Hang­ing up the Brushes by Trevor Weekes

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - Trevor Weekes is rep­re­sented by Stella Downer Fine Art, Sydney. www.stel­lad­own­erfin­eart.com.au

ES­SAY Trevor Weekes

There is a per­cep­tion that an artist will go on for­ever. The idea of hang­ing up one’s brushes is for most a hor­ri­fy­ing thought and con­jures up a vivid pic­ture that pro­vokes imag­in­ings of im­pend­ing doom.

This co­nun­drum has been with me for a while. Not giv­ing up, but won­der­ing why one would do such a thing. When I de­cided to write some­thing about it, I thought some re­search might be ben­e­fi­cial. To my sur­prise, although I don’t quite know why, there were many writ­ten pieces on the sub­ject. Prac­ti­tion­ers re­lay­ing their story, of­fer­ing ad­vice and com­fort to the young hope­fuls seek­ing re­as­sur­ance that the life of an artist is one worth pur­su­ing, wrote some. Of course aca­demics pre­sented sta­tis­tics that re­in­forced the no­tion that the life of an artist is not one for the faint­hearted.

But who wants to hear that? Af­ter all, what could be bet­ter than a job do­ing the thing you love, with the pos­si­bil­ity of fame and for­tune? For the sea­soned vet­eran who has made art their life be it full­time or sus­tained with some part-time ‘real’ work, the thought of mone­tary for­tune or win­ning the odd art award is no longer what it is about.

The vi­sion of my end was stand­ing in front of a can­vas; my heart has just given up. I drop to the floor (in slow mo­tion) my hand held high clutch­ing a loaded brush that cre­ates a line of paint cut­ting down­ward across my nearly com­pleted paint­ing. The trail con­tin­ues to the floor and a pool of cad­mium red from my spilt paint jar flows across the floor em­u­lat­ing a crime scene. I am dis­cov­ered days later in a prone po­si­tion, clutch­ing my favourite brush, with a smile on my face. But that was fan­tasy and per­haps wish­ful think­ing.

Dis­ci­pline is free­dom, but that is hard to be­lieve when you are strug­gling and lose fo­cus. To make some­thing worth­while, there needs to be a chal­lenge.

So what are the rea­sons for giv­ing up? Why would you stop do­ing what you love? It is not al­ways a de­ci­sion made by the artist, some­times the de­ci­sion is made for you. Does an artist re­tire? I thought this was one of the only oc­cu­pa­tions on the planet that one does not have to nor con­tem­plate re­tir­ing from.

I seem to re­mem­ber read­ing that artist John Brack an­nounced to the world that he was hang­ing up his brushes. At the time I was sur­prised and won­der­ing why? The idea seemed sad and lu­di­crous to me. On my quest for an­swers I asked sev­eral artists how they felt about giv­ing up. The gen­eral con­sen­sus was “I will make art till I drop.”

So, back to square one. The re­search re­vealed var­i­ous rea­sons why artists throw in the towel. There ap­pears to be two cat­e­gories: men­tal and phys­i­cal.

Un­der the ban­ner of phys­i­cal, the haz­ards for artists are many and if one were to read the tome ‘Health haz­ards for artists’ they would re­con­sider launch­ing into this life­style. Years of ex­po­sure to chem­i­cals take its toll. Even the phys­i­cal de­mands will even­tu­ally catch up. Stand­ing, sit­ting, lift­ing, chip­ping away at stone to name a few. The body rebels and screams out “I have had enough!”

Older artists are a de­ter­mined bunch. Their de­sire to carry on is so acute they take their af­flic­tions head on and carry on re­gard­less. It is adap­tion and ad­just­ment with as lit­tle com­pro­mise pos­si­ble. Lloyd Rees in his lat­ter years cre­ated pow­er­ful works de­spite the fact that his eye­sight was fail­ing. His vi­sion pro­vided lim­ited in­for­ma­tion that was trans­lated into mys­te­ri­ous, soft fo­cus works.

As long as our four great­est as­sets are still func­tion­ing even par­tially, then there is a chance to keep go­ing. The mind, the eyes, some limbs and the hu­man spirit. If one looks at the age of artists in the past quite a large num­ber died when they were young. But most pro­duced art­work till they died. With longevity come more chal­lenges.

