Is time the artist’s greatest enemy?

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Is Time the artists greatest enemy?
@Stuart Bush, Response to the flux, oil on board
I dream of sitting in my dusty studio. I can smell the pungent scent of turpentine. I can see the photographs and sketches stuck on the wall. Devils Haircut, by Beck, plays in the background and newspapers, magazines and books litter the paint-covered floor.  I have a primed blank canvas on the easel, all ready to go. I sit, staring and reflecting on what to do next. I wonder shall I draw or paint today? I wish there was nowhere else l have to be.
I often only wish it was true; that I had nowhere else to be. The idea of being unbound by time feels like the ultimate emancipation.
Instead, as a committed parent, I am aware I need to collect the kids from school soon. Which leaves me a narrow window of time to get something made.  When I think about what my greatest enemy is as an artist, it is easy to look at a clock and say time. But is it really?
I remind myself of the recent trip to the National Gallery. The inspirational time l spent with Rembrandt and Rubens. Then I think about a walk through the countryside with my family when I took my camera and noticed the wildflowers. I remember the happy times I had on holiday with my family. I ask myself, was that wasted? Clearly not is the answer!
If time was abundant, I wouldn’t be scared of growing old. I would be like a zombie without the need to respond to life and art. I know that our lives are short and that time robs us of our essential things, like our loved ones. If time was abundant I don’t think I would feel the need to stand on the shoulder of giants. I won’t feel the need to respond to great art and make a mark before it’s too late.
With time ticking away, I want to make the most of it. Nothing of beauty, intellect or authentic merit comes from a stale imagination. I first need time to absorb life and let my imagination range freely.  You could say I am most creative when I am least productive and when I think about it, I certainly wouldn’t want it any other way.
I realise the journey is the reward; I will discover myself on the way. I will not be the same person, the progress will change me.  The outcome won’t be just a career or a lifetime of painting; the genuinely satisfying thing will be the gradual change in me over time.
Creativity is about connections, and connections are not made alone in a pristine white studio with no doorway to the outside world. My busy short life is full of ideas and profound questions.  Although I have often thought that time was my greatest enemy, I now realise if I had all the time in the world with no connection back to the reality of family life and the pressure of earning a living, I won’t have the motivation to leave a dent in the universe. I recognise that l will always continue to struggle to carve out time for myself to paint. However, I need it that way. Slivers of time help motivate me to get the work made.
Time isn’t the artist’s greatest enemy, it’s my motivator. Martha Truly-Curtin tells us that, “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” While Zig Ziglar states that “People often complain about lack of time when lack of direction is the real problem”.
As I get older, I have noticed I need less sleep. I get up earlier and look forward to getting something done. I seek protection from interruptions to achieve my daily goals. One to two hours of writing, when the house is quiet, is pure bliss. Blocks of two to three hours to do focused painting day after day, week after week and l can see progress towards making that dent in the world.

My thoughts on Henry Moore’s appreciation of form

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore, 1938: ‘Reclining figure’ Photograph by Sailko
In my previous blog post, I mentioned Michael Craig-Martin’s interest as a child in the shape and form of American cars. From a very young age, Michael Craig-Martin had the ability to identify every make and model of an American car. I found this profound because as a child I also had this ability, but with British cars in the 80s and 90s.  This foundational understanding and appreciation of form is clearly something that many artists unconsciously encounter from a young age.
This week l stumbled on a black and white BBC documentary about Henry Moore (1898 – 1986) and my appreciation of form was enhanced.   In the documentary, Henry Moore discusses what he thinks is behind his work and motivations. He stated that he believes that “Appreciation of form, comes from an appreciation of sex”.  He said that;
“If you want to interpret form from this point of view then everything is sex.  Everyone’s appreciation of form is built on this appreciation of sex.  I think that my art in my part of early training as a young sculptor comes from going to a mixed secondary school where I could look at all the girl’s legs. All from the age of 12 or 13 and I could tell you in the school which girl was which.   If you’d only show me her figure from the knee downwards.  The fullness of form. The tautness of form, all these things are connected with life and life is sex.”
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore, Three Piece Sculpture Vertebrae, 1968-9, Bronze, All rights remain with the artist
I was fascinated when Moore talked about how he gets started when he enters his studio. In his studio, he has a tray of objects that he found on the seashore, in his garden and in ploughed fields. Picking up and examining one of these objects often inspires him and sparks a powerful passion to get started.  The outward appearance of the stones, flints and other bits and pieces on the tray remind him of the form of a person or the contours of the landscape.  A distinctive form begins to form in his mind. Moore works from this arousal into his sketchbook trying to determine and embody a particular idea.
 
