Saturday, June 07, 2008

Birds In Space

Birds In Space, acrylic on posterboard, airbrush technique with stencil forms, probably from the 1970s

In moving to my new house, and in sorting through my parents' belongings as we prepared for the move, and for putting my parents' old house on sale, we keep discovering many forgotten things. I have found a whole box containing art I had made many years ago, in my teens and twenties. There are many pieces in there I had forgotten about, or had lost track of. It turns out I gave a lot of my art to my mother, thinking it wasn't worth very much, and she had saved it all. She saved a lot of things, but in particular she saved all the creative work I gave her.

That was a point in my life when I felt like I was no good as an artist, had no talent for drawing, and not much technical ability. The truth is, of course, I was unfairly comparing myself, a beginner, with artists much more experienced and accomplished. In such comparisons, of course you're going to fall short.

Now I can look back at the art I made back then, and I think it actually looks rather good. It's not technically adept, but it has spirit and vigor. Sometimes I think the worst things art school and music school do to enrolled students is force all the spontaneity out of them. I look back at this early art of mine, which was made for no reason than to do it, and I like what I see. Are these great paintings? No; but they were made from honest exploration, not from a desire for fame. (Fame in the arts is something I have always believed to be more accidental than inevitable. Merit is demonstrably disconnected from fame.)

I have memories of my mother encouraging me to do more with art, with writing, with music; she encouraged me and supported me, in memory, especially when I was unsure of myself. It was a huge boost of confidence-building, one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. Then as now a lot of my art was misunderstood and occasionally feared and rejected. I have never been good at being dishonest in my creativity, I have always tended to go boldly into discomfort zones, knowing that I must do so, out of honesty, even when it scared me, too. Sometimes what I wrote and composed as a teenager and young adult made me feel very emotionally naked. I have a memory of my mother saying, in that firm tone of voice she could use: Listen! Who cares what other people think? You keep doing what you're doing, and ignore them. That took me many years to let sink in; I have probably been more aware than not of the reactions me art gives to other people. But I have also been willing, as always, to be honest in my art, and go into zones of discomfort because I must. This was never a desire to shock or titillate, never some kind of conscious rebellion. It has always been about following where the poem, or the painting, or the music, wanted to go: it has always been about where it takes me, not where I would have it go. My willingness to follow it wherever it wants to go is why I've ended up in discomfort zones.

So, I am rediscovering an artistic period in my life that I had long since forgotten, or put behind me, and I am finding that I like a lot of what I see. Some of these old paintings are actually good. Most are not—but then, most painting is not, no matter who does it. All the same, I am enjoying this process of mining the archeological past of my own creative development. It's time, now that both of my parents have passed on, to re-assess all those old parts of my life, and look at them in the context of going forward, now, with my own life, freed of what no longer needs to hold me back. We can forgive what needs to be forgiven, of the past, and we can re-discover what was good and true, and bring that back into what we are now, as we move on. Perhaps this is all part of the grieving process, this reassessment and this rediscovery. But it is also part of letting go, and of healing.

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Blogger Michael Mata said...

Just discovered your blog- pretty interesting stuff. I love your poems, insights and recollections. Keep up the great work Joe! (I know your name is not Joe).

9:27 PM  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

I love this piece, and I'm quite sure it's many times more impressive to look at in person. You're truly a gifted artist, Art.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


Thanks very much, and welcome aboard!

Selamat datang!

11:33 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, John—

Thanks for the kind thoughts. I dunno if I'm gifted, I just do what I do.

One interesting thing about discovering this cache of old art, has been to discover that some of my artistic concerns now were already present back then. I wonder how much the things we're deeply interested ever change, even if we improve as artists and writers? Sometimes I feel like I'm orbiting the same topics endlessly. Which is no bad thing, really; although I do watch out for overt repetitions.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Flu-Bird said...

A magnifecent work of art it should be also in some museums

12:33 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks very much.

8:39 AM  

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