Remedios Vara is the kind of artist I would like to be. Transcendent subject matter, master level skill, unique and vast imagination, rendered in oil paint, preserved for centuries.
And this is my art. Simple subject, basic skill. I’ll leave the critique of my imagination up to you but it’s clearly not as vast. I make faces, not worlds. They are so impermanent that some blow away before I can even photograph them.
When I see art I admire, my chatty inner critique likes to start up a conversation by saying: you know you’re not a very good artist, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not being an artist that concerns me. I could try to make the kind of art I admire. I have tried. Nothing impressive has come of it. But making art is not about replicating or imitating what you are attracted to. The reason to make your own body of work is to discover what you have a natural affinity for. What do you do when there is no impetus at all except for your own? What do you make when you let yourself make? Art really isn’t even a useful word because it suggests things in galleries and museums, things already made and vetted. Art for me is a practice so it could be anything that one really pays attention to, refines and gives birth to. When we give ourselves permission to do this, we learn what we have an affinity for. I apparently have an affinity for gray.
Affinity and attraction are not the same. Just as I am attracted to Remedios Vara, I am also attracted to bold patterns and colors. When I see brightly patterned dresses for sale on Instagram, I immediately favorite it just in case I want to return and buy myself a little panache. But what am I wearing while I indulge in these wild imaginations? A gray t-shirt and old jeans. What’s my favorite item of clothing? A classic black motorcycle boot. What was my favorite thing before I stupidly lost it? A gray felt cap. Most of my clothes are gray, navy or black. I am comfortable in those colors. When I put on the type of thing I am attracted to, I feel like car alarm going off in the middle of the night. I don’t like it. I might even hate it.
So, the other day I noticed most of my sidewalk faces are gray. Obviously because pavement is gray. Is this coincidence or affinity? I am comfortable in this terrain, I notice the nuances of gray, of minimal, of repetition. I don’t get tired of it and that’s affinity. I can keep going year after year because of affinity. I don’t need to ask anyone else if it’s good because of affinity. Now husband might say different, I’m always requesting/demanding his curatorial eye. I really like to show him my little people. Mostly we agree but if we don’t, he is either confirming my own fear that one is a bit lackluster or sharpening my confidence through accepting disagreement without changing course. That’s affinity.
Moving away from imitation and into affinity is a move from scarcity to abundance. It’s the place where you can do a lifetime of work. It’s a place where you can meet yourself.