On being an artist

Colin Gibbs’ comments about painting

Knowing what to paint
I usually paint in series of works—perhaps because in a sense I see creativity as the exploration of a theme, not simply the production of something unique or novel. Otherwise sparrows would be creative when they build nests, as would spiders when they create webs—maybe they are? So once the inspiration for a series is initiated (usually by sensing a feeling of an inner calling or urging), I contemplate what size works are appropriate to satisfy that urge and then prepare them in accordance with these impressions. I try not to vary from what I sense deep down, for usually my first premonitions, or at least those that are enduring, are the ones that inevitably bear fruit. In working on a series it is not uncommon for the first work to be completed last, and the last to be completed first. Somehow there is an energy that builds during the process. But when it is done, it is done. There are no more for that series, or at least if there are they are likely to be imitations of the former. So I resist the call to do more in a series.

Painting is not about reproductionfor me, it is always something about revealing more of the self.
After completing and exhibiting a collection of his works, New Zealand’s contemporary artist Colin McCahon said
I must say, I do feel pleased about the last paintings… they were good…. Now, I just can’t paint. This last summer’s series just wore me out. The next lot has to be better and I just don’t feel capable of being better yet. I have the awful problem now of being a better person before I can paint better.
(cited in Simpson, 2001, p. 105)

Certainly, my experience as an artist suggests that the deep inner reachings of the painter seem to lead to more interesting and powerful statements.

Building relationship with the canvas
As an artist, more often than not, I find that the basic shape of the canvas is visualised first, though the image of the possible painting is rarely seen. When constructed, this canvas is primed not just to give it tooth so that the paint might adhere, but to also build texture. Importantly, however, the priming process is a period of accustomisation, of becoming both familiar and intimate with the canvas. Each canvas has its own individuality. Knowing when to cease priming and when to commence painting may be best described as the inner knowing which resonates with something like ‘begin now’.

Planning is an enigma for the artist
Clearly there is a need for contemplation, incubation, and visualisation. But a sense of any perceived prescriptive, completed and detailed visualisation of a final outcome is rare, as is the process or techniques that might be used to achieve the work. Rather, planning might best be described as beginning at the place where intuition asserts itself. This leads to the selection of paint, colour, and brush or implement, and indeed where to begin on the canvas. There is an embedded risk not so much in ‘making a mistake’, but rather in the tension between certainty and uncertainty about what is being done, and what is happening. At the same time, as an artist I try to be aware of the prevailing personal inner yearnings which, in my case, often relate to the commitment to principles such as producing work which is uplifting, liberating, life-giving, and embodying qualities of longevity.

Moments of silence even in the noise
The creative act seems to involve the personal need for moments of silence. Moments of personal silence are the spaces between inspiration, expectation, and appreciation. I see them as the stallings for contemplation before action, which fuel the emotions, passion, and the creative energies. Moments of silence seem to be necessary before the onset of the activity—a time for cognitive, aesthetic and spiritual preparation and alerting—but not always.

To hide a painting
There are times when paintings become ‘stuck’. It is at these points when often I find I need to hide the painting from my view for some time—maybe days, but sometimes months. When it is revealed again, many times the solution is almost instantaneous.

Power in the spoken word
There is power in words. One lesson I have learned is that I resist speaking about work in progress as much as I can. What I have found is that the speaking out about intention, somehow leeches the power of creativity. While the words may be excited when they speak, afterwards the artist becomes empty. The painting in process somehow loses its power.

Just when is a painting finished?
There is a point of knowing the time at which it is clear that a painting is finished. Interestingly, to continue working beyond this point inevitably leads to destroying the work rather than improving it. Simplistic though it seems, it is a point at which there is an inner voice saying ‘yes, it is finished’.

Examples of works in different series are listed in the submenu to the right.
© Images of artworks by Colin Gibbs on this website are copyrighted
© Photographs are copyrighted to Colin Gibbs and Lezanne Gibbs