I finished this painting yesterday. I love to paint, but I don’t do it all that often. Every once in a while, the spirit moves me, and I do it, even though there is no particular reason. I haven’t been asked to paint this, and while it kind of looks like what I wanted it to be, it also leaves a lot to be desired. Like all my paintings, it is too messy and too unfinished looking.
But despite this fact, I feel as if I might be making progress. Because the last time I painted a group of people, back in 1995, here is how it looked. (The image is distorted below to fit the page. Click on it to see it in correct proportions.)
The painting above was more ambitious and covered a much bigger canvas. It takes up almost an entire wall in my mother’s house. But if you look at my self-portrait, peeking out from behind the main figure, and compare it to my new self-portrait, second from the left on the much smaller canvas, I think you can see that the new me is somehow more realistic, even though it is messier.
My friend Julia told me she thought my painting was very expressive. It took me some time to realize this was a term of art and not just a general description. At first I wondered what she meant. Was it that the faces have such obvious expressions on them? Or was it just that I like to tell a story, preferring narrative to lyrical paintings? It took a while for it to sink in that she was telling me something important. So I finally looked up expressive painting, and here is what I found:
According to the article I cite above, expressive painting is a style that does not try to hide the brush strokes and the paint.
Some people regard an expressive or painterly style to be less finished, or even unfinished. But it’s not a style of painting where the end result is intended to look smooth and glossy like a photograph. It’s a style which celebrates and shows off the materials made to create it: paint and a brush. The result is something only a painter could produce.
I did not know that my style of painting was expressive. I have my friend Julia to thank for that. I think as I mature, I am less interested in hiding how I achieve the result, but I am more and more interested in getting into the heart of the representation. What makes this person look like that? I ask myself. And then I try to achieve the look with as little time spent as possible. Because, after all, I am not a painter by trade, and I am doing this in my spare time from many other pursuits, so it has to be a quick return on investment.
Some people say that practice makes perfect. I am not sure that it does. In my case, I never paint just for practice. I only ever paint when I have something to say that can be said with an image, but not with words.
Do you feel happy when you look at that painting? I do. It was a happy moment, surrounded by people who love liberty and who don’t think that fighting for it is tilting at windmills.