Henry Moore explained that “A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds.” It never occurred to me until then that maybe l should start collecting three-dimension objects.   I must agree with him when he states that “All art is an abstraction to some degree.”
 
Henry Moore felt that reading the book by Neumann titled, The ‘Archetypal World of Henry Moore’ gave away too much about his work.  So he stopped reading it. He believed that it is a mistake for a sculpture or a painter to speak or write very much about his work. Stating that it releases the tension he needs for his work.”
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore Reclining Figure 1951, all rights remain with the artist
“By going into what its deep motives and reasons are, I think [it] might stop me from wanting to go on…One can give a tiny clue perhaps in talking about what you’re trying to do, so people don’t look for something you’re not trying to do.  But all I mean is you can’t explain, in a few words, what you’re been trying to do for a whole lifetime…You shouldn’t try to use up words and get rid of a tension that should be used in your artwork.”
Henry Moore’s comments made my wild and untamed mind think about the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.  There is an intriguing mystery when the actors John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson react to a light-emitting from a suitcase in the film. By holding back the mystique, the audience never finds out what was in the suitcase. The situation encourages a deeper level of curiosity.  No matter what is in the suitcase, it wouldn’t be as powerful as the mystery of not knowing what was in the suitcase.
Our minds are free to make subjective assumptions as we view artworks but we will never know the truth.  The more wide-ranging and varied the interpretations are the more successful the artwork becomes.
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Henry Moore in his studio, All rights remain with the artist

Michael Craig-Martin; Sculpture review

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture
Installation shot, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

It is hard to understand the incongruities between a successful artist and the work of mere mortals like the rest of us. I want to put into words how can a simple drawing of an object can be turned into a world-class sculptural form. Michael Craig-Martin, the once significant tutor of the YBAs at Goldsmith between 1974-1998, is now showing his latest sculpture at the Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Street in London. Is it the snap at the moment of impact when seeing his work, where he is best in the game? Is it the skill of his placement that no one else comes close to? Or is it the degree of Craig-Martin’s unparalleled expertise? I realise all this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of seeing the distinguished simplicity of Craig-Martin’s artwork. I went along to his current show to see first hand, the beauty and genius of Michael Craig-Martin’s game.

I walk into the exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, on Britannia Street, I am met with a void-like atmosphere in the exhibition space. I am confronted with brightly coloured magenta frame in the shape of headphones, a cobalt blue safety pin and an emerald green fountain pen. They stand eight-foot-tall immediately in front of me in the empty space. The white walls and grey concrete floor stand in contrast, drawing my attention to the simplicity and colour that comes from the metal-framed sculptures.

When the shapes first come into sight, there is a snap at the moment of impact, like observing a professional tennis player’s powerful backhand. All I am witnessing is the finished point in time that is gratifying and noteworthy. However, my first thought is how the finished result looks so straightforward. As I walk around, I notice how the apparent three-dimensional work is really two-dimensional from the side.

I imagine not thinking about the countless paintings and wall mural I have seen of Craig-Martin’s work.  It must be hard to understand how much effort it has taken to produce this work for a new viewer of Craig-Martin’s work. There is not much for a viewer to go on. The highly refined three-dimensional objects sit there like a simple act.

It feels inconceivable to figure out how top performers reaches these dizzy heights of visual power from only witnessing the finished result. I think of a non-sports person watching the raw and powerful backhand of professional tennis winning at match point.

The player sprints to the corner with his weight moving towards the edge of the line. The participant throws a forehand with a topspin screaming down the line past the competitor. It is hard to imagine all the thousands of practices it has taken to reach this eminence moment. As the viewer stands there in shock. They look to find something to grab hold to understand the players elegant and effortless form. Asking themselves “did I really see what I just witnessed? How did they do it, it looked so easy?”

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture review
Safety Pin (blue) 2019 Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

The white cube without any tendency towards anything leaves space for the viewer to really considering these simple-looking sculptures. Witness the work the viewer asks themselves the same question, what have I missed and how did the artist get to here?

Craig-Martin enables the viewers to carry out a time transportation effect to recollect the viewer knowledge and experience of the object in a profound and meaningful way. What can I perceive beyond the physical and tangible object? What does my intuition tell me?

