I visited the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, UK. Sargent really is amazing in his portraiture and brushwork. The two images here are two of my favourites from the show. He depicts his Parisian art teacher, the French portraitist, Carolus-Duran, and Eleonor Duse, an Italian actress who found international fame.
My great love is for figurative painting. It is what I specialised in during my training, love to paint most, and is what I follow in other artists. Strangely, it is my landscapes which seem to sell and make me a living from my art. This has led to a practise that has not gone in the direction I would most like.
Selling a style of art that is not what you are most excited about but allows you to make a living definitely makes things tricky as an artist. It has been over 10 years since this happened to me and I find that my figurative work, although it still exists, has suffered. The following are two examples of my landscapes that do really well commercially.
These landscapes are quick for me to paint. It does take some time to find new subject matter, build the stretcher frame and canvas, but I can put together a body of work in a couple of weeks from nothing. I initially started doing these as a relaxation from the figurative work that would take longer before pieces were finished. It was nice to finish something in one sitting and be able to not go back to it.
These two paintings came from my first body of work called "Water" which I submitted to get excepted into my masters program in London, UK. I love doing the large figures.
Then I did this piece, "Self-Portrait: My 3 Plates". It was to be the first of my "Metalhead" series which would then lead to my "Liberia" series. So why is it that the landscapes sell so well and although I get good feedback for my figurative, they don't sell as well?
I understand a landscape is a pretty picture to put on a wall. People like my tranquil scenes. It is easy art, easy to access, easy to live with, easy to look at. But what about more interesting work? I made the decision to keep my landscapes exclusively within Canada, where a gallery carries them and sales seem easier to come by. I could then focus on my figurative work in the UK and Europe, where edgier work seems more accepted. But recently another artist in my London studio, who sells extremely well, suggested I market my landscapes in her London gallery. Now I am in a dilemma. I have always thought I was a fast and prolific enough painter to be able to carry both off, but my mind doesn't seem to want to pour as much into the figurative when there is more money to be made.
I met a lovely artist, several decades older than me, who also straddles landscape and figurative as well as two countries (Canada and Mexico). She also sells more landscape work. But when the recession hit she sold nothing and said to herself "I might as well paint the most monumental work I can imagine". She painted large scale figurative work that I spotted through her studio window when I met her. I think it is by far the better work.
Part of me wants to still do some landscape, but most of my work should focus on the figurative to bring it up to that higher calibre feel that my landscapes seem to be. But I have to not "churn" out my landscapes. All my work should be of a calibre that I am really proud of. I have not always bothered to achieve this. The other problem is too much variety on my website…but that is another post.
Having just read over a few old blogs and comments on WITWIM about my art dilemmas I am reminded that honesty in my work and what I strive to achieve and create is the most important goal.