October was my first real day back on Jackson Square in about 6 months. The above photos are:
Top left- Oct 2020 top right- April 2020 and bottom two- January 2020.
You can see pretty clearly how we went from this bustling open air market into an utterly empty public square. In all honesty, I still am not sure if or when my job is coming back, but it is something I have worked so hard toward and been so grateful for I am not going to give it up easily. I feel like I have spent the past 17 years pushing a ball, sometimes it would keep rolling, but often it would roll a bit and still to a stop. (The ball is me trying to make a living off of my art.) I would go and get another job and paint in the spare moments in between.
Finally in 2018 I literally won a lottery to get the Jackson Square permit and since then the ball was just rolling and rolling and I felt I had finally 'made it'. (oddly this also coincided with my complete severence in belief in the 'american dream' -because for all my hard work and persistence, what ultimately got me where I was trying to get was luck.)
The past 6 months have been very strange, to have disconnected my painting practice from my income & sustinence. I talked to another painter yesterday, and we agreed we were able to work longer and more carefully on pieces.I am excited for the work that is growing slowly and will find a way to keep that process happening even if I do return to the pace of sales as before. There is something very special about intentional slowness in our society that has championed busyness as a sign of ones self worth.
Being out on the square was particularly odd, because it felt inherently changed and yet so very much the same. I am trying to hold onto some hope that this 'sameness' is more superficial and illusory. Because we *need* to change, in some very deep and fundamental ways, and I'm honestly terrified for us, that if we don't do it of our own accord it's going to happen some other way that could be very chaotic and frightening.
I've put street portraits on indefinet hold since they require a lot of energy of presence and really just going out there right now takes a lot of energy. I hope we can face ourselves and move into a future that is unpredictable.
Today was a hard day. I moved yesterday. Now I live in Slidell, a town about 30 minutes over the river from New Orleans, a town I'd only stepped foot in maybe twice before moving to. Everything feels familiar in that american way where everything is strip malls, gas stations, and fast food joints. I will still commute into New Orleans to work in the square on the weekends. It is so strange how the familiar can grow estranged; the way a lover can become a friend and then a stranger again.
It is weird to drive into the city I've felt to be home since 2004 and not be able to afford the rent anymore. I can hardly imagine how people with generations of family rooted there felt after Katrina. I'm getting my barings and finding my a pace.
When I drove in this morning I realized I'd fucked up; I'd felt so on it- so functional and adult like, and then realized I'd left over half of my art work packed away, across the river. I biked the mile back to my car ready to pay my penance with an hours car ride. Before leaving I decided - I've got enough materials with me, I'll just hustle the portraits as hard as I can today and work with that.
And today was a wonderful day! I did a total of 9 portraits and people were beyond generous with their time and money and patience and self hood. It is really very tricky to attempt some form of physical/emotional reflection of another human in short time spans. I am hoping that over time I can become adept at form enough (I mean anatomy- physical likeness) that I can spend the bulk of the time studying the very nuanced sensations I get from the person and trying to elaborate that more.
I can feel how meaningful it is for people to feel 'seen'. I want to offer them that in the fullest way possible. Sometimes what we see isn't all pretty. I can see all the assumptions I make about how people feel about their own physical forms; Men I feel less pressure to make appear 'attractive' (basically the same reflex as society at large). Homely people I often push toward greater beauty in a way that feels 'pure' or 'dignified'. (I want those people to know I see beauty in them because I see it in everyone!) Stereo typically pretty women I know will be easy to paint and I feel a bit more freedom to mess around with the piece because I assume they are firmly confident in their physical presence (what an assumption!). People who rub me at all as rude/demanding (which is really not many since folks don't really sit in that mindset) will likely end up with something unidentifiably unpleasant in their portrait.
Today I started the day with a couple who have now become welcome friends & familar faces. It was my second time painting one of them, and I felt so much freedom. It was the first time painting his husband and I felt the same freedom there too. From there I had a lot of very young women/girls inhabiting very interesting age ranges- from around 11 to 18. It was fascinating to me to see so much emotion and thought and yet this immense sense of possibility (so different from a 40 year old face!). I had a few moments where I felt some kind of pressure to make these girls look 'pretty' (the same pressure they surely face everyday!) I had to push that thought away like a fly landing on my shoulder over and over again - just so I could really look and actually see them. I am starting to think it may be harder to see and paint a pretty woman honestly than anyone else.