The choice of colour stands out. The bright contrasting colours are like a centre punch in the gallery. In essence, Craig-Martin sculpture starts with a simple kind of reductiveness. He began by choosing an essential thing; an informed selection of all the art forms. The first step is making a pencil drawing; an original form of art-making.

From studying the work it possible to realise no one else would have taken the solitary steps. No one else would come close to this outcome. The skill of placement takes an original object and refines it. Lifting its significance and drawing attention to it.

When Craig-Martin was young, he had a keen interest in what things looked like. He loved great American 50s cars, and even today, he is still able to use his visual memory to identify the make and model of every car from this period. Through drawing, Craig-Martin has followed his natural engagement with things.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture
Headphones (magenta) 2019 Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

Drawing enables Craig-Martin the opportunity to follow his nose in an open and unparalleled way. Rather than choosing cars, he deliberately chose objects we take for granted. A careful selection between all the commonplace items. Each item has its own significance in its own unique way.

Craig-Martin recognised the precise snap in his distinct drawings. Craig-Martin’s drawings have a peculiar look. The finished image looks like a technical drawing taken from an instruction manual. It imparts just enough knowledge on the viewer, so they recognise the object depicted.

The simple appearance at first glance appears as if the original drawing that inspired the sculpture could have been drawn by anyone. However, Craig-Martin’s picture of an everyday object is refined and distinct due to the sharp and precise line without shading, tone or predilection. No matter who set out with the same task, Craig-Martin’s approach of reducing the object without personal inflection is one of a kind. It leads to an outcome to be free from style and be remarkable in their own way. Successively creating Craig-Martin’s own visual language and system of communication.

The unparalleled skill comes partly from the expertise of Craig-Martin’s drawing but more so from the carefully selecting of what not to draw. Chuck Close, the American painter, known for his photorealistic process paintings talks about developing a practice based on the process;

“We often don’t know what we want to do, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want to do. So the choice not to do something is often more important than the choice to do something.”

The persistence of completing the task again and again and knowing what you don’t want to do draws awareness to what appears to be mundane, functional items. The visual idea is then repeated over the years as paintings, murals and sculpture. Through this repetition of presentation, novelty turns into aesthetic importance for the viewer.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig Martin Sculpture
Beachball (yellow) 2019, Fork and Knife (green and purple) 2019, Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

Craig-Martin picked up a pencil and started drawing what he was interested in. He had found something. He didn’t know it was a good idea when he started, it was just an idea. Through a long journey, Craig-Martin’s has located what was indeed his.

At its heart, it is a simple drawing. Craig-Martin took a modest idea and elevated it. Through a conscious selection of things between the obvious stuff, the everyday item that we take for granted has been given a new significance. Every reiteration confirmed the unique style into a recognisable calling card and signature style. The distinct visual language is now comparable to his initial interest in the 1950s American cars. It is a clear personal vision that holds the viewers’ attention and tells the viewer a truth…

“There is no shoe, yet everybody sees a shoe. It doesn’t look anything like a shoe not even slightly. It has no relationship to a shoe whatsoever except it looks like a shoe. There is another object there, it’s not in one’s imagination. There is an object that is not a shoe, being seen to be a shoe. It is really extraordinary human ability and phenomenon.” Michael Craig-Martin explains, “There reason why dogs don’t watch television, it’s because they can’t see and read pictures. We have this extraordinary capacity to read pictures.”

There is a common phrase in art, ‘Painting comes out of painting.’ In this case, sculpture and painting come out of drawing. Craig-Martin original task wasn’t like a visionary architect, seeing a finish conceptual artwork in his mind from the start. It is more like a gardener, growing and pruning a garden and seeing which way the plants develop while nurturing them.

The beauty and genius of Michael Craig-Martin game is the commitment to baby steps without being able to see where they will lead. Following intuition and trusting inner belief that it will work its way out in the end. Stepping on the court as a novice and only seeing the winning backhand, it is impossible to understand of practices that have lead to this result.

Michael Craig-Martin was born in Dublin in 1941 but spent most of his childhood in Washington D. C. He studied Fine Art at Yale School of Art and Architecture. He has lived and worked in Britain since 1966.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture
Corkscrew (orange) 2019, & Bulb (red) 2011 Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

War of Art book review

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, War of Art
At some point, most creative people realise that something needs to change.  The book  ‘The Art of War’ by Steven Pressfield, can help explain what old behaviours and mindsets are holding you back.  Essentially it is a self-help book for amateur artists and writers battling with inner self-doubt and fear.   There is a diamond of an idea about learning to overcome resistance and ‘turning pro’ as the book asks, “Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what “Resistance” is.”
 
