Galatea, 18 x 14, oil on linen
If you remember your Greek mythology from your high school days, you will know who Galatea is, and perhaps can guess at the significance of the title. For those of you who don't remember, here's the short version of the story;
There was this sculptor named Pygmalion, who was not interested in the women of his village because they were all prostitutes and he didn't want anything to do with them. So he created this life size sculpture, which was the image of his ideal woman. She was so perfect that Pygmalion fell in love with her, and wished that she would come alive. Venus (Aphrodite) granted him this wish, and the sculpture came to life. They lived happily ever after. Her name was Galatea.
Now I'm not painting any "ideal woman" nor did the painting come to life, but I thought the title–suggested by a friend who is more literary than I–was apropos.
Here's how it happened. I teach a weekly figure painting class, and one day the model didn't show up. This happens from time to time, and it is very annoying when a model doesn't show and doesn't even bother to call. Most of my models are awesome and very reliable and I appreciate all they do for me, but sometimes one of them turns out to be a little flakey.
So the model doesn't show. I still have a class to teach. I decide to set up some still lifes with plaster casts of sculptures. They're not replicas of great Italian sculptures or anything - they're props for still life painting classes.
But that's OK. I have the students use them as references and paint. One curve ball I threw at them was that they had to paint them as if they were painting flesh, not plaster. They had to make up the flesh tones that they weren't seeing, which proved to be quite a challenge.
I did a little demo, and later on after class, I tried it again in my studio, using the same statuette. I worked on it for a few hours and abandoned it. It looked like a live model, but it was missing the artist's (that would be me) expression.
After several days, I came back to it and started putting more paint on the canvas. The surface was semi dry by this time. I began by putting more paint on the background, and started "cutting in" to the figure itself. As I became more comfortable, I became less worried about keeping the information that was already there.
And then I started repainting the figure, as well as the background, and generally pushing the abstraction. Most of my energy was spent on integrating the figure into the background. After a day or so, I noticed that the integrating part was nice, but I lost the drawing. So I needed to go back in and find my drawing again.
And here is the redrawn canvas. The light is different (changing north light, cell phone camera) but you get the idea. I particularly didn't like the gesture of her arm, and the position of the foot. So I redrew the figure using a small brush and a dark color, and basically repainted the whole thing.
This is typical of my process. I find that I have to be willing to redraw and repaint any and every part of the painting at any given point, or I become too timid with my brush. And with a timid brush, I can only do timid paintings.
So the plaster statuette became this fleshy semi-abstracted nude. I'm still not in love with her, but I love the painting. I thought Galatea was a good title for it.
Am I Pygmalion then? I have no feelings about that. But the concept Pygmalion effect is interesting. It refers to the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect yourself to be great, you will be great. Or at least, you will perform to meet those higher expectations.
We artists are always disappointed because our expectations are always higher than what we can achieve. But it is also true that because our expectations are always higher, we continue to improve. It's just that the progress is so damn slow and inconsistent, we become frustrated. But if you keep trying to meet your expectations, you will improve. The trick is not to dwell on how you didn't meet your expectations, but to recognize how far you've come since began this journey. You'll see that despite obstacles and wrong turns, you are definitely making progress. It's about the journey, after all.