Saturday, November 21, 2009


Four Stones--Studio View (click images to enlarge)



Panel #1



Panel #2



Panel #3


Panel #4


Four Stones

Oil on board, each panel 23" x 23"
Not for sale at this time


Here's an update on my ongoing series of stone paintings. I wrote about the genesis and motivations for this series on my April 21 post. Most of these paintings are designed to be seen in groups like this. One panel plays off another, resulting in a kind of visual narrative.

To those not familiar with the range of my painting, this must look like the work of another artist. Perhaps in a way, it is. The realist paintings grow out of a more controlled process, with a more or less pre-determined goal. These paintings are journeys; I begin with no idea at all where they will end up. The only given for this series is that each one retain some reference to the real stones, which do exist (they are boulders placed around the edge of a parking area.)

These two impulses, one realist and literal, the other tending more abstract and intuitive, have existed in my work for many years. It causes no end of trouble in terms of projecting a seamless "image" of myself and my work to the public. I've been told by experts in the field of marketing (gallery owners, etc.) that I should choose one style or another; that following these different directions confuses people and indicates inconsistency and lack of discipline on my part. Perhaps they are right, but I hope not. For me it has always seemed more complicated than just choosing a style. My experience of the creative process is that it is messy and chaotic and not easily managed. Many artists feel a relentless need to grow, to "re-invent" themselves all the time. In fact, exploring and pushing personal boundaries is almost a mandate of the profession.

I'd be interested in hearing from other artists who wrestle with reconciling competing impulses or directions in their work, while at the same time trying to project a credible public "persona." I think there are lots of you out there, right?

42 comments:

Dean Grey said...

Don!

I agree "Four Stones" look amazing displayed next to one another.

It definitely looks like your style just not as controlled and precise and more looser and rough than your usual work.

I'd like to see more paintings like this!

-Dean

Deb said...

These are great, Don.
I agree about the "style" thing. I have a similar conflict... I'm probably known around these parts mostly for highly finished chiaroscuro type still lifes.. but when it comes to landscapes, I prefer a much looser style, and really, I haven't settled in to a particular approach yet, so there's quite a variety.
And though we live in New England, my Texas roots have been calling and when allowed to just paint what seems fun to me, lately it has been western themed - folks here do not know what to make of it!
I think this is all a part of the process, as you say, of growing and changing as a painter -
I say, go for whatever appeals to you - I love the colors of these stones!

Brian Kliewer said...

I like the Internet for exactly this reason, Don. The "experts" only want to see one thing - a line that they know will sell right away.

What about Wyeth and his meticulously detailed temperas and his "messy" freestyle watercolors?

I honestly don't think an artist can be "static." The Internet giives us the opportunity to show our other sides; how we develop ideas. If they sell, fine. If they don't that's fine too. It's like a doorway into our studios. Want to know what we think how we work things out? This is a perfect example of how that works.

Art is our language, our voice. I think what we are as artists comes through no matter what subject or style we choose to explore. The voice doesn't change. The "accent" can still be "heard." That's my opinion, anyway, for what it's worth.

Brian Kliewer said...

By the way, I like the stones, too! I got kind of carried away with my rant and left that out.

I guess you touched a nerve with this one, Don. :)

mike rooney studios said...

love the boulders!
about the changing of style issue. i think the galleries we're in get a little freaked when we break out something different than what theyve marketed to the public as our work. if i ever make a huge shift or want to have two, majorly different looks, i'll find seperate galleries to put the other work in. then they'll be happy and me too. just a thought.
keep doing what you do, its awesome!

Ann-Marie Stillion said...

These rocks have a very erotic sensibility if you ask me. The reality of perception is that we influence sight.

I am so sorry we didn't get to bring these to Seattle.

Cheers dg

u r awesome

Don Gray said...

Hey Dean, nice to hear that from you--thanks. I'm glad that at least a little consistency of style shows through the different approaches.

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Deb, for that encouragement. Most artists that I know keep themselves open to experimentation and growth, in their own work and others. It's really in the marketing end where the image problems arise.

Good luck and keep doing your thing too!

Don Gray said...

I agree with you Brian. The internet has given us all a great big forum to collectively explore and share our processes.