When I tried to read ‘The Art of War’ for the first time, several years ago, I struggled to get past Steven Pressfield’s zany unconventional rhetoric.  However, I am pleased I gave the book a second chance.  In this first part of the book, Pressfield tries to define resistance in its every form.  Although I found this first part the hardest, there were several parts I related to. 
 
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.” 
Pressfield explains that instead of getting rid of fear for good, it takes a prolonged time of compressing hard work.  Pressfield’s gem in the middle is that artists and writers need to realise that fear will always be there.  The trick is a better understanding of it and learning to live it.
 
The War of Art in part two and three presses home the resolve needed to recognise and overcome amateur mindsets and distractions.  Combating resistance means learning what the term ‘professional’ means and making changes to your work routine.  As a professional, the ground rules have to change. The artist needs to show their highest level of discipline and keep professional hours.  Pressfield explains;
 
“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warriors’ life.”
 
“I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”  
 
“I turn up everyday day in and day out, no excuses.”
 
“Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must recommit every day.”
 
“Pros who sit down, roll up their sleeves and do it every day.”
 
“The qualities that define us as professionals?
1) We show up every day.
2) We show up no matter what.
3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel.
6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
7) We do not overidentify with our jobs.
8) We master the technique of our jobs.”
As a creative person, I know it is too easy to overthink the consequences of each and every action. However, the work you could accomplish will only get done when you overcome your resistance. Pressfield’s book explains that only through true love for the activity and by having success as a by-product, can you do the work and achieve your goals.   
 
Dealing with criticism and knowing fear will always be there are just of couple of things we need to learn to live with.  If it were easy, someone else would have already done it.  In fact, fear can be used as a guide to let you know that you’re doing something important.  
 
It is challenging at times to see beyond some of Pressfield’s turn of phrase.  However, it is certainly worth the effort.  Procrastination is a creative killer.  This book, along with a handful of other intriguing like-minded books, can arm the artistic person with the tools and skills to give them a chance against an unrestrained and undisciplined mind.  Making it in my view one of the essential books for all artists and writers to read.

What I learnt from Philip Guston

What I learnt from Philip Guston, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Philip Guston, Fable II (1957) all rights remain with the artist ©Philip Guston

It is well known that during Philip Guston’s career and throughout his life’s work, he toyed with two opposing forms of art. There was the figurative cartoon style of his earlier work in the 1930s and abstract expressionism in the 1950s. Philip Guston’s career highlights what he believed to be the central concern in the career of an artist. No matter what anyone else says or does, Guston believed that “A painters first duty is to be free.” Free to make their own choice, that is said, “unless you’re the kind of an artist that gnaws on one bone all the time.”

After a decade of teaching Philip Guston became part of the Abstract Expressionists movement. Its art was about finding ways to communicate the emotional reality of life and portray more significant metaphors about the wider universe. Despite being involved in the movement from its beginning after several years, Guston felt unsatisfied. He thought that Abstract Expressionist’s were losing touch with everyday life. The group, instead of looking into the real current subjects of the time, were too busy wrapped up in their own conceitedness and making grand pronouncements.

Over time Guston began to have powerful yearnings towards figuration. He felt that what he was making as an Abstract Expressionist was unrelated to what was gravely distressing him. It was now the 1960s, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the devastation and calamity of the Vietnam war. Thoughts about the flawed political errors he felt where morally wrong. Rather than just feeling exasperated by what was in the news, Guston wanted to discuss and show the world what he felt really mattered in his work.

In the end, Guston had a sudden compulsion. After serious consideration, he concluded that abstract expressionism was a cover-up for the poverty of spirit. Figuration and his morality won.

Guston was held in high regard within the abstract expressionist community of artists in New York. He was there from the beginning. The friendships he had established had filled his soul and bolstered his place in the epicentre of the art world. He had felt content in the community, nourished and understood. Well almost!

Once Guston made clear his intentions to return to figuration, the warm swell of admiration changed. The richest of friendships were now laced with tension and conflicts. The strain was building up, and the common ground between Guston and the artists of his generation began to erode and fade.

