The art of painting covers a broad range of styles and movements known by designations such as realism, surrealism, impressionism, expressionism, cubism, pointillism, and even Dadaism, believe it or not. These are just a few that pop into mind, and they are all very distinctly different.
At the beginning of the year I started a new painting, challenging myself to paint one of those huge, spectacular clouds that form under certain meteorological conditions over the mountain range across the Salish Sea from my studio. Most landscape paintings contain just an impression of clouds as background without getting into much detail, but I wanted this cloud to be the main subject and I had never tackled a cloud as my main subject. Compounding my challenge, I was using a newer type of acrylic paint with which I had very little experience, and further, the painting was quite large. My blog posting “The Problem with Clouds” outlined the challenges I faced. It took me ten full days at the easel to get that cloud as good as I thought I was capable of getting it.
You would think, after all that, my next painting would involve clouds again, taking advantage of everything I had learned about painting clouds over that grinding 10-day period. Many artists figure out how to paint certain subject matter and then stick with that subject over and over again. But no, not this painter! No, the next painting contained as its main subject a close-up view of the enormous limbs of a moss-covered old Maple tree with a raven hiding in it. And no, I had never tried painting moss-covered bark before. Just getting the colour right was a challenge for my red/green colour blindness, requiring multiple layers and mixtures of paint. I do understand why Robert Bateman avoids using greens in his paintings as much as he can. Then there was the texture to replicate. It required a lot of experimentation, scribbling, and some blind luck. Once I thought I had the right technique and colours on one limb, then I had to carry that through on all the other limbs – a marathon of painting moss and bark that took me an entire week.
All this has lead me to conclude that the appropriate designation for what a lot of painters undertake, especially those that avoid the comfort of painting similar paintings over and over again, might be masochism, the mother of all “isms”. Oddly enough, just as with the sexual deviance of masochism, I believe we painters derive some sort of perverse pleasure from the pain, the frustration, the humiliation, and the physical exhaustion of our own self-imposed masochistic challenges. Could that be why we keep doing it? Today I’m going down to the studio to start covering an entire 24 x 36” canvas with a rock face. How difficult could that be? I’m looking forward to some pain.