Why do artists keep doing 'the same thing'?

This week in the studio - new works to be exhibited at Kölner-Liste Art Fair, April 27-30, 2017.

This week in the studio - new works to be exhibited at Kölner-Liste Art Fair, April 27-30, 2017.

To my surprise I am once again painting the 'flower eater'.

I made the first version in 2009, and since then have made at least one new one each year. It is now almost a tradition. 

I start thinking about other artists who stay with particular motifs and realise it's a common practice - most artists have 'pet' themes. It's just that some are more extreme in pursuing them than others.

The Italian painter Giorgio Morandi (1890 - 1964) surrounded himself with the same collection of little boxes and bottles every day for forty years or so. Monet is known for his repeated haystacks and the Rouen cathedral; there are Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers, Frida Kahlo's symbolic self portraits, and Philip Guston's lightbulbs and smoking cigarettes. One well known French artist in our region, Claude Viallat, has been painting his repeated, stencilled lozenge shapes since the 1970's.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe

 So why do we do it?

Is it just because when you're on a good thing, you stick to it?  Not really.

I realise that everyone has their highly personal reasons and there's not one stock answer. The reasons seem to be tied to each artist's life theme. I like to think about 'life themes' - we each have one but often don't think about it or consciously recognise it. You too have a story and unique blend of life experiences that have made you who you are today.

Morandi's story is that he was conscripted to the army as a young man during World War One but had a breakdown so was sent home. He was a quiet introvert and craved peace, privacy and tranquility (probably as a reaction to his war  time trauma). His genre was 'still life', but not like anyone before him.

His work was a kind of meditation or mantra, so the viewer too would feel a sense of peace.

He de-personalized his objects by removing their labels, and painted them using flat matte colour, with few reflections or distracting details.

Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi

Monet, on the other hand, was captivated by light and reflections, changing perceptions and nuances.

Perhaps his 'life theme' was transience - the fact that nothing stays the same, everything is in a state of flux, and it is important to capture the moment; carpe diem. After moving to Giverny in 1883, of his paintings were made within three kilometres of his home.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Claude Viallat discovered his lozenge motif by accident.

A large sponge he had been using to paint with started falling apart when soaked in bleach. He took the biggest piece, which happened to be a lozenge shape, and went with it - the mistake became his theme. Viallat says he likes not having to think about what to paint each day. His art is about formalism - shape, colour, texture and materials, so using a predetermined motif reduces the variables and decisions needing to be made.

Claude Viallat

Claude Viallat

Claude Viallat

Claude Viallat

As artists, we need to create constraints for oursleves, otherwise we could never decide what to do next.

When the entire world of colour, shapes, ideas and motifs is your oyster, it is like a child at an enormous international buffet - it is easy to get stuffed and make yourself sick. So we set ourselves limits, make some rules. Yes, the rules can be changed, but there needs to be a reason.

So, getting back to my own work and the 'flower eater' theme, what are my motivations? This is a much harder question. It is easier to figure out everyone else than look at your own reasons.

IMG_0267.JPG

One of my life themes is that I am constantly looking deeper.

I have a driving need to get below the surface, search for hidden truths, uncover secrets. As a child I felt excluded, invisible, deprived of information. My questions were not answered, I was just told to trust those in charge, fed 'spin' and expected to swallow the official line. As a result I became an intense observer, attuned to tiny nuances and details, placing bits of the puzzle together. I stopped asking questions and simply watched for clues. Everything could be learned by watching and listening closely. 

Well, I am still looking deeper. How does this translate to the paintings?

I try to make pictures that are mysterious and ambiguous because we are all mysterious and multifacteted. There is always more to see if you look more carefully. I discover more about the flower eater each time I paint her.  I love the languages of symbolism and metaphor. My flower eater is a contemporary Vanitas painting, mixing the languages of fashion photography with old master paintings. She wants to tell you some secrets.

PS Find the latest studio peeks on Instagram at aerfeldt_art

PPS I have been singled out for a special mention as one of the artists to see at Kölner-Liste Art Fair next week.