Escher’s and Penrose’s Stairway — Part of an Artist’s Life

by Susan G Holland

Most people have seen this conundrum that plays with our logic and our eyesight/vertigo component. Escher’s Stairway. Then there are Penrose’s Stairs, a simplified drawing that does the same trick.

Do other artists feel as if their progress on their art journey is a trick like this?

It helped me to read Virginia Woolf’s Letters, and the similar journals of other writers and also visual artists who found the ups so ecstatic and the downs so devastating. My theory is that there are many who never got beyond the first up-then-down surprise. These are the people who say, very sadly, that they “cannot draw a straight line”, or that they love books, but “can‘t even spell!”

Susan’s Stairway to the cellar and the sky — Susan Holland

Here’s a sort of stack of what my art life is like, with the fuzzy ideas and the strong impulses, and some engineering that doesn’t work logically.

I love it, but does it get me anywhere?

I really like the stack of possibilities that entice me and then, after a few strokes, get put aside for a good looking at. Maybe even some dreaming on.
And a trip to the mirror and to the camera>computer system of looking at my art from a new set of eyes.

I was saddened, but somehow encouraged to read how despondent Rothko got with his intense work and the lack of recognition he got for his strange new ideas. Too bad he couldn’t now read the reviews that came in his future. And also learn the things that he might have changed, technically, to preserve his color field paintings. The colors — central to his work — have degraded because some of them were fugitive (fading with age) and the supports he used were not robust enough to age well.

Good old Van Gogh didn’t care — he just kept on painting as if his life depended on it, even when he was low, which was often. But he didn’t sell anything — maybe one painting, as I remember? How hard is that?

But you and I don’t let that bother us, do we, fellow artists? We hang our work in shows, and what? People say “nice things” and walk on. Do we get disappointed and discouraged?

I do.

After all the framing and deciding about title, valuing, filling out forms and getting the work up in the venue to its best advantage, and milling around with those at the opening, I ask myself was it really worth it?

I am sort of bullheaded sometimes and it’s a good thing (sometimes.)

When I see something I really WANT, I push on, 
and sometimes NOTHING COMES OF IT.

Just a painting sold can fuel a fire like nothing else. A painting chosen for a hard-to-get-into show is another feat. A prize is beyond exhilarating. First Prize is what you brag about for as long as it takes to push through to the next riser. Then you struggle along again.

I speak as someone here who has sold only one painting in the past three years! It is not because I gave up painting (and I kind of did for medical reasons), but it’s partly because I didn’t do the work to put my work in shows and on walls.

But art always wants to come out of me — it just does. I take up my brush after a respite, and to get the coals stirred up, I play with something. I don’t even know what it is. Maybe it’s experimenting with some shapes and forms that I have recently admired in nature or other artists’ canvases. I know my carvings always influence how I approach a painting. I love the textural excitement.

The most exciting year I ever had in the market place was the year the owner of a large estate and a co-owner of a famously luxurious department store decided to buy up a third of what I had up for sale in an art festival. Her purchases — she was decorating a guest house — were enough to make my taxes suffer a little that year. I was high as a kite!

And she asked me to do more work and more work which kept the fires burning a while until they burned out. Not her requests — my enjoyment of it. It showed in the work. I saw it. No more delightful passages and no more sparkle. So I quit that. My choice. Clearly sales are not my priority.

But still the art comes. Some of it will go nowhere. But maybe (said with a tip of the head)…one of these will become a larger painting in oil on canvas. I’m liking the colors. I know this: — Whether they sell or not, I’m happy.

The stuff from today April 9 2017

Written for The Story Hall by Susan G Holland ©2017

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