Things started to get unpleasant. Guston’s friends and peers were shaking their heads, and uncomfortable statements became common. Elaine, Willem de Kooning’s wife, said when talking about Guston and his change to figuration that, “This is embarrassing, this is really embarrassing.”

Guston felt it was time to leave New York and the painting style of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism. He wanted to return to motifs of his earlier work, the cartoon style of figurative work. As long as Guston was content with what he was doing, and he painted what he wanted to paint, he felt everything else in his life would take care of itself.

What I learnt from Philip Guston, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Philip Guston, The Studio 1969, all rights remain with the artist ©Philip Guston

Guston concluded that he didn’t need to worry about what other people thought; good relationships would survive. All he wanted and needed was to feel free and be true to himself. Even when he was part the ‘New York School’, a term he preferred, rather than ‘Abstract Expressionist’ s’, he always showed a great deal of individuality in his work.

Guston now wanted more freedom believing that “nothing is ever solved in a painting. It’s a continuous chain that doesn’t go in one line, it goes in a serpentine line or in crooked paths, detours that have to be investigated. I felt like an explorer who almost got to the top of Mount Everest and somehow stopped just short and remembered and thought, well perhaps maybe I forget some gear, you know. I forgot some equipment but going down to recover this equipment I took some side paths that looked exciting and full of possibilities.”

He went on to say “Comments about style are strange to me. You’re working in this style or that style in the matter. It is not as if you had a choice. You’re trying to stay alive, continue and not die. It’s circular you’re still back there. I don’t feel any different now that I did in the early fifties. When I was doing so-called non-figurative things. I know that they dissolve and they don’t have this figuration and all that, but that is really beside the point. Because what is to the point that I am in the same state.”

In going back to the figurative style, he now had what he wanted; he had a new solitude in Woodstock. Guston valued his freedom and independence; however, it came at a high cost. His friendships didn’t survive. The critics were outspoken about his work. Instead of continuing painting, Guston felt at a loss. After a few years and a period of intense self-reflection, Guston eventually went to Rome for a two year residential to find a new path, leaving his wife and child at home.

When Guston returned, a year early than planned, he was eager to start his new work. He had found a new way forward. However, this time rather than plains of abstraction, there was a playfulness that mischievously took on the immoral and evilness he saw around him. There was a viciousness under his new hooded figurative work. From the Klansmen figures covered in blood to the references to Nixon with a political punch. Guston defied expectations.

Guston’s work alluded to painful experiences. Grappling with personal issues and the way his father, a jewish immigrant, was treated when arriving in America. Guston’s father committed suicide in 1923.

For Guston it was the only decision. What was significant to him came out in his work. He had a massive belief in the conviction that the artist needs to be free. Now with Pop Art centre stage, the art establishment slowly recognised the strength of his decision.

Guston continued to make crucially meaningful figurative work up until his death in 1980. Thankfully Guston had the satisfaction of reading about the changing views of the critics. Robert Hughes, who had once called his work “Ku Kluz Komix” retracted his options with, “a figurative artist of extraordinary power.”

Philip Guston, “There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art, that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself. Therefore we habitually analyse its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is ‘impure’. It is the adjustment of ‘impurities’ which forces its continuity. We are image-makers and age-ridden.”

What I learnt from Philip Guston, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Philip Guston, “San Clemente” (1975), oil on canvas

Dreaming about success

Dreaming for success, Stuart Bush Studio Blog, No exit
©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm

Often when I turn on the shower and step in, I turn on a shower of thoughts. I’m not sure why it happens in the shower, but I think it is a favourable place to be flooded with thoughts and ideas. My mind also, unfortunately, wanders when I am painting. Over time, I have realised I have become a professional daydreamer. This is the wrong time and the wrong place to be imagining the future. I feel the need to gain some self-mastery of my busy creative mind.

I used to think dreaming about the future was my reward for taking on an almost impossible creative challenge. At times, I have imagined having the ideal artist studio, making sublime artwork, relaxing and enjoying the lifestyle of being someone successful. I have learnt from thinking like this that happiness will always be a reward in the future.

The problem with allowing myself to think about a variety of things other than the task that is in front of me is that I am not as productive as I need to be. I lose focus on what I am doing and why I am doing it. This leads me to the questions, what is it I am trying to achieve? It is a feeling of floating down the middle of a fast-flowing river hoping to swim to a bank at some point.

I have become aware that if I am lucky enough to achieve what I want in the future, and I get there while being a daydreamer (which I now think is highly unlikely). I will always be programmed to look to the future for a sense of fulfilment.