As for the "voice" thing, I think you're right about the artist's voice coming through, no matter the style or variety of approach. It is maddening how style is often so narrowly defined, missing the continuity that underlies variations in approach.

Thanks for your thoughts, Brian.

Don Gray said...

Yes, Mike the separate galleries for separate styles is an approach I have tried. It is successful, to a point. But the problem is it leaves me feeling pretty schizophrenic. I long for a gallery that is willing to take on my whole body of work, and commit to educating, rather than just catering to potential clients.

I'm liking those recent still lifes of yours, Mike.

Don Gray said...

Nice to hear your perceptions, Ann-Marie--and thank you for the support!

rahina q.h. said...

i am touched by the stone series but then i tend to respond to most of your other work, despite the differences.
well-said Don about the occupational hazards of being an artist: i totally agree!

Simon Jones said...

MM very nice.

Perry Brown said...

Don-I thought I was on a different blog there for a second :) I really like the painterly and colorful qualities in your rock paintings. The reference of the wall display helped bring the story to life. I feel it is important to spread those wings a bit so that you may find ways to improve your core subjects, while helping establish a unique hand writing to your work.

Anonymous said...

Tony Pro has posted comments about receiving the exact same response by galleries to his diverse works. Wonder what they would have said to Leonardo--stick with science, art, philosophy...hummm.

Anonymous said...

I love your struggle...it is real and so relative to most artists.....I know that it is said that we should choose one style.....but I have days that I love to get lost in detail, color, etc.....and other days that my heart wants to dance and paint totally abandoned to control.....can we not have both ....were we not created as intricate, moody beings that have much to express and give to this world? .....I am not sure I will ever settle into the normality of consistency....sigh....

sara said...

Don...you have struck a lot of chords here with these sensuous gorgeous rock painting...I love the colors and paint handling and I understand your struggle as a real artist!!! Would love to see more of these stone paintings...and yes, they look fab together on a wall!!!
Carry on...you're doing great work here!

Sheila Vaughan said...

Don, the four stones on panels side by side remind me of Stonehenge in England, a bit of magic and mystery, provoking questions rather than providing packaged answers to life. As also the style issue. Glad you raised that again because yet again I am heartened to see numbers of people who struggle to keep to one path and beginning to say "I'm not apologising for that". We are encouraged not to stray of course but my experience is that the preferences of gallery owners is not borne out necessarily by our buying public. As you say variety of approach is sometimes seen as the mark of perhaps an immature artist which when you look at the variety of approaches in many of the old and new masters is crazy. As one person said here, we are complex beings and our creative output will often vary, but as someone else indicated, each approach is still "our voice". In the last few months I have probably put up more varied style paintings than ever but people still say "ah, but I can still tell it's yours" and the stones there that you have painted - yes, I can see Don Gray there quite clearly! What a privilege in this chaotic world to have those kind of problems.

Dogs by Bri said...

Your stones "Rock". I thought you'd like that sentiment.

I guess I should have read through your other comments to see if anyone else was as witty. Witty is the right word here, isn't it?

Bri-

Sorry to miss the Soiree

Deb said...

This has been a great discussion! And, so cool to find a couple of my favorite artists right here! I have one of Brian's small paintings (still love it, Brian) and I also follow Mike's work.
This whole idea of just simply following our creative urges, no matter what, would be a heck of alot easier if we didn't have to try to make a living doing it.

RT said...

Man, those are some handsome rocks! Don, I don`t see these as such a big departure from the daily paintings, just a little looser.

Don Gray said...

Hi Rahina--thanks for that supportive comment.

Don Gray said...

Thank you, Simon.

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Perry. I appreciate your thoughts and agree with you.

Don Gray said...

I love that idea, Anon! Picture Leonardo's dealer saying "Leo, do some more of that dame with the strange smile...what's her name, Mona something or other. I can sell those like hotcakes."

Don Gray said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Anon #2. I agree that being straitjacketed or stereotyped into one approach only is something that virtually all artists rebel against. It is the opposite of creativity.

There's a quote from Walt Whitman that I love: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes."

Don Gray said...

Sara, you're so kind--your positive comments make my day!

