Reborn: Conversation With Renata 2

Republished from Aug. 6, 2013

Being reborn is painful. It seems that the process needs follow a certain course from catastrophe to searching and, finally, to the new being. There are probably other stages in the process, between those mentioned (similar to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief), and the final rebirth is itself an ongoing process, ever reaching out until another life altering event sends us searching again.

This is part 2 of the conversation I had with an artist (I'll call her Renata--meaning reborn) that began as a comment/question of hers on Facebook. What on the surface appears to be an attempt by myself to find the true meaning in her words was, in reality, my own personal searching out for what I truly believe. I'll leave it to Renata to say what it was for her.

The overriding theme to our conversation seems to be this: it's difficult to separate one's feelings from what may, or may not, be reality. In other words, because I see a painful event as negative doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

Part 2 of 3

Renata Ha ha! Thanks! It is, in a way, a rebirth. At least that is how I am looking at it. But now I have the problem of wanting to try so many things that I don't know where to start! It is like a child in a candy store, in a way!

Last night I watched several artists painting on YouTube--Peter Fiore, Casey Baugh, Jeremy Lipking--people I admire and accidentally found there. I really enjoyed that.

Recently, I took a Classical realism painting workshop with one of the instructors from the Florence Academy of Art in Italy...a very intensive and structured process. My usual style is impressionistic, and pretty much alla prima. This has made me stuck because there are aspects of both I like, but I feel stalled in employing one or the other.

So, last night, after watching those guys paint, I thought to myself that I should just paint like me and if I combine some aspects of both in a painting, then that might be interesting. I could also choose to do one or the other depending on what I paint. I am not certain what will come of this, but I am willing and even starting to get excited about exploring the process.

In the past I needed to stick to one style; I can see that as good advice for the emerging artist. This is not my case. However, seeing that I went to art school over 25 years ago, and even then I was already rising to the top in my commercial art business, my work was precise and carefully executed and I was like that until only about 7 years ago. Then I began to explore impressionistic brushwork in my oil paintings. It was great! Now, I feel myself drawn back to some degree of carefully planned work again. But I also do not feel that it is necessary to go completely back. So this is why I now feel the time has come to explore more, what wants to be expressed.

I am more mature in my work now, and more skilled. I think I did stay there, doing what the gallery wanted, I really do. I had no TIME to explore because they always wanted something, and they would want it quickly. Yes, I am a driven person. I am probably seeing opportunity as a tall wall to climb as well. Good noticing! Yes, the gallery was demanding as I was one of their better sellers and was starting to get noticed a lot. That doesn't concern me too much. I think what is also happening is that I am noticing how much I gave, more to them than for myself. There was barely a chance to breathe sometimes; at least that is how it felt!

I guess the bottom line here is, I was very comfy with sameness and yet was beginning to despise it because my opportunities were so limited to be able to explore. Now, I can do whatever I want but I am sort of 'frozen' in one way due to painting on demand ( in a sense of what was expected from me) and now the opposite since the world is now wide open! I hope this doesn't sound too bipolar; maybe it is.

I think I am 'untangling' demands vs. personal desire as an artist. We are a funny lot. I think I conform too much while rebelling inside. I think this is what happened to me. So now it is time to cut myself free from those ties which were good for a time. It is now time to just release myself and really explore and not be concerned about the outcome at this point.

It's not going to be easy to just let it happen because I have developed the habit of believing that everything I paint has to be a 'good' painting. I had to essentially keep that mindset for doing the gallery work. It IS self-imposed and I can change it. My motto had been 'failure is not an option' and it still is, but I don't want to push myself into believing that rigidly.

Anyhow, today I am going into my studio to work on something sitting on my easel since the beginning of May. I haven't lost my enthusiasm for it, so that is a good thing. However I do notice that I do not want to do anything for anyone right now. So that is where things stand now.

MT “Problem”, “stuck”, “stalled”, “stick”, interesting the words you use. And I was thinking it but hesitated to say it—your ”I conform too much while rebelling inside”; I can relate. I can relate to your feelings of trying to figure out a direction for your work also.

Interesting, for such a driven person there is indeed hesitancy in your words: “I should”, “I could”, instead of “I will”. These are baby steps. Someone said that you can’t jump a canyon in many small steps, it takes one giant leap!

Is combining aspects of different styles possibly a bad thing? You’ve set up restrictions on yourself it seems--you can do this or that--you seem to have to give yourself permission. That’s what style is—an amalgam of everything one has seen. Sounds like you hesitate in fear of doing something “wrong”. By fear, I don’t mean you’re physically afraid necessarily, but fear can be insidiously hidden from the conscious I think; what we think is rational decision making is in reality fear filled decisioning; it could be fear of failure maybe, being thought of as stupid, insignificant, not good enough, whatever one’s vise may be. Also, does it take will—your “willing”--to explore and create? “Willing” denotes a pushing, to me. Or does it take just letting go, acceptance, accepting that it takes bad paintings to make good paintings. When was the last time you cut a work to pieces? I say paint as many bad pieces as you possibly can. Frankl said (Man’s Search for Meaning) that fear is mother of the event, to actually try to do what you fear in order to nullify it’s hold on you.

You know, you may have feelings of wanting to explore and in the end you may come back to what you loved before, what you do now. But it is a journey one must make, like you say, whereever it leads. It is true that unlimited freedom can be daunting. But who, really, is making you “frozen”. No one can freeze you but you! I don’t discount your feelings, you feel what you feel, but because you feel something doesn’t make it true. What if, instead of seeing yourself as frozen, you are a bird flying in the sun-warmed air of the sky. You can fly anywhere you want, “the sky’s the limit”, literally; where would you go? Fact is you have to start somewhere and commercial art, the gallery, are all part of this sky. You’ve always been this bird. Does the bird believe she can fly? There is nothing wrong with carefully planned work, with tight rendering, with loose impressionism, nothing wrong with any of it. There is nothing wrong with what you decide to do, just know that YOU make that decision, you are responsible for your feelings even, no one and no thing can make you frozen, stuck or stalled, but YOU.