This realisation has happened after reading quotes like, “when your fulfilment and sense of self are no longer dependent on the future outcome, joy flows into whatever you do.” From ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle.

I need to control my daydreaming or I will never appreciate what I achieve. It is important to realise I very fortunate in many ways. I should be grateful and enjoy this time in my life. It is the process and journey that is important, not some dream about the future.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, 2009 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie
It’s no wonder many people see failure as the most painful moment in their lives, school wrongly teaches us we need to do everything we can to avoid failure.  However, Adrian Ghenie makes it a central power source. Having to face humiliation and shame by returning to home to Cluj, Romania, after trying to start a new life in Vienna drove his artistic ambitions.  Returning to live back at his parents home at age 27 in 2005 he had no future to look forward to. However, Ghenie used his difficult set-back as fuel rather than limitation.
The fuel of failure is a common element in the story of success for many accomplished people. Richard Branson’s head teacher said he would end up in prison or as a millionaire.  After Steve Jobs was sacked from Apple in 1985 it motivated him to dent the universe.  Michael Jordan’s cut from his high school basketball team was all the fuel he needed.  Sylvester Stallone, after writing Rocky, tried to get the film made. After trying to play the staring role, he had hit rock bottom. These successful people used hardship as fuel to never give up. They all kept trying no matter how hard life seemed.  Stallone saved all the letters of rejections and read them out the night he won at the Oscars.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs
Returning home, Ghenie felt lost and unsure. With a group of friends, he talked about what to do next. They came up with the idea of opening a gallery as a meeting place and Galerie Plan B was born. Their intention was to establish a program for Eastern European artists and connect them with the outside world.  This became the starting point of Ghenie’s successful career as an artist leading Ghenie to say,
“If you feel that you are totally disconnected, that the world is far, that you have no chance…organise something.  Put people together in a group with a name or something.  Then try to build a program and messages.  Sooner or later, somebody will receive them and will be curious to visit you.  Then you have a connection.  If you do something interesting, then you have a root.  You are in.”

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

What I see in Tal R’s paintings
Ghenie’s paintings in the first group show in 2006, went up for sale for between €2500 to €4000. In 2009, l attended his first show in London titled, ‘The Darkness for an Hour’, at Haunch of Venison. At that show, Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and Haunch of Venison, brought ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for €60,000.  In October 2016, the auction house sold ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for £7.1m as demand for Ghenie’s paintings outstripped supply. [Art Newspaper) 
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, The nightmare, 2007 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie
Ghenie’s latest large paintings are now priced between €750,000 to €1.1. He represented Romania at the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. Ghenie is now represented by Pace and Thaddaeus Ropac galleries.
To enhance my knowledge, I took a close look at Ghenie’s work.  I wanted to contemplate what is it about his paintings that has to lead to so much attention and recognition. I realised that chance is a big factor when working in the art market and it is a major element of Ghenie’s paintings.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann
Collages of documentary films, historical images and still images from David Lynch and Hitchcock inspired Ghenie’s ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) and ‘The collector’ as he successfully rendered the texture of black and white celluloid film into the paint.   Ghenie translated the cinematic impression of velvety blacks, light and texture into browns and reds. Which heightens the meaning and emotions and affects the dark undercurrents of the subject matter.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, Pie Night Interior 12 2014 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie
Once Ghenie’s preparatory images are finished, his next step is to paint with house-hold decorator’s brushes on to the large white canvas. The crude wide headed brush is used in rapid movements to create washes leading to runs and dribbles on the white gesso.  On top of the broad strokes, Ghenie shows his skill and dexterity with a brush to get some of the detail down. Ghenie waits for the representational painting, that at times is drab, to partly dry before using a cloth to dry it. He then uses a trowel, palette knife or a squeegee like a brush introducing a variety of colours to contrast to the earlier brush marks. New marks are scrapped and smeared across the surface burying the detail.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

The inspirational work of Franz Kline
There is plenty of space in Ghenie’s larger canvases to play.  Ghenie juxtaposes a variety of techniques from drips and scratches, with pours and smears.  The slathered paint sends his paintings towards abstraction.  Occasionally, just to make it interesting, he throws in an element of photographic college to ground the staged accidents and composition. Ghenie stated that
“when you try to paint a tree, you realize, ‘I cannot paint all the leaves, I cannot paint all the textures.’ So you have to invent a movement of the brush that would suggest, in your mind, a tree. That is, essentially, abstract.”
There are many fiascos along the way, however, Ghenie knows how to manipulate paint like a master. In his latest work, he takes this mixture of technique and turns painting further towards a form of collaging painting.  As this all comes together there is a strong element of what Ghenie callers “a Russian roulette moment” where chance, accident, instinct and the fear of failure leads the way.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

