Friday, September 5, 2014

Notes, Redux

Art can change your life
I'm convinced: that nagging feeling is correct - the one that tells you, "This can't be all there is."

Art is proof. It's a concrete portal to a renewed sense of real life, the promise of experiencing yourself and the life around you in a more authentic way. The problem is, in reality YOU are the portal, and art, like everything else, only reflects back what you bring to it. So what, exactly, is “real?”

Christopher Volpe, View from Laudholm Farm, York, ME

My practice tends to swing between abstraction and representation, which, unfortunately, are are often the terms in which I think of my work. Because every now and then I wake up and realize that it doesn't really matter - in reality, a painting is worthy (or not) for reasons other than style, technique, or artistic approach.

JMW Turner, Off Margate, c. 1850

The exhibition Turner and the Sea (which closed at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts on Sept. 1) demonstrated to me (among other things), that contrary to the Modernist's battle cry, a great artist need not reject or shatter conventions to create lasting works of genius.

I think what's needed for truly good work is the determination to combine inherited conventions with personal vision but to put that vision first - to make technique subservient to a moment of authentically felt heightened emotional perception. In practice this means to use all the art you possess to serve a preexisting sensation rather than to dress up a conventional landscape with personal touches - to begin with the feeling, totally unsure of anything else, letting go of the question of whether or not you are about to make a good painting. This is my new plein-air rallying cry.

Christopher Volpe, Provincetown, Late August

I realize that the unspoken assumption behind these ideas is that the quality of a work of art depends as much on the depth and quality of the artist's self development (as a person) as upon his or her "talent," training, or technique (a trap for artists at any stage). 

But if this is true, the resulting work becomes more than just a picture; it becomes a reminder that options are open and that much more is possible.

Cezanne, Still Life with Apples

Fortunately or unfortunately, it ONLY becomes real in the process of painting! Despite such promises of transcendence, working out an artistic practice in your head is like wrestling with ghosts.

So you paint for the sake of painting, waiting for the magic. Maybe the more often the magic comes, the easier it becomes to summon it (one can hope!). 

Quite recently, I've been able, for brief interludes, to stop overthinking it and just keep painting. It's like sleepwalking - even if, inevitably (as Billy Joel says), you wake up with yourself.

Christopher Volpe, Summer, Rocky Pond


  1. Thanks very much for these last two posts. You put into words ideas that have been very elusive to me lately. Your Provincetown painting is beyond beautiful!

  2. Great post Christopher! Very thoughtful words indeed. Love the new work - gorgeous!

  3. Some great profound ideas on making good, heart-felt art . . . thank you!

  4. This is a wonderful post Chris. All the things I have been feeling and thinking but didn't have the words...and you did. Thank you!

  5. Thanks Maryclare- nice to hear from you :-)