Reflecting on a Bonfire


For a number of years, I have been following the blog of Canadian artist Robert Genn, now deceased, and his daughter Sarah who has faithfully continued his bi-weekly blog posts. I was struck several years back by a post about what to do with your art as the inevitable final time approaches. Among the recommendations was to destroy work while you are alive so that you might have some control over what you will be remembered by. His suggestion was to have a Grand Ceremonial Bonfire and turn those “dogs” that every artist has  produced into ashes. Well, I am currently well into my 8th decade and I do not intend to kick the proverbial bucket any time soon, nor do I intend to stop painting. But I have been faced with stacks of paintings, framed and unframed in my studio, and, quite frankly, I needed the space to store more! So during the  summer of 2021 I started downsizing the inventory.

Step 1 was to put some things up for sale at “bargain prices,” a fraction of what similar pieces sold in the past.  Gratefully, a number of paintings found their forever homes this way. Some were even given away.  Step 2 was to start unframing pieces so they would take up less room.  Going through so many paintings and drawings was like having my own private retrospective!( I have catalogued nearly 2000 paintings and drawings since I started keeping a record in 1979!!)   My, the places I have been!  But as I moved deeper into that process, I felt a sadness coming over me about the inevitability of pitching all of it some day or having someone else pitch it. I was not comfortable with the feelings that engulfed me.  So I had a much needed conversation with that sad part of me.  We had a good heart to heart. After a couple hours of writing in a journal, I no longer felt sad, but liberated.

Here’s the bottom line and what I learned from some little wise corner in my heart: I have loved every bit of the process of doing my art, from inception to completion to matting and framing, to sharing and selling.  And I still do—-very much.  The mistakes, the poor compositions, the muddy colors, the trials and errors, the crazy experiments were all part of the learning process so that at this point  in my journey, I can paint award-winning watercolors and, more importantly, I can find joy in what I do, unencumbered by pressure to paint something I don’t care to paint.   Every once in awhile, a friend from previous times in my life, will ask me if I am still painting.  It is not unlike asking if I still like ice cream or if I enjoy sunsets.  Of course I am and I do!

A good number of paintings or drawings , however, are in the process of being painted over, repurposed or simply lovingly torched in a sacramental bonfire.   I recently read something about fires in nature that are “good” fires according to native Americans.  Fires in a forest are natural occurrences.  They prepare the land to become more than it is.  They release nutrients and bring light to the forest floor, they allow new things to grow.  I am taking that thought into the Grand Ceremonial Fire as well.  the burning of paintings that no longer represent me or what I want to be remembered for makes room for new thoughts and inspirations.  It releases new ideas, new ways of doing old things.  And that is good.  That is very good.



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