Up To The Blue, 14 x 21 inches, oil on canvas
San Francisco is really difficult to paint. Technically, it's not any more difficult than any other city, or any other subject, for that matter. (OK, it's a little easier to fake a tree than to fake a building) What makes SF so difficult, at least for me, is that it's been done so many times by so many great painters, and these iconic views of steep hills, while irresistible, have become predictable.
How do you differentiate your view from the rest, especially when they're all painting the same thing? This is a question I've struggled with for years. I've tried to look for unusual angles and croppings, but while those did result in unexpected views, I felt they weren't really me. They looked contrived because they were. They can each be good paintings, but because I was forcing myself to be different for the sake of being different, it meant that they really weren't grounded in my identity. And inevitably, I would burn out after two or three paintings.
Eventually I've come to accept the notion that what differentiates my SF cityscapes aren't found in unusual views or clever cropping. My identity is found in my choice of colors, how I put them down, what I chose to edit out, how I structure values in designing a picture. The fundamental things that, when combined, result in a moodiness that feels like something from my own past. And the ordinariness of view is an essential ingredient precisely because I feel compelled to express the subtler aspects of my visual experience, which would be overwhelmed and overshadowed by the unusual, the contrived, the spectacular, the awesome.
Don't get me wrong–I'm not saying I strive to be predictable. I'm saying we see the subtle things more readily when our senses are not dazzled by the unusual. And I have this suspicion that somewhere in those subtle aspects of the ordinary is where I'll find my identity.
Took me 20 years to realize that, and I'm still looking for it.