Two of my favorite moments were: The last painting I had great difficulty with and the model (12 years old) was incredibly patient. I was getting mauled by doubts - "is her nose too big? is her face too wide?" I was picking it apart the way teen magazines and the worst of female advertising encourages us to do. The person in front of me seemed beautiful and amazing and complex and I worried that if she thought this image of her didn't match some hollywood idea that it could mess with her self esteem and I didn't know how to handle that sense of responsiblity. Her dad came by and glanced at it and clearly wasn't psyched. I sighed and said "well maybe this one just doesn't work, sometimes it's like that" I handed her the work as it was and- her face lit up! She was thrilled to see this image of herself. I was thrilled to watch a 12 year old make their own value judgement and be firm in it. The other moment was a 14 year old who drew a small sketch of me and gave it to me. (Posted here-Drawing by Maggie Mae- featured in first portrait)
(In English- 'Faces') This is a little film I made based on a voicemail from a friend. I am very pleased with it.
Yesterdays 15 min sketch portraits on the square! Crazy how nervous & excited & alive i feel while doing these! I feel like my sign/explanation is some form of comfort blanket for me that makes it so i can just paint and can worry less about making a 'nice painting'. I do wanna make a more permanent version of the sign & maybe word it more concisely somehow...but for now it brought about the exact kinds of people & experiences i was hopeing for! 1. This was the least accurate & most interesting painting for me. Of my old friend Nathan, who doesnt really look like a dead ginger jesus. 2. Only one i got a photo of with the sitter! Had great conversation with this solo traveler! I have a special affection & respect for people that travel on their own. It gives you such a sense of how much you can trust & rely on yourself & truly enjoy solitude. It also leaves one open to random experiences like this! 3 & 4. Two sisters whos father commisioned the sketches. It was really interesting painting 2 people in a row who were related and had such similar but district bone structures & features. Excited to paint more!
I've been looking for a way to do portraits on the square where i can actually still enjoy painting. Also capitalism makes majority of our interactions transactional & predictable and i'd like to make a little room for exchanges outside of that. So im inviting people to just sit for 15 minutes and let's see what happens. If they want to buy the piece- okay, they can- and if not- thats fine too. Mostly im doing this because i love painting from life but having to appease people puts a damper on the whole thing. This way i feel like i can really be in the painting-- if i sense something that doesnt look like them or isnt particularly flattering i can still explore it. These are acrylic on yupo paper- The first two sketchy ones are 15 min sketches of 2 of my co-workers. The last one is more like 30 min where i was letting layers dry and trying to build up the paint some. Had a great time working on these!
I've been looking for a way to do portraits on the square where i can actually still enjoy painting. Also capitalism makes majority of our interactions transactional & predictable and i'd like to make a little room for exchanges outside of that. So im inviting people to just sit for 15 minutes and let's see what happens. If they want to buy the piece- okay, they can- and if not- thats fine too. Mostly im doing this because i love painting fron life but having to appease people puts a damper on the whole thing. This way i feel like i can really be in the painting-- if i sense something that doesnt look like them or isnt particularly flattering i can still explore it. These are acrylic on yupo paper- The first two sketchy ones are 15 min sketches of 2 of my co-workers. The last one is more like 30 min where i was letting layers dry and trying to build up the paint some. Had a great time working on these!
I semi-impulsively signed up for a local two day painting workshop with Susan Hotard. I admire her paint handling- there is obvious care and intent in how she handles light and there is a sense of joy, almost care-freeness in her loose brush work. I had some apprehensions about attending the workshop- primarily $, time, and what the parking situation would be since the studio is in the city and I am devoid of paralell parking skills. Somehow all these things worked out well- a collector bought work online which basically covered the workshop for me and when I called to ask what the parking situation looked like Susan told me I could call her and she would come and park for me herself!
As it turned out there was plenty of space on the side roads. The workshop spanned two days, 8 hours a day. The time flew by. We had 2 different models, Susan did demos for us and talked a lot about her process.
