“A picture lives by companionship. It dies by the same token.
It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. “
– Mark Rothko
This is a favourite quote of mine about art and what it is to make art. So much so that I use in on the exhibition page of my website. A conversation recently reminded me of it, and the specific instance where it became very real for me which I thought I’d write about.
A couple of years ago I painted Presence. I’d been trying to move away from the abstracts and acrylics and into landscapes and oils. I’ve since learned that both are important to me and one need not replace the other, but at this point I viewed a lot of what I’d done before as, well, simplistic. This particular evening I’d been playing Anathema’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, which is beautifully lush, emotional record dealing with heavy themes like life, death and what it really means to be somewhere. I got an abstract picture in my head, as I often do when listening to music. It was simple, clean and lovely, and I had an urge to paint it. It was going against where I wanted to go with my art at that point so giving in to that urge felt a little like a dieter ordering a pizza, but in a very short space of time I had Presence down – an abstract, in acrylic.
I spent a bit of time embellishing it, but truth be told, the painting was basically done in an hour. The rest of the time added very little – and may even have taken away more. I’ve often felt since that the textured section was superfluous and actually detracted from the piece and that the title was wrong but I felt pleased. If a little guilty.
The painting went down well when I posted it online but it’s a hard one to appreciate in a photo because it’s so subtle, and the textures don’t come across at all. If this painting was to be seen, it had to be in the flesh.
A small show was coming up and I submitted Presence (along with Kaikoura and a print of Fireflies) and all three were accepted! I got a stunning frame made for Presence by a local framer in solid wood painted white, put a (quite high) price on it and hung it with its two cousins in the show, which was in a cafe/bar rather than a gallery as exhibitions of this sort often are.
I popped into the show at some point – can’t remember why – but I couldn’t see Presence at all. I looked around and found it on the floor, propped up against the corner. The frame had been badly damaged having fallen off the wall! Furious, I confronted the owner of the cafe/bar but of course they had no liability whatsoever and I was left with no option but to pull my work. The experience that had befallen Presence really hit me hard though, and my attachment to the piece became clear. I just wanted to take it home and never let it go out again and I had never felt that way about a painting before.
I should point out though that far from being an unmitigated disaster I worked with some great artists in that cafe/bar show who remain friends and inspirations today, so I feel in a way I owe that to Presence too.
Presence went out once more – frame repaired – into the MERGE show, where it was embarrassingly well received amongst work by far better and more established artists than I. There were apparently a few people interested in buying it, but none did, which I found myself quite relieved by. I found myself wanting to vet any prospective buyers : did they really understand the piece? Where would it be hung? Were they the right owners? All of which is nonsense – if you put a piece of art up for sale and someone wants to pay the price and buy it, it becomes theirs to do with as they please, but I wasn’t happy with that being Presence’s fate. I had become stupidly protective of it.
Presence never left the house after that. It’s not always been up as it’s not an easy piece to home (or maybe I’m just ludicrously picky about its display) but its place is with me. I’ve never made prints of it either because its nature just wouldn’t lend itself to reproduction – it’d just look whitish-grey with a red stripe, as I imagine it probably does here, but I know what’s in that painting, and I’m not sure it’s ever going to go out into the unfeeling world again.