Bicycle Challenge

It was months ago that I was working on this painting, a scene that I spotted in a much- frequented compound here in Kingston (Dr Gomes’ office for you Kingstonians), of light dappling on yellow awnings, and a bicycle, and palm trees. Its initial horizontal rendering worked beautifully, apart from one area, which when I tried to ‘fix’ became two and then three areas that didn’t work, and then the whole thing got lost, as so often happens, and so, after many days’ work, I flipped it in frustration to the vertical, and took on less of the scene, and hoped for the best.

It turned out OK, and it’s found a home already, and the lady who bought it exclaimed when she saw it, and said, “It makes me happy!”, so I’m really glad about that. I do want my pieces to have a positive emotional presence and to calm people’s souls. So it has achieved that. At least for her. For me it was rife with issues – all those straight lines of the grillwork, and trying to have the metal bars look soft in the shade and not like a prison cell, and then of course the bike…. bikes are hard, at least for me, and it went through so many manifestations, none of which came out alive, and I eventually left it as is and put my brushes down in defeat.

I look at it now and mourn all that I lost, all the lovely little areas that were so good and to which heavy-handedness dealt a fatal blow… but, I don’t stay there. There was A LOT of learning in it: using a ruler was fun, and new for me, and I want to use them more because I really like straight lines (news to me); and I introduced a grid for the bicycle, which again was a fun accuracy tool that I’d not used for many years (in fact, I think I’ve only used it for teaching, to people who are new to drawing, but it’s a very handy tool that this painting reintroduced me to, so for that I’m grateful). And I got more experience using the newspaper, which is such a lovely element on the surface of a piece, but elusive, as it can only take the lightest of glazes before it’s lost.

So, I’m chalking it all up to experience, and there are other areas that I like; the brushwork of the shadow on the awnings, the drips coming off the building and suggesting palm fronds, the textured palm tree trunk that is all that remains of the first vertical painting, and so on. Indeed, it’s the smaller areas that work best. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that, to paint smaller and try and get what’s within a small space working, rather than have such big pieces that present so many problems when trying to make all the little places work as a whole.

As it happens, I can’t photograph the whole thing without glare and shine, so it’s best to enjoy the details in all their abstract mark-making cameo glory….

But I do have to ask, what is it about us artists that has us struggling after something that we can’t even define? Why are we never satisfied? I’d think it was just me that sinks to depths of despair if I didn’t teach art, and am therefore a witness to others’ frustrations, and the subsequent coaching is as much a part of teaching as anything technical as they too struggle with finding satisfaction.

I garden too, and it doesn’t cause me ANY grief, and the flowers are way more beautiful than my paintings will ever be, so what is the problem?










‘The Bicycle of Many Moons’, Oil and collage on panel, 48″ x 36″