Talking to My Paintings

October 11, 2020 

About 15 years ago, I flew across the country to attend a seminar in San Francisco where I learned what a “blog” was and why and how to create one. Over the next few weeks, back at my job in Atlanta, I excitedly shared my newfound knowledge—via PowerPoint!—with decisionmakers at the company that employed me as a corporate communicator, recommending we start one of these blog things. “It will elevate our brand and position us as a thought-leader,” I espoused confidently, drowning the room in corporate-speak. I might have even aimed a laser pointer enthusiastically at the screen to highlight an especially astute point; I can’t be sure. At any rate, we did create a company blog. It was fun. It lasted a year or two. Later, after I departed for another job in another company in another city, I heard that the blog unceremoniously disappeared.

All these years later, I am again recommending we start one of these blog things. This time, the decisionmaker I’m trying to convince (minus the PowerPoint) is my current employer: Me.

I’ve been away from the fulltime corporate world for a few years. Now, instead of spending my workdays talking to executives in high-rent corporate offices and boardrooms, I mostly talk to the paintings on my easel in the room above my garage in rural Vermont. I also interact with my two colleagues, a Beagle and a Pomeranian, who glance up occasionally from their cushy beds and regard me with mild concern as I blather away at my paintings before they quickly lose interest and go back to sleep.

What do I say to my paintings? Sometimes I implore them to stop looking so disjointed and “become something cool, please.” Other times I express disgust with a color that looks more like something I stepped on in the backyard than the “ethereal shade of umber” I was attempting to mix. Often I say positive and constructive things, like, “Ooh, that’s a beautiful color,” or, “Where did that come from? I love it. Please don’t [bleep] it up.”

Yes, I realize these conversations and exclamations—these raw, unfiltered, impulse reactions that pierce my dogs’ peaceful slumber and sometimes make me laugh out loud for their absurdity—are just self-talk. But whatever they are, they’ve become a big part of my painting regimen.

Painting in a room above the garage is a solitary activity. But although I’m generally physically alone there as I paint—dogs notwithstanding—I often hear myself repeating wise instruction I’ve received from experts during various workshops, or helpful advice offered by patient, talented artist friends, or other lessons I’ve picked up here and there. On rare special occasion, I like to imagine I’m channeling helpful tips from beyond—maybe from Klee or Chagall or af Klint or Kandinsky.

Ultimately, I figure, if these “conversations” with my paintings keep me creatively engaged, and if they help me paint works that I’m willing and even sometimes excited to share with others, then I won’t stop talking to them. But if I ever report that I’ve begun communicating with my paintings via PowerPoint presentation, please send help.