio — just because I know that I cannot live without painting, not because I felt like painting. But I really wasn’t there fully — almost never; with a few exceptions, my mind tended to wander away, towards something completely unrelated. It is true that one cannot wait for inspiration; but I’ve got to learn to handle these days and weeks without inspiration differently — more painting from life, more technically challenging studies. Or, if I cannot leave a non-behaving painting alone, I’ve got to learn to surrender to despair fully, without hiding it from myself.