Artistic drive #045; obsession or inspiration?

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

No one who knows me will be greatly surprised when I confess I am lazy. If I have to choose between weeding the flower bed or reading the latest Nora Roberts, it's a safe bet there won't be any dirt under my fingernails at the end of the day.

I stand in awe of those who have that constant drive do things.

I am fascinated by musicians and artists who can throw themselves into their work so completely that they lose track of time. Until recently, I have been as puzzled by them as fascinated.

But now, I have an inkling of why Michelangelo spent 20 years flat on his back to paint a church ceiling. I have a glimmering of why Faulkner locked himself in his country home with a bottle of booze and wrote the first chapter of Absolom!Absolom! on the kitchen wall. I think I can understand what drove Ansel Adams, Marc Chagall, and William Carlos Williams.

Sometimes a vision comes to you and it will not let you go. Call it inspiration or obsession, whatever you will, it claims you, names you and refuses to release you until you have in some way or another expressed it.

I got a taste of that this week. I have a slight talent when it comes to visual arts, mostly in caricature and quick sketches. Any painting skills I had were left behind in college many moons ago, and forgotten in the rush of finding jobs, getting married and raising children. Since moving to Andalusia however, and making the acquaintance of Ellie Blue and her artistic circle, I felt something creeping up on me. Not inspiration - not yet - but interest. I started playing with watercolors again, drawing more detailed pictures instead of quick slashing sketches, and replacing caricature with an attempt at portraiture. Not great art, but fun practice studies.

This week, I saw an image in National Geographic that haunted me all day. I knew, by the end of the day, that I would have to paint my interpretation of the scene. While I wrote articles, made interviews, took photos and laid out pages, the image kept growing in my mind. Obsession or inspiration….

By the time I got home that night, I knew what I was going to paint, and how. I worked, reworked, fussed and fretted, and finally finished. The most frustrating thing about art is that the artist gets an image in her brain of how the finished product will look. When it comes out less than imagined, she gets discouraged and gives up. I don't necessarily give up, but I do get discouraged.

Not this time. The end result was a little crude, a little rough, more than a little amateurish - but for someone who had not done a "serious" painting in more than 20 years, it was good. It will never see the inside of a museum or even gallery, but what was more important, it was almost exactly what I had envisioned. As I stepped back from the painting, back and shoulders aching, neck stiff, hands smeared and splattered with cerulean and umber, I realized the night had passed by unnoticed. My kids were fed and in bed, my husband snoring quietly in the bedroom, and in less than 5 hours, I was going to have to get up and go to work.

It felt great!

My son looked at the painting the next morning, and knowing that I'm going to display some of them at the VALA-Pumpkin Patch show next Saturday, asked

if I thought the painting would sell, like the ones I did of deer, squirrels and horses.

"Probably not," I said. The subject matter is controversial - some will see it and say it is anti-war and therefore unpatriotic. Others will say it is pro-war and object on those grounds. It is neither - it is a statement of irony and observation, and no one will buy it , but I had to paint it - the image would not let me go.

Obsession or inspiration?