Transformations: The Struggle to Create

"Vortex" Encaustic and Wood on Panel 12" x 12" © 2010 Marilyn Fenn

“Vortex”
Encaustic and Wood on Panel
12″ x 12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn

Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition. It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it? — Frank Gehry

This is a very comforting quote for me.  When I paint, I frequently have only a very vague idea or sometimes — no idea at all — of what I am searching for in the new work.  I start somewhere, and often, the finished piece is so far away from where it started, it’s unrecognizable.  One of my favorite things about working this way is that I discover things — such as shapes and images — that I just couldn’t invent.

I recently watched the excellent movie called “It Might Get Loud” – a documentary on the electric guitar told through interviews and a meeting between three generations of guitar greats: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (White Stripes). I have loved the work I’ve heard by Jack White (such as the completely unabashed and fearless “Ball and a Biscuit”), but wasn’t really all that familiar with him.

He blew me away in this movie. He talked about the need to struggle in the process of creation, and if you’re not struggling, he says, do something to create a struggle. (And there were many more great quotes from him, which I’m sure will inform future posts).

Well, I definitely do struggle in my process; sometimes I’m sure it really shows; other times, you can’t even tell. It’s become far more rare for me to just breeze through a painting. (Dagnabit!)

Jetsam-Flotsam“Jetsam-Flotsam”
Encaustic, Oil Pastel, Rice Paper and Ribbon on Panel
12″ x 12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn

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There may be several stages in the course of working on the painting where I think, “Oh, this is good.  Maybe I’m done.”  And then I do something else, and ruin what I had and have to go further to make what I’ve now got into something else good.

Ship of Fools“Ship of Fools”
Encaustic on Panel
12″ x 12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn

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Sometimes I fear that I have lost the best stage of the work, but once I’m done, how do I know whether I did or not?  I really should document more of the transformative process.

Emerging“Emerging”
Encaustic, Rice Paper and Ribbon on Panel
9″ x12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn

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These four paintings are four of my latest struggles; one is a reworked painting from 2008; another I’ve changed since I took the photo; no promises that they won’t continue to change, including the orientation and the titles.

How about you? If you’re a creator, do you struggle to achieve your final result, or does it come easily? Is your best work the result of a struggle or not? Under what circumstances do you create your best work? Let me know in the comments below.

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People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.

— Bill Watterson
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Comments on My Paintings
  • I have been flying in the northern interior of British Columbia and seen areas that look just like this in the spring from the air. A lovely piece Marilyn.
Gallery of Recent Paintings
Throwing Off Her Robes - Oil on Canvas -12 x 12 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn Untitled 2015-029 - Oil on Canvas - 10 x 10 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn Murky Morning of the Soul - Oil on Canvas - 12 x 12 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn Blockhead -  Oil on Canvas - 8 x 8 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn