How Artists' Work Evolves over the Years / by Jeannine Cook

There was a really interesting interview on Sunday on Radio Nacional de España about the fact that the Marlborough Gallery has been open in Madrid for twenty-five years and is exhibiting work "then and now" by many of the artists with the gallery all that time. They call the exhibition "The Labyrinth of Time". Painter Alfonso Albercete, sculptor Blanca Muñoz and an art critic and historian, Francisco Calvo, were discussing the implications of exhibiting work done during that timespan.

The discussion got me thinking about my own evolution as an artist in the past quarter of a century.  As both those Spanish artists also said, there is a consistency and unity to the way I conceive of making art and the subject matter that interests me.  The approach to art-making evolves, for certain, but I am still just as fascinated as I was long ago in how nature not only looks from a distance but how it is amazing close up. 

Originally, I did a lot of landscapes, both in watercolour and in silverpoint, once I had begun to understand the Georgia coast, and how the environment worked. I really believe that no matter what an artist depicts, as deep a knowledge as possible about the subject helps subtly inform the art.  It is not only theoretical knowledge that helps, it is on-the-ground, direct and often plein air experience that somehow filters into your brain and soul, lending depth and authenticity to an artist's work.

 Tabby Ruins at Chocolate, Sapelo Island, silverpoint

Tabby Ruins at Chocolate, Sapelo Island, silverpoint

 Sunlit Fugue, silverpoint

Sunlit Fugue, silverpoint

As I worked on though the years, I began to get really fascinated in the technical, and thus expressive, possibilities of silverpoint, this early medieval technique of drawing in silver that has become so relevant again in the 21st century.  I eventually concentrated on drawing, rather than painting, and I also started to zero in closer and closer to subject matter.  Instead of drawing a whole tree, for instance, I have become enthralled with the elegant complexity of its bark. I love to observe how its groves and patterns tell what kind of tree it is (like our fingerprints), what weather conditions have affected it,  how it naturally ages and strengthens over the years, whether it twists or undulates, thus creating wrinkles and creases - just like us humans as we age! If that bark is drawn close up and in detail, it becomes a seeming abstract piece of art. Yet it is in fact utterly realistic.  We just are not usually used to looking so closely at everything. The same applies to stones, shells, flowers and so many other aspects of nature.

 At the Shell Mound, silverpoint

At the Shell Mound, silverpoint

Nonetheless, in the past twenty-five years, I have apparently remained true to my original visions and fascinations.  I have just gone deeper into their complexities and beauties. Almost blindly, intuitively, I have sought to explore and celebrate the interstices of nature's structures.

 Ashantilly Tabby, silverpoint and white gouache highlights

Ashantilly Tabby, silverpoint and white gouache highlights

 Oyster Dance, silverpoint and white gouache highlights

Oyster Dance, silverpoint and white gouache highlights

Painter Alfonso Albercete, in the RNE interview about Marlborough, talked of creating art as a type of performance, starting with an idea, and then following the script in one's head until the performance, or work, was completed.  I am not sure I even have such a clear road map when I am drawing. I try to leave a very wide margin for serendipity, chance, whatever and almost try to turn off my brain so that I am drawing totally intuitively and unthinkingly.  Sometimes, of course, one has to be more deliberately organised.  Nonetheless, once I have had the first spark of interest and attraction, I try to let go of ideas, and I find that is when I do something different and hopefully valid by way of art.

 Cedar Burl II, silverpoint and white gouache

Cedar Burl II, silverpoint and white gouache

The Spanish artists also brought up another interesting and very valid point.  Most artists who work assiduously though the years have a lot of artwork stashed away, things that probably at the time of creation did not seem worthy of exhibition in some way or another. However, with the passage of time, when the artist goes back and looks at past work, this art is often viewed with very different eyes. Many unexhibited pieces can in fact later be seen as interesting, good art indeed worthy of being exhibited. Perhaps it is a different context, a different set of considerations, or perhaps the piece had unwittingly been created "ahead" of its appropriate time. In other words, there are probably many gems in every artist's storage racks!

At the end of the day, however, every artist needs to have a dialogue with a public that is involved in art, appreciating it, acquiring it, supporting it, embracing it in daily life. In today's turbulent world, there need to be islands of solace and serenity for each of us, and often, art that appeals to an individual can help create those quiet moments of intimate dialogue and contemplation. Those wonderful members of the public, around the world, who support an artist along the span of a quarter of a century are indeed to be celebrated. The reward, very frequently, for both artist and collector, is that deep bonds of enriching friendship are born thanks to art.