Lots of times I’ve been nostalgic for that period of my life when I first started painting, when I was a teen and felt such keen longing to be an artist. And yet when I was a teen, I was often miserable painting. It seemed so difficult and chaotic. Sometimes the painting unfolded in front of me in ways I liked, but just as often it became a mess that I had no idea how to untangle.
The butterfly painting unfolds in chaos now, and I forget as I mull over the mess of it that here is the territory over which I once longed. Decades have passed since I first “wanted to be an artist.” I have enough experience now that I could — right now — untangle this mess. I know exactly how to tame the picture so that it can become something crisp and realistic. I can get an orderly purchase on this image through stages.
But I’m NOT going to straighten it out. And it’s now that I realize what the nostalgia is about. If only I had known when I was younger to just walk into the chaos and keep going. It’s what I’m going to do now. The orderly means available to me — I’m not knocking order and prevision — they have their place — are options that I am going to reject. Something I want lies on the other side of chaos.
All I have to do is just keep putting paint on top. I am resisting the temptation to straighten this thing out. Instead, I’m going to go through it, just like you walk through a field of brambles. I close my eyes and imagine the stages of chaos, a bunch of lines here that later I discover are wrong, and brushstrokes of paint that form one layer that afterwards has to be annihilated, and ant paths through the image that circle back upon each other, or that wander around seemingly aimlessly — perhaps aimlessly in truth ….
And yet ants do reach their destinations eventually.