Tag Archives: Bob Thompson

The Creative Zone

Bill Barrell, the artist, wants to know….. what makes an artist keep on searching for the masterpiece of masterpieces?

Bather, oil on canvas, 2007


…. Someone said “art is ninety five percent perspiration and five percent inspiration”. How right they were. So, what does make an artist keep on searching for the masterpiece of masterpieces?

There is a lot of work before touching a blank canvas. Building stretchers, stretching canvas, priming the canvas, cleaning brushes. But once finished with this mundane stuff one can dive into the blank void. There sits the blank canvas waiting to be transformed by you into a work of art.

Some painters are format painters transferring an image to the canvas and having pre-mixed paints. This format does not work for me. I cannot get into the zone via this route.

It is not easy for me to get into the zone. I have to start probing the surface with shapes forms and colors. These shapes forms and colors then begin to struggle with one another trying to find harmony with one another. A beautiful shape often appears by the elimination of what one thought was a great form. The battle begins between the seen and the unseen.

Soon one begins to probe the depths of the mind, rummaging around trying to understand hidden thoughts and meanings, images long forgotten now becoming relevant to the current situation. This process is so engulfing that before one knows it you are in the zone. It all becomes so clear as to what the painting needs. Layers of inhibitedness peel away.

Picasso, who was a trained academic artist who drew plaster castes and did portraiture, had to reinvent himself. In those old academic days, painting was like many other professions- a learned skill. Artists such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse and others had to break out of that train of thought. Picasso had watched his children paint and draw and he aimed for that freedom from what academia said art should be.  Being the great master that he was, Picasso was able to overcome the rigid training and used it all to his advantage. These artists turned the whole academic process inside out and it was a great turning point for art.

The next turning point was American abstract painting. Willem deKooning could really wield a brush. He had a lot of academic training, but I believe his real training came as a house painter. I have done a bit of house painting and it’s not easy. To be able to paint window sashes one has to be very adroit at running that paint down without smearing it all over the glass. There is a rhythm to it. It’s called running the paint as you chase a loaded brush down a window pain. I know it has helped me in my work and I can see it in deKooning’s work.

I also watch and learn so much from my grandchildren when they paint. They are in the zone all the time. As time goes by, this will change as they are introduced to formal art in school. Later in life, if they become artists, it will take years to peel away the layers of obstructive teaching.

The zone is a hard place to get to and there are no easy ways. I know artists who have used drugs to get there. They feel like the drugs get them into the zone and who knows, perhaps it does in some cases. But for many it’s an illusion. I knew Bob Thompson, a truly great painter. There were times he would use drugs to get into the zone. He died at the early age of 28.

So, I am always intrigued with getting back into the zone for the next truly creative experience.

Have you been in the zone lately?