like the Holy Grail, synonymous with miraculous powers, bestowing upon its holder eternal happiness, abundance, success… and all in perpetuity. Finding our unique style as artists, developing our voice, albeit visually, can become a pursuit that feels unpleasant and even a reason to question our own abilities.
The idea that an artist should have a recognizable style stems from the Abstract Expressionists. They were striving to represent something more integral and spiritual in their art, to communicate something essential and innately human that was beyond objects represented in two-dimensional space. In the process, and through their relationships with one another, they each navigated this challenge in their own, unique way.
Pollock’s infamous drips and drizzles, Martin’s grids, Newman’s stark zips, and Rothko’s ethereal, misty rectangles are all immediately suggestive of the artist’s oeuvre. “That’s a Jackson Pollock, you might think, when you see a canvas covered in dribbled strands of paint. Is it this way for every artist? Is there always an “Ah Ha!” moment in the studio followed by relentless experimentation within those cozy new confines: My Style? Definitely, not; Pollock wondered aloud if the first of his action paintings was indeed a painting at all.
When all the myriad influences and conditions, material and media choices, serendipitous meetings and collaborations, are all distilled down into your own unique perception and translation, perhaps you’ve arrived. Ultimately, whatever the artist brings into being, it’s something that wasn’t there before. It’s offered as a vision, a new way of seeing and expressing something human, something visceral, something momentous.
This relentless drive and experimentation, not always a playful process, brought much more intellect and intention into fine art, and the motivation and commentary of the artist enters. Throughout a course with The Museum of Modern Art, (online, check it out), artist, instructor, and curator, Corey D’Augustine compliments his discourse on the abstract expressionists with this concept of developing your own style, as he models techniques of the masters.
Experimentation is essential. If I love “this” art… why do I love it? The best way to find out is to get into it and try it. Can you create like that? How was it done? Can I accentuate the figure that way? Can I imbue a sense of the spiritual that way? If I apply the same colour palette to a very different subject or with different media, what happens? There are many disasters, problems, angst, mistakes, additions, subtractions, deletions… And so on, endlessly… until… perhaps it all begins to slowly coalesce.
As a fine artist, pushing through the discomfort, and allowing the state of ambiguity, is part of the process. It wasn’t until I was motivated by a powerful distaste for what was on my own easel, combined with permission to play and problem-solve, and allow some of that experience and exploration to enter, that something happened. I feel like I have finally begun to edge into what maybe feels like it could be my own artistic style, emerging like a wet, bedraggled butterfly. I may be able to fit more uncertain adjectives into that sentence.
My Gallery portrays part of that journey. My newer work is more abstract, fractured, often the objects are figures or biomorphic forms; the result of my trying on many different styles and using many artist’s techniques and philosophies, apparently following in typical tradition.
Picasso once famously said: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Perhaps it can be interpreted this way: artists look to those who have gone before, with a deep desire to learn. Artists feel affinity with other artists’ work, style, subject, palette, techniques. An artist can become intensely interested in a specific cultural or historical body of art work; artists are often avid researchers and learners. Artists often emulate other’s techniques and attempt to become skilled or to surpass the lesson by innovating the use of the tool or designing something new. In the art world, this is all generally acceptable, as part of your learning journey. How does that artist’s style/technique look through your hand, your eye?
Honour, emulate, experiment. Stand back.
Work as meditatively as possible. Let some marks be made automatically,
let some emotion land on the paper.
Let it breathe for awhile, and you walk past and glance at it, casually,
in your robe,
as if someone else painted it.
Then analyse, think, research, embellish, dream…
Let Inspiration be your guide.
Make it your own.
What do you want to say?
What will you capture, and how will you make it stay?
Use your own voice to scream, or whisper, or sing…
R. Leigh Krafft