Painting The Familiar

Published March 30, 2019 by Gail Daley Writer & Artist

When selecting what to paint or write, we all have familiar subjects or places we return to time after time. For me, when paging through my reference photos to paint a landscape, I inevitably return to a scene with water because I find water movement visually interesting. Perhaps this is why I find my own still life paintings so uninspiring, although I do often admire those done by my friends.

When painting do you revisit a favorite subject many times? I know that I do, despite having heard critics ask, “Why does he/she always paint the same thing” about myself or other artists. I take issue with the idea that painting the familiar will mean you are creating a clone of a prior work since I believe that even if you are attempting to re-paint a scene or subject that you have painted in the past, the painting will be different. you are not the same person you were when you previously rendered this subject so why should your art be the same? it is true that as artists we have the need to stretch our boundaries by working with materials and subjects we are relatively unfamiliar with, our life experiences and what we have learned will shape our work even if we are painting a familiar subject. If you returned to the scene of a previous work and painted the same scene would it be the same?

In my experience, the 2nd painting never comes out the same as the 1stone. For one thing, I have learned new techniques, and grown in my artistic abilities. For instance, I did two paintings, “Hunting The Levee” in 2002 and “A Man And His Dogs” in 2003. Essentially they are the same scene, taken from a single reference photo. However, in the 2ndpainting, I felt much freer to play with the tableau and add and subtract elements from the photo. So yes, I feel that returning “to the scene of the crime” as it were can be valuable to an artist.

 

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