Don Gray said...

Sheila, it's heartening to hear you and other artists speak of how the artist's "voice" remains recognizable even though subject and stylistic approach may vary. This comforts me. I think there are a lot of "shallow lookers" out there who don't see deeper than the surface differences from work to work.

I love your willingness to keep searching, Sheila--your paintings show great strength for it. Stay on the journey!

Don Gray said...

Thanks--that was totally witty, Bri. Who else could have thought of it?

So soiree you couldn't make it too...next time!

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Randall (RT)--your comments mean a great deal to me.

Simon Jones said...

Don great rocks, this has been a constant theme for me, on 2 or 3 occasions I have been actually accused of not painting my own work! This brings out a complex of emotions, first of all, what on earth qualifies someone to say that, secondly, what a limited , packaged, preconceived notion it is that an artist should stick to something as shallow as style, and thirdly, a deep sense of my own moral superiority, for too many reasons to list!

Jean Victory said...

Don,
Love the stones...really beautiful...really pull me in. I enjoy this "less controlled" looser work and don't see why you can't do both. Take care!

Don Gray said...

I know what you mean, Simon. I once actually had a woman who visited my studio turn red-faced angry and lecture me, when the work was not what she expected to see. She said I had a "duty" to my public to give them what they wanted...can you imagine!?

There's at least a couple of ways to think about style. Style can be something contrived and concocted, or it can be the natural end result of finding an authentic, personal voice.

Thanks for weighing in, Simon.

Don Gray said...

Jean, thank you. I'm glad to have the moral support!

Steven P. Goodman said...

I can relate to your preference for working in a variety of styles. I think the trick is to do a fair number of pieces in the different styles and then the public will accept them. If it's just one piece that's totally different than your usual work, then it will seem out of place. My favorite artist who works in different styles (and gets away with it) is Gerhardt Richter. Thanks for sharing these pieces.

Don Gray said...

Hi Steve--thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts. I agree, it takes exposure to more than a few pieces over time. I have done a lot of more contemporary work, but have not made a lot of effort to show it.

Yes, Richter is one of the few artists who has built a major career while exhibiting more than one style. Picasso, of course, is another.

David Page Coffin said...

Thanks, Don, for showing these gorgeous stones in your blog so I got to see this "other" side of your vision, and for raising this issue about style consistency.

I spent a few hours forging a response when I got the post, then shelved it; too long, too personal, I'll save it for my own blog… But you definitely hit a nerve, so I'm back to see what others have said, and now to join the chorus myself in favor of YOU calling the shots each day in own studio, and not your audience or your marketeers, or your advisors.

That is, unless you see yourself as more of a product designer/market analyst than an artist… No? Thought not.

Don Gray said...

Hi David--thanks for your great comments and encouraging advice. You nailed it...exactly!

David Larson Evans said...

If we don't experiment we can't add to what we already know. Just follow the muse where it takes you.

Don Gray said...

So right, David. Thanks for coming by.

harry bell said...

I've come very late to this discussion, but I thoguht i should throw my two penn'orth in anyway. I'm another artist who's career has probably suffered through lack of style consistency. I'm fairly sure it's kept me out of the only worthwhile gallery in my local city since a successful show there in 1995. I have the chance to get back in later this year, but am already finding a problem in feeling the need to refer back to the style they so obviously like. *I* think there's a coherence in my work that says "Harry Bell did this", just as I see it in all of your work, but gallerists can be a blinkered bunch.

Don Gray said...

Harry, you may be late to the discussion, but I'm delighted you weighed in. I guess maybe we artists expect more out of galleries than they are usually able or willing to be. They are, after all, shopowners looking for a "product" they can market. In that sense, they really have very little to do with what an artist is about. I fault most galleries for too much catering to clientele, rather than trying to educate. However, if I owned a gallery, I would no doubt see the realities of their situation differently.

As to style consistency, I think most people are not conditioned to look much beyond surface. We lead busy, fragmented lives. We tend to want answers fast--to understand what we're seeing and categorize it so we can move on. Few are willing to take the time to see the connecting threads through different bodies of work.

Anyway, keep on keeping on, Harry! You'll be you, no matter what the "style!"