What I have learnt from Alex Katz
Ghenie’s nostalgia for the craft of painting is clear to see.  The techniques from modern masters find their way into his paintings. Distortions from Picasso, accidents from Bacon and squeegee from Richter.  His subject matter comes from across the centuries.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Dada is Dead, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, Dada is Dead 2009 all rights remain with the artist ™ Adrian Ghenie
Ghenie reminds the viewer of the collective imagination of historical figures and moments in his earlier paintings.   Once figures of the establishment were taunting and terrorising us now we are taunting and terrorising them. He evokes an overall feeling of contemptuous scorn and caricature, as Hilter, the bogeyman watches us as we sleep in the painting,  ‘Nightmare’ (2007).
Ghenie’s versatile approach to painting using textures of smooth buttery paint creates intriguing compositions of visual harmony that feels almost confrontational.  There is an overall fluidity across his canvases that is visually captivating.  He asks interrogating deep questions about 20th history through the broken up surface. Ghenie acknowledges that failure helped him to dismantle the traditional approach to oil painting. Clearly stating painting is far from dead.

What to paint – The recipe for failure

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, What to paint, The recipe for failure
Stuart Bush, Hopes and Fears, Oil on canvas, 85 x 150cm. All rights reserved by the artist ©Stuart Bush
I remember just starting out as an artist, and I didn’t know what to paint. The choice seems so vast and momentous. I was often lost in thought as I was worried about making the wrong decision. I wasted a lot of time and energy when l should have just got started. Recently I heard this advice from Herbert Swope (b 1958) the editor and journalist, “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: ‘trying to please everyone all the time.” Although these words of wisdom do not come from an artist, it is excellent advice.  It took me a while to figure it out that l shouldn’t be trying to please everyone, in fact, that was the last thing I should be trying to do.

What to paint – The recipe for failure

Why do I paint
It is quite common when you’re new to painting to work on getting between three to ten points of interest in a painting. My main point of interest in my early paintings was the angst I was feeling. I wanted my audience to feel what I felt.
I made it easy for people to easily understand this feeling and point of view.  However, l have learnt that l need to leave each painting open to interpretation.  A strong painting works on many more levels.  This allows everyone to look deeper and to see different things in the work. The sleigh of hand is to take stuff out rather than put things in.
I paint the painting I want to see.  As I know, there is a lot of people who have the same tastes as me.  I ask myself what really excites me?  What can I uniquely achieve on a canvas? If there are some tough steps I need to do to achieve my next painting, then I need to do those hard steps.

What to paint – The recipe for failure

Why painting still matters - Interviews with 5 contemporary painters - Guardian Newspaper
I have done this by learning to say no.  Often painting is a choice of what not to do.  I now know I don’t need to be worried about whether people like it or not. I have learnt that whatever I choose to do will be worth the hard work.  As long as I live a life of total engagement with my work, I will be content.  When that commitment comes through my work, the choice of what I paint doesn’t matter.  Apparently, there are 100,000 people with similar interests to me somewhere in the world.  l paint a painting that I would be thrilled to see.  My audience is a stadium of me!
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©Stuart Bush, Strange Heart Sings, oil on board 30 x 40 cm

What to paint – The recipe for failure

A painting has to stand up by itself

Rebound from a failed painting

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Rebound from a failed painting, Law of the jungle
©Stuart Bush, Law of the jungle, oil on aluminium panel 38 x 76 cm
I was taught at school that everything had to be right.  I was encouraged to conform so that when I grew up I would make a good employee. Education was stifling.  I was urged to aim for perfection; however, I was a long way away from achieving that.  Sketching and doodling were discouraged, learning from failure was hindered.  As a consequence, I had no idea how to rebound from a failed painting.
When I started to learn to paint I use to stop, look and make a judgment about my progress. I worried I was wasting my time and making a blunder.  I hated being wrong. It is a struggle to complete a piece of work and I didn’t realise that I needed to keep working until the artwork was ‘finished’. If I stepped back too early l was not happy with what l had achieved.  It took me a while to realise that l needed to conclude the artwork, then reflect, review and try to acknowledge what didn’t work.