The psy­cho­log­i­cal side con­tains a plethora of small com­part­ments. Any of them can send artists spi­ralling into frus­tra­tion, self-doubt, de­pres­sion, dis­il­lu­sion­ment, un­fore­seen ob­sta­cles, and in­abil­ity to solve prob­lems. Art mak­ing is a lonely one that is am­pli­fied if you feel no one re­ally cares about what you are do­ing.

Blam­ing one­self seems to be a foil that then jus­ti­fies giv­ing up. “I’m not good enough; no one likes my work” etc. What is the point?

Plato firmly be­lieved that the ver­bal lan­guage was the only ve­hi­cle of in­tel­li­gence. That at­ti­tude is re­flected in cer­tain sec­tors of our so­ci­ety where art prac­tice is con­sid­ered to be an easy pur­suit. This at­ti­tude can cre­ate doubt when val­i­da­tion sup­ports art as a worth­while oc­cu­pa­tion. It is said that giv­ing up is not the same as quit­ting. If that were the case it would then be a mat­ter of chang­ing the goal­post.

Most artists long for the ado­ra­tion, or the oc­ca­sional pat on the back. The no­tion that one must pay their dues and ac­cept pain and suf­fer­ing as a trade­off for the gift we have been given, may not be wel­come. In­stant suc­cess can cre­ate a false sense of se­cu­rity and that can be deadly. Ev­ery artist at some time or another needs en­cour­age­ment to go on, although some ex­pect that there is a for­mula, a quick fix, and in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. There is no in­stant suc­cess. It is a life long jour­ney laced with suc­cesses along the way.

To be pas­sion­ate about what you do is at the core but it is es­sen­tial to de­velop a strong work ethic and have the dis­ci­pline and mo­ti­va­tion when ra­tion­al­iz­ing the art of be­ing an artist. Dis­ci­pline is free­dom, but that is hard to be­lieve when you are strug­gling and lose fo­cus. To make some­thing worth­while, there needs to be a chal­lenge. Per­haps the words of Vin­cent van Gogh say some­thing about that. “I am seek­ing. I am striv­ing. I am liv­ing in it with all my heart.”

It is most likely every­one’s dream that they could in­deed eke out a liveli­hood do­ing the thing they love best. In Aus­tralia, there are a per­cent­age of artists who live solely off their work and have done very well. For the oth­ers this may seem that it is for the cho­sen few. To sus­tain a ful­fill­ing prac­tice, de­pends on what your ex­pec­ta­tions are and what you would be pre­pared to give up to sus­tain some kind of rea­son­able life­style.

The temp­ta­tion to give up is shared by many and there is not one clearly de­fined so­lu­tion. Do you get to a point where you be­lieve you know it all and you have done it all? That may be two good rea­sons to give up. Ge­or­gia O’Keefe states “To cre­ate one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” While Erica Jong com­mented that “Every­one has tal­ent. What is rare is the courage to fol­low the tal­ent to

the dark place where it leads.”

Much is made of courage and it ap­pears to be one of the com­po­nents one needs to be suc­cess­ful. But does suc­cess en­sure a long and sat­is­fy­ing ca­reer? “Suc­cess is not fi­nal, fail­ure is not fa­tal – it is the courage to con­tinue that counts” – Win­ston Churchill.

A num­ber of suc­cess­ful artists de­spite what would ap­pear to be an ideal life have taken their own life. Even Pi­casso in his dark moments be­lieved he would never achieve Mas­ter sta­tus. I don’t think Pi­casso’s ego would have al­lowed him to quit, de­spite those moments of self-doubt.

I think on the whole, most artists want to cre­ate for as long as they can re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances. For as long as time it­self, hu­mans have pur­sued cre­ativ­ity and pro­duced art­works that have res­onated long af­ter the artist is gone.

The sto­ries be­hind the art­works may never be told and re­gard­less of whether the artist only ever made one great work or one thou­sand seems to be be­side the point. The work touches oth­ers in a mul­ti­tude of ways. Isn’t that what it is all about?

Shine brightly if only for a mo­ment.

01 Brushes 2, 2014, dig­i­tal on wa­ter­colour pa­per, 21 x 29cm Courtesy the artist

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