Longevity

My studio at Pratt Institute, 2002.

My studio at Pratt Institute, 2002.

It was my grandfather who told me to pick something as a career that could be done for the rest of my life. I felt instantly smart in my choice of becoming an artist, even if at times I still question it. It is, if nothing else, something I can do for the rest of my life.

I joke often that “life is short, art is long.” Art is history- not dead, but really ishistory. It lasts; it is forever, good and bad. Worse than a terrible comment on Facebook, art doesn’t really ever go away. You make something, you make more, you go back to that first thing and wonder what you were thinking. And so on, for decades.

I am thinking about legacy, and also about the act of creating. The long slog that is being an artist- the daily struggles, the agony of failure and the joy of success, in all their forms. I wonder if my work will end up in thrift stores when collectors grow tired of it, or if they will love it enough to pass it on to their children. In the grand arc that is an artist’s career- their oevre- what is their message? What am I saying in painting after painting after painting?

A year or so ago, I sat crying over a painting I thought I had ruined. My daughter and husband came downstairs to the studio to check on me. I looked at my daughter and said, “Painting is just really hard, honey.” I looked at my husband and said, “I could quit, but you’d have to heavily medicate me to get me to stop thinking about painting.” In that moment, like so many moments before, I knew I was stuck with this choice I had made in my life, this artist life. There was no going back.

But it is something that I can do forever.

When opening a show of my work at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette, California in February, I met one of my fellow exhibiting artists, Michael Rizza, a 90-year-old sculptor. At the artist talk, he said that his granddaughter had asked if he was famous, to which he had replied, “I’m not famous- I am undiscovered!” We all laughed, recognizing that fear all artists have of obscurity. (“Help, help! I’ve fallen into obscurity and I can’t get up!” joked a recent New Yorker cartoon.) Yet many of us keep creating, out of that primal need that art-making is, going back in history to the very caves of our ancestors themselves.

Art is history.


Julia Rymer is an abstract painter and writer based in Colorado, where she creates work inspired by nature, science, and color theory. Learn more at juliarymer.com.

Every painting is a journey.

One of the most common questions I am asked as an artist is how long it takes to complete a painting. This question does not surprise me. The process of making art is foreign to many. And abstract art, despite existing in the cultural lexicon since at least the late 19th century, remains mysterious in its meaning or worth, leading to the dreaded declaration, "My kid could do that."

It's true. Kids make great art. But, I'm going to show you how I make art.

I don't know how a work starts. Something strikes me- a word, a color, an image from nature, a shape I feel like making, a composition that has been flashing behind my eyes as I drift to sleep- that incites a need to create. I head to the studio. I prep the canvas or paper, lay it out on table or easel. I mix up my color, dip my brush, and I start. Immediately I react to what I just did, adding new color, a charcoal or graphite mark, or a shape, repeating the process until I built up to a composition that feels like it has balance.

The process can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. I never really know. Sometimes I sit with a piece for months, photograph it, market it, and then a few months later, paint over it.

This is a painting I began months ago. I painted it at the same time as two other pieces, and had some extra paint to use up from those paintings, so I quickly did began this one. Then it sat in my studio until two days ago, when I finally decided that it wasn't finished.

I initially liked how fresh it felt, and the lightness of the marks. I love simple paintings. But this one didn't last as a design. It needed more. Here is the story of where it went from there.

 

At first, I added some drawn charcoal lines and shapes, and started painting in more colors: turquoise, green, navy blue, gray. I turned the piece upside down to take a look at how the design drew the eye through it, and how "balanced" it seemed (did the parts on one section relate to parts on another section). Did the parts relate to the whole? Did some stick out, or become distracting? I decided to keep going.

I actually forgot to photograph the step in between these two steps, but no matter: it was terrible. WAY too much pink. I had nicknamed the painting "Miami." Yikes. Here's where I went from there, subduing the warm colors, and building up the surface more.

More blues, more grays, more greens, more layers. I turned the piece around again, and covered up quite a bit of the underpainting with cool colors. Shapes begin to connect through the middle, creating relationships in the composition, moving the eye around the piece like guideposts or bridges, from one section to the next.

I felt like the piece was at a stopping point, or almost. I just needed one more thing...

BitsandPinks-Progress3.jpg

More blue.

Where will it go from here? I'm not sure. I'm sitting with it for awhile longer...

What do you think?