Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Artist at 40, And the Art of Growing up on Canvas

It has been a long time since I have published an art blog...studio work has always taken precedent whenever I had free time - and I also run a survivors group for people who have had Schwannoma tumors, as I have had.  Throw two kids into the mix and busy is the word - but I wanted to step back in and write a little more...

Last September I turned 40.  And I remembered a quote that I heard attributed to the artist Thomas Hart Benton, where he was reported to have said "The life of the artist is great, if you can just get through the first 40 years of it."  I think this is a very wise observation.  In much of the professional world you are expected to be well on your way by at least the age of 30.  Art has a strange kind of gravity that seems to force a longer maturation period....

In 2005 I was selected by Southwest Art Magazine to be one of the young American artists to watch that year.  And for a period of time articles or mentions of me had much to do with my age.  I was in fine arts galleries by my late twenties - and then was noted as being a young artist to keep your eye on.  But now at the age of 40, I find myself at a curious tipping point, in my own eyes, and the eyes of others.  Not old by any stretch - not young either.  And by no means still able to call myself a "Young artist."  The grey hairs thick in my beard give the game away some time ago.  And that's ok - I accept it and wouldn't change it.

I said to my wife the other day that if I were to die tomorrow I would have no regrets as an artist.  I would have regrets as a father, because both of my children are young - and the same kind of regret at the idea of leaving my dear wife too early.  But for my art, I would have no regrets.

Thinking back over it all, I realize that I was no prodigy.  I made shaky drawings as a young man - and only made improvements that came slowly, painfully, and with time.  But when they came I realized it, and so did others.  That x-factor became present in my life - that being, the regard of others for my work.  I still struggle to realize how highly some people regard my paintings.  One collector I know has 12 of them.  Others have 5 or 6.  As time has passed, the fact that I have sold a great many works hasn't pumped me with arrogance - but it has filled me with the confidence of my own visions.  I found a style that I enjoy and I work in that style.  I don't try to reinvent the wheel....rather, I try to make the one I myself made roll - as well as possible.  The overwhelming feeling of gratitude is what I am often left with.  I feel like the fate of things could have landed on any other person, but it landed on me.  And I worked and worked and worked on it - and for it.  I have never assumed anything for granted.  I have doe everything I could to squeeze the very marrow of meaning out of oil paint and canvas.  Subsequently, I have grown up on canvas - from the time of first being noticed nationally, in my late twenties, until where I am now.

The other thing I do differently now is that I rely more on inner vision.  My paintings look less like the photographs they are often sketched from - they are wild departures that often can't be matched to the photographs I've used to inspire them.  What measure of success I have managed, it has simply told me "go forward" when ideas fill my mind's eye.  I make the kind of paintings that I want to exist.  I don't follow anyone - except perhaps my friend Jean-Claude Qulici and a still abiding need to occasionally leaf through the works for Vincent Van Gogh.  The roots of the tree, in that regard - haven't moved.

If being 40 years old has taught me anything, it is the permission to bring inner visions to life.  The hesitations are mostly gone.  If I see an image in my head - I try to paint it.

Like Picasso, I have often believed that children were the truest of artists.  They make art without the legion of hangups and pre-conceptions that weigh down the adult act of making art.  That's why I am soon to likely take on my first art student - a 2nd grade girl who wants to paint with me.  And I am seriously considering teaching only children.  There lies the chance to plant the courage of convictions for the next generations of artists...

So it goes.  There was no crisis as I hit the age of 40.  Just a sense of satisfaction and happiness.   I hope that I am still here to say something about what it means to be 50, 60, or 70 - but whatever the case, I am grateful to be here now - and mainly concerned with being here now in the best possible way that I can.  I've grown up on canvas - just as much as I have grown up in the world.  The world needs a little beauty and color - and I should only be grateful to have had the chance to make my own mark into filling that need.  It has been amazing - and I thank all my dear friends, family, and collectors who have seen in the work what I hoped they would.  What we believe about ourselves is one thing.  What others make of us is often another.  I have had the good fortune and the faith of many others who enjoyed my work - and thus gave me the outlet to say what I needed to say in color and brushstrokes.

So here's to the next ten years - glittering canvases and unforgettable experiences - and undying hope for the better
and for the beautiful...

- Neil

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