What to include and what to leave behind in a painting is always a question for an artist. Cato the Elder said it well: “Grasp the subject, the words will follow”
Off With Her Head!!!
By Tina Garrett
It may be some excuse, being relatively new to the fine art world. Coming from a background of a professional illustrator, the content of my work always provided for me by an editor or writer or worse, a team of marketers. But when I made the flip to passionately pursue the dream of becoming a fine artist I was introduced to the concept of a “concept” or in my case, a lack there of.
The pieces I’ve been creating this past 20 months of painting in oil have been more utilitarian than anything else. They are all the result of my independent study, my best effort and labor to grasp skills such as mixing color and using a paint brush. Oil, so different and yet somehow not so different, than my first medium, pastel, could take me a decade to get friendly with. A decade I’m happy to give, practicing finding values, placing edges and determining temperatures. As far a subject goes, I’ve painted like a caveman, “I see something pretty, I paint that, ugh!”
However a recent critique from a friend and contemporary suggested I should step away from trying to make something simply beautiful and instead, create something poignant, evoking a sense of sadness or regret, or any other emotion for that matter, but something evoking at all would probably do.
My friend points specifically and ironically to my recent work in progress, “The Queen of Hearts,” a 30×40 figurative oil piece of a siren I discovered at an incredible little shoe boutique in The French Quarter this past April. I couldn’t have wished for a better subject, in her darling dress trimmed in hearts with tulle and gingham and all those shoes overhead like a rainbow leading to a pot of gold!
It was a challenge drawing and the details on the dress nearly had me, but as I shared the bottom half of the work on social media, I had no idea I was sending out a coded message. The message was, “Who’s the lady with the legs! Why is she sitting there? Who is she waiting for?” I had people thinking. I had them narrating the story of my work! And I have to admit, that felt really good.
Then as I finished it (or thought I had), and posted the other half. A half I was quite proud of. Peaches and cream skin, swimming lakes for eyes and that hair! I loved it! And cries of agony began. I even got a call, “You ruined it for me! You had me on the hook and then told me all the answers. Yes, it’s a beautiful face, but the one I imagined was so much better. If it were my piece, I’d cut it in half.”
Cut it in half? Lob off her head like Marie Antoinette. I said I’d do it. Then reneged. I put it to vote on-line and in a local critique group and got a 50/50 response. So I guess its up to me. In defense of my friend, she is in the middle of completing her Masters Degree and writing a thesis on contemporary portraiture. She’s been dwelling on the subject of portraiture’s relevance in today’s art world for ages. A world where what is poignant to some can be scribbles to someone else.
Honestly, I thought I was out of that discussion when I decided to paint representational art. Do I need a reason or story behind my work? Should I be jumping on the bandwagon and including poetry on the back of each piece? I was kind of hoping the work would speak for itself.
I’m the artist right? No, that shouldn’t be a question. I am the artist. It is my vision. My art is the world how I see it, through my eyes. My content. So I’m left to decide. Am I still in the stages of only learning the nuts and the bolts of painting in oil? I feel like I will be for many, many years. Are my pieces my practice only? Or, am I ready to begin saying something worthwhile with my work?
I am comfortable saying I’m not yet finished with “The Queen of Hearts”. There is work to be done in the mirror, the background texture and the shelf is bisecting the composition and some value shifts are needed on the bench beside her. However, I’m letting the question of lobbing off her head marinade for a while longer.
For now, I’m not going to lose my head over my content. For now it is going to be good enough to love to paint and to love painting beautiful things. For now.
Tina began drawing at a young age and turned her love of drawing into a career as an illustrator with a degree in Visual Communication from the Art Institute of Colorado. Now living in Missouri, Tina paints full-time and offers several painting and drawing workshops. Tina participated in NOAPS Best of America Exhibit 2013 where she received a Merit Award.
More information about Tina can be found in her website at http://tinagarrett.com/