In contexts like these I find myself eager to follow instructions, I am aware that I can only get as much out as I put in (attention wise) and know I am not there to paint how I normally would. It is really interesting to take an experience that is common and regular for us and see it through someone elses eyes and how it takes on foreign qualities.
Also it is really heart warming to be in a room where people give a fuck about the same thing as you. Hearing people sigh about mid tones or get really excited about the highlight on a forehead is refreshing for me. Over time this is something I have come to love more and more about classical painting approaches, I am glad to not be working in a vaccuum where it's up to me to discover everything for the first time. (Although- in another aspect- that is inevitable.)
My main take aways were:
-The use in making 'posters' -Basically reducing all shadows down to clear blocks out areas in the begining of a painting. And then keeping those light and shadow areas clearly distinguished.
A phrase susan said a number of times: 'It's easier to tame a wild horse than to bring a dead one back to life'
(Which is painting means- go a bit wild and messy and chaotic at first, with passion, it's more possible to rein that in than to be overly cautious in the start and then try to liven it up toward the end.)
Damn, it's good to write and paint and think about depression when I'm not actually depressed! All of the romanticism of depression and 'mental illness' in general particularly in association with the arts seems to paint a much more exciting image than that of lived experience. Typically when I am in the deeper end of depression (and often during any overwhelming emotion, including anger) all I want to do is sleep. I notice my dreams become more vivid and my dreams even feel more 'real' and relevant than my waking life. Writing this now I realize it sounds conspicuously similar to the plot line of 'The indian in the cupboard' (which was one of my favorite books my mom read to me as a kid.) This painting was done from life and the model actually appeared very content and at peace, the lighting had a gorgeous ethereal quality. But somehow this piece came very clearly to embody very particular aspects of depression for me. A very heavy impenetrable-seeming quiet. Blank endless expanse without meaning. Grey on grey on grey on grey. Why move? Why choose this or that? I can't tell you how many days I have slept through while the world outside hummed and moved and chose things and did stuff and it really did not seem to matter that I was not out there being a part of it- because I didn't really feel like a part of it anyway.
'The Daytime Sleepers' 22" x 15" Oil on Arches Archival Paper
It's been a generally shaky year for me, but one thing that has panned out in an incredible way is getting back out on the fence! I quit my bartending gig and got a coveted jackson square license and have been working as a self-employed full time artist since. Before I got the permit I kept rationalizing that it would make sense to just throw my cards in and give yet another go at making a living off my work since I'm going to be creating it and attempting to share it anyhow. A move like this has an entirely different meaning since having a child, just like everything has an entirely different meaning since having a child. Before it is edgy and daring and after it is questionably irresponsible & potentially impoverishing. While I'm not getting rich I'm getting by and I really wouldn't ask for more. I am selling most of my work within a week or two of producing it. Not only does this keep the groceries coming but prevents a sense of stagnation from watching my work pile up around me. Not to mention I have absolutely no place to store a collection of my own work. I love going out on the street and meeting strangers. I love making paintings that surprise and provoke me and having those experiences shared and extended into other people. All I can do is be grateful and work to keep this going.
It's far too appropriate that it has taken me over a year to update this.
Too much has happened in a year for me to delude myself or anyone that I could just plunk it all right down here with words.
I'm in transition once again. Painting now feels like my grounding point and a stabilizing force. I find the time. I started tending bar. It's a laid back enough place that on dead nights I can sit in a window onto bourbon street and draw quick sketches of people passing by. I am acquiring stacks of these little sketch books that can fit in ones palm. What will I do with all of them? What do any of us do with ourselves?
I feel steady in my craft. I miss my long idle hours. I love my son who now sucks them up, leaving some scattered for sleep or shower. I enjoy having my circumstances dictate my materials; Palette knife + limited palette oils for the moments I need to take myself seriously. Pull out the wooden easel and make shift paint palette from the freezer (because I am too frugal to waste even a dime of paint.) When my child cries awake from napping or my eyes pull me to sleep I can just wipe the knives clean without worry of a spilled can of turpentine.
At work I have my tiny notebooks + micron pens...and lately brush pens. Massing...god I love massing. Toying with fast drying materials. Acryla? Gouche on Vellum? I now feel like one who has clearly defined their food allergies and skips toward the buffet to gorge themselves.