I read a statement from an artist recently (Berin Engman, American Artist, Feb. 2011) that rang true with me. “I like to imagine French painters taking to the streets to protest in support of slow art—much the way chefs champion the slow food movement.” Art consultants counsel us to crank out hundreds of paintings per year in order to become financially successful; impressionism has outpaced realism in current painting; and trends like Daily Painters crack the whip on artists to produce small canvases in a matter of hours.
Unfortunately, I am a slow painter and I don’t seem to be picking up speed over the years. I can spend 50 to 75 hours on a canvas, which leaves me with a small stack of work at the end of each year. Is this wrong? Did I find my own style only for it to be impracticable? Vermeer only painted a couple paintings per year. At least I have him beat. I like to think that I am following his lead however, in that he sought to create masterpieces. I want my work to be portfolio worthy, not just something that will sell at the next small works show. I strive to communicate the image in the highest terms I am able.
I am also personally drawn to detailed images. When I select an image to paint, it is because I find its natural beauty so compelling that I want to sing it to the world. I am not satisfied by painting loose images, which are only mere references to the form and color of the thing. I want to get inside the flower and really see what makes it awe inspiring. This takes diligent effort and layering of colors…painting, pondering, adjusting, looking again, and working toward the truth. As Giorgio Morandi (1889-1964) said, “You can travel the world and see nothing. To achieve understanding, it is necessary not to see many things but to look hard at what you do see.”
Perhaps I need to do some Daily Paintings to help me speed up my technique. Heck, I wouldn’t mind selling a few little studies and paying for some frames. But for now, I’m not going to worry about my painting style. It is my own and I enjoy the process. Each night I get into the zone and the hours flow by. You just can’t beat that feeling.
So like the chef who chooses just the right heirloom tomato from a local farmer and simmers the sauce all day until it is rich and full of dense flavor that dances on the tongue, I will continue to slowly enhance each of my paintings with the tenderest of care. I will be ready when collectors begin clamouring for slow art.