Rebound from a failed painting – related post

Painter killed by his own bad art
Then for years when l made a failed painting, it was like hitting a brick wall.  It would take me weeks to recover, to stop procrastinating and worrying. I would ask myself where did I go wrong? What lessons can l learn for next time? I’m not sure when l finally realised that a failed painting is a near win.  That each time l practised the experience allowed me to grow.
By learning from my near wins l slowly learnt that I could avoid the same mistakes.  The flourishing painter, Alex Katz said it took a thousand paintings to achieve his ‘Big Style’.  Michael Jordan, the highly successful basketball player, missed nine thousand shots in his career.  Thomas Edison, the prosperous inventor, said after inventing the light bulb, ‘I have not failed, I have just found ten thousand ways that didn’t work.’

Rebound from a failed painting – external link

9 Times History's Greatest Artists Made Bad Artworks - Artsy

If at first you don't succeed, celebrate - Tate website
The painting process needs to be inquisitive, open and free.  Before I start a painting l no longer think that what I intended will happen. I know if it fails that something else will happen instead. A painting with difficulties and flaws leaves the door open to the next work and the next work after that. It gets me closer to where I wanted to go without realising where ‘where’ is.
If the opposite was true and I had an idea first.  When I made it, it would be lacking in integrity, authenticity and a soul.  It would be stillborn.  It would be dead.  Like I feel about the painting ‘Law of the Jungle’ above.
I have slowly realised a failed painting has no negative impact on my long term career unless I let it. Thomas Edison stated that “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time.” Therefore l focus on the skills that persist past the painting, and look for the best option to create more choices.  There is no conceptual end, just a deeper rabbit hole.

Rebound from a failed painting – related post

What have I learnt from Alex Katz

The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann

The ultimate experience - Crashing Wave, Mary Heilmann, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
©Mary Heilmann, Crashing Wave 2011 oil on canvas 127 x 101.60 cm, All rights are reversed by the artist
At the Whitechapel Gallery in 2016, many thoughts rushed through my mind the first time I saw the painting ‘Crashing Wave (2011)’ by Mary Heilmann.  As I looked at the painting it evoked a special moment.  I remember being out on my body board on Manly beach, Australia, at complete peace with my surroundings.  The air was crisp, and the sun was bright as I pitched forward. I kicked with my flippers while paddling hard with my hands as I took off down into a crystal clear barrel wave. I rode the perfect wave, a foaming mass of white water.  The ultimate experience!
 
It was a weird feeling being out in the sea, which strangely had surprising similarities to painting in a studio.  There is the same solitude in painting when you’re standing with a brush in front of a canvas.  You’re in apparently harmless water, but there is the feeling that if you’re not alert, like one wrong move at the peak of the wave, you could end up scrambling to stay on the surface. The consequence being that you could get thrown around and washed out. Mental and physically rejected back on the beach or in front of a failed canvas.

Related posts; The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann

What I learnt from Alex Katz
Mary Heilmann’s unforgettable painting combines subject with spills and accidents, runs and washes, that are akin to nature.  Although Hellmann only witnessed surfing as a spectator sport, she has captured its impression in the surface energy of her painting. Using a geometric structure, Mary invites you to have an aesthetic experience.  A remarkable vibrant experience that is enthralling, leaving the feeling that reality has been refreshed.
 
Mary highlights the need to be at one with what you are doing.  One mistake and it’s over.  In both situations, you can spend a lot of time thinking and waiting for the right moment; the right wave or inspiration to get started. Hoping for the world to move through you. Undisturbed by turmoil and disorder.  Aiming for a placid stream of serenity where things come together in the stillness.  When you are in tune with that stillness, incline your mind towards a majestic moment.   Confronting the sharpness of life as you harness nature and ride the wave of an idea back to shore.

External related link

Mary Heilmann's biography - artnet.com

As Mary Heilmann says, “Each of my pictures can be seen as an autobiographical marker. A cue by which I evoke a moment from my past or my projected future. Each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.”

 
Mary Heilmann was born in 1940 in California. As a student, she trained as a ceramicist and a sculptor. After trying to complete in an all-male environment in both these fields she struggled to get any attention.   Then Heilmann decided to paint. She had her first show in New York in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of American Art after moving to New York in 1968.

Related posts;  The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann

Understanding the 'Oak Tree' in conceptual art via Russian Politics