I've spent the past several days processing and preserving the four bucks that friends brought us this hunting season. During this time, I was also in the process of beginning a new painting. I was fascinated by the beauty and gracefulness of these animals, and I realized I've never drawn or painted them before. I decided to pick out a piece of metal, and find a good photo from a magazine to paint.
As I sketched and visualized from the images I found, I wasn't inspired. I thought that no matter what I painted, it would feel trite and preconceived, because there is so much wildlife artwork out there, and in my opinion most of it is sort of saccharine.
As I sat and stared at the rusted, bent metal, I began to see an image of the deer emerging from it. I first saw it's eye, then antlers, then the form of the body in the bent areas. The more I looked at it, the more it felt as if the deer was telling me where it needed to go on the surface.
I've studied ancient cave paintings, one of my favorite documentaries is "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams" by Herzog Werner. The original version of the film is in 3D, because the artwork on the cave walls weren't simply two dimensional images. Each figure (mostly animals) was intentionally painted where it was because the shapes, curves and bumps in the body of the animal were reflected in curves and bumps in the rocks. The artists' had chosen to paint the animals where they did because they fit on that particular part of the rock surface, creating a 3 dimensional representation of the creature that almost seemed to come to life as a light was moved back and forth.
The documentary speculates about what inspired and motivated the artists I can attest that it is a pretty powerful feeling when, as I sat quietly with thoughts of the deer swirling through my head, the image of the deer almost seemed to walk out of the metal and look me in the eye. By disconnecting my logical mind and allowing my imagination and 'muse' to take me by the hand and lead me, I simply followed and tried not to get in the way..
As I painted I noticed that if I let my analytical mind get in the way, it began to look and feel contrived. I replaced "A deer is supposed to look like that" with, "look at this interesting bend in the metal, it is following the line that I want to take. I think I'll follow it and see where it goes." When I felt like I was getting off track, I pulled my thoughts back to the deer. How grateful I was for the deer that will feed us this winter. How beautiful they were, even in death. How soft their fur felt, and the interesting curve of their little nostrils.
In the end, this is what I aspire for my art to be about. Not contrived images that any good artist can paint on a canvas. I want both the subject and the medium to speak to me, and I want to be able to step back and let the artwork happen.