Your words are a bit like my Jackjack trying to climb the "for ages 5 to 12" ladder at the playground (he is 3). He is tentative, your words are tentative. You don’t yet accept/believe that this is indeed a chance at being reborn—your, “It is, in a way, a rebirth. At least that is how I am seeing it.” These are not the words of assuredness. Even from your previous, “It is neither negative nor positive that the gallery closed”, you don’t yet accept that it is a positive thing with meaning for your life. If it is neither then how can it have an impact on you. You sit the fence, a place I am all too familiar with.

I agree you are untangling because you are beginning to find meaning and understanding. You recognize your previous unnatural conformity. You are ready to set yourself free, like the little birds out of the nest that were living in my porch fern. “Release”. Yes release! You are free. You are still fighting your beliefs, though, with what is reality, and this may always be an ongoing battle. At once you say, “what happened to me”, and then, you will “release myself”. The latter is taking responsibility for yourself, the former gives all the power elsewhere (although “what happened to me” could also mean what you did to yourself).

A specific style, starting to get noticed, these are good things in my mind. My goal is a specific style, I’m not a modernist looking to say some profound commentary on life or politics. My work is representational on the outside and I want people to recognize it as they recognize me in a photo. We live in a certain world where we live off the money we make (I don’t denounce this at all but enjoy making money from my efforts) and so I must be cognizant of this. I still paint what I want but I may do more of a certain scene, for instance, that sells well. I do go by the idea of finding your voice first and then finding ways to sell it, instead of the other way round. But everyone must find their own way of doing it.

I was a commercial art/illustration major also in school and really enjoyed getting new assignments to think about and create. I think my emotional/psychological makeup made this more difficult for me in that my personal emotions seemed to want to come out in everything I did, instead of what a client might want for instance. I’m much more at home where I am now. But, I too am a bird in the sky trying to find my way. I do believe it is very important to see what is, in fact, reality and not just see through our feelings. Can an artist even do that?

You’re doing good Beverly if your haven’t lost enthusiasm on a two month old piece. I marvel at artist’s that work for months and years on one painting. My thing is trying to continue on with a piece to completion, I usually have said what I want to say in the first go of it, and once it’s out I’m ready to move on!

Renata Part of why I have become so stalled may be due to having been very ill recently from the side-effects of over-prescribed medication.

I had just finished one painting which I loved doing, and felt that I had found my voice, when I began to feel like I had a bad flu. So I rested, etc. but things did not improve much. This went on for (three months). I also was exhausted all the time....deep exhaustion, and had no will nor drive to even hold up a coffee cup. Then my hair began to fall out...(then) came a slow loss of memory and inability to complete sentences. I fell into a deep despair as well. The day I understood what it felt like to not want to live any longer was the day I said to myself that there is something else going on here.

I examined every part of my marriage, my relationships with others, my EVERYTHING! I could not find one external thing that was not good in my life. I am normally a happy, easy-going, laid-back person with a good sense of humor. All that was missing, and I did not know why.

After looking at these things (at least I still had my sense of reasoning!), I realized it had to be the medication I was taking... which was new on the market. I immediately took myself off it because I had many of the side-effects listed (for it).

I am now doing very well these last four months and finally feeling like the old (me) again...still the will and desire to do things is coming along with energy, etc. I started going to a TCM Doctor (traditional Chinese medicine) and have been on herbal medicine while undergoing acupuncture. I was told by this doctor (who is also an allopathic doctor) that these symptoms I had....despair, sadness, etc., were NOT Imagined..they were a result of the drug I was on. In two words, I was 'a mess.' As the new help began, I could feel changes little by little almost every day. I am not out of the woods yet, but doing extremely well.

So, while all this was going on I did not paint. I had to force myself to do two little ones in January for a group show. That was hard. During these months of slow recovery I have watched myself grow out of a paranoid state into one of more relaxed...but I think, as we have been discussing this in relation to art, that there MAY well be some work yet to be done.

As we have discussed, everything you have noted is true and current, however I also think that some of it has risen up from the depths as not having previously been looked at and/or dealt with. I think my insecurities were well-hidden while I was in that gallery because they approached me to be represented by them, but I did not feel at the time, that my work was ready to be in a gallery yet! So, MT, I have been battling with myself internally almost all along the whole time I was in there.

However, one year ago I felt like I had truly found my artistic voice and I began to produce work I was proud of. I now have some of those pieces retrieved from the gallery, and I still love them. I felt like I was on a roll and I wanted to do more of that work. Then I got sick, and I began to feel recently that maybe I had lost that.

While I was ill, I watched so many artists on YouTube and looked at the work of so many here on Facebook. I thought it was my lifeline to art, and it was. But now I am wondering if perhaps I got lost in it all. I think this is part of the 'untangling' process as let go, as you said, realize I am and always have been, free to do whatever I want!

Two weeks ago I did throw away quite a few 'bad' paintings...god, it felt cathartic! I have two more that were in the gallery, that will come out of the frames as well.

Yesterday I painted for five hours! I was totally lost in my painting, but I feel good about how I see it coming together. So I would say that, even with everything we have discussed, and it all hits home, I am an artist and I want to continue to express myself.

This discussion is also cathartic, MT. It is more far-reaching than just in my art. And it is all worth consideration...which I am doing by looking at and internally responding to each statement you are noting. So, this is a good thing...indeed, a rebirth!

Read Part 1 / Part 3

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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