I'm done, finally, and I'm bursting with ideas for more paintings. I'm really glad I'm finished, but also really glad I had the opportunity to do such a long piece over such a long stretch of time. It was a real luxury. I've worked this large before, but always in a quick, anxiety ridden spurt. The piece I made last summer at Tufts was much bigger than this one, but I had about two weeks to do it, so I had no time for doubt or reflection. During the making of that piece I woke up, got as much food as I could get from the places that were open early or late into a bag, got to the gallery and worked as hard and fast as I could until, actually, I got so tired I cut myself with my stupid exacto knife. It became a private joke with me. I'd start that piece early in the morning, usually before the gallery staff got in, and I'd stay working as late as possible, getting more and more tired as everyone left the building. I was desperately afraid the whole time I was working that I wouldn't get done in time for the opening, and I'd over ride my normal sense of when I was too tired to work in order to eke out a couple more feet of work. (When you paint like I do, with stencils, under pressure, on big pieces, at a certain image density, it becomes a matter of how many feet one can do in a day. I've done enough of these projects that I know what I can manage, and it's remarkably consistent.)
At Tufts I reached new levels of tiredness. I was working well over 12 hours a day, and my feet hurt like crazy- by the third day I had developed such severe pain in one of my feet that I was having trouble putting weight on it. I limped out to accost a construction worker who was working on the building so I could ask him how people managed to stand on ladders all day without messing up their feet. The guy was very informative, and knew exactly what I meant. They wear steel soled boots so that their weight is distributed evenly: I switched my footgear and talked the gallery into loaning me their genie, and I was in much better shape for the rest of the time, but I was tired. The long hours and isolation gave me a boot camp mentality, and I plugged away at the piece as hard as I could every day thinking that it was great that I was learning that I could push myself so much harder than I usually did. By the end of each evening, though, I'd be in this foggy state of battle with my body, wondering if I should stop, if I was getting tired enough to start making mistakes or if I could just will myself to work a little longer. And at that point I'd accidentally stab myself with the exacto knife I use to make my stencils. On the first few days I'd stabbed myself I'd just shouted an echoing curse into the dark hallways and taped the cut up with painters' tape, knowing that there was no one around with bandaids. But as I kept working it started to get funny to me that I managed to cut myself every single day. It wasn't painful or serious, but I'd get so tired I'd reach for the knife without looking, and I'd have to tape up another finger. Eventually I decided that I would go home at first blood.
I finished that project on time and liked it very much, My work is, I think, better bigger. I agreed to do this piece for the airport without hesitation, and was only concerned that having to make the piece only 4' tall would make me too cramped (I usually make things as big as I can- never smaller than 6.5 feet). Given how long it took me to do the Tufts piece, this should have taken me about a week. But having time to think slows me down, and I made things more perfect, and I considered, and I debated each new plot twist in this running narrative. Having plenty of time to make this piece has resulted in a goldfish effect- I did lots of preliminary sketches, cut millions of new stencils, started over a few times, and played with the drawing phase of each section for longer than I ever can on site-specific pieces. It's been great, but it's also meant that I've been thinking my way through this piece in a much more murky way that I do the wall pieces. I've had time to wonder why on earth I'm still telling this story, to worry that I'm not being clear enough, that I'm being too clear, and to think that I should revise my whole way of doing art in the middle of the piece. It's been ridiculously difficult to finish this last section of the work. I never doubted that I would finish on time, but I started working more slowly, not wanting to be done with a project that I've become to feel was a friend- even if it was a friend that had been driving me crazy for months.
It's been great. And somewhere in the middle of it- actually, somewhere right at the beginning of the last section-I had an idea that is going to take me several years of exploration to work out. I'm very excited about it, and although I don't know that it will be immediately obvious to anyone looking at my work, this painting has changed what I'm going to do next in a profound way. It's a funny feeling. While I was working on a piece that was, for much of the time, frustrating because it demanded that I be so consistently attentive to a single narrative structure, I've turned a corner in my work. There's no appearance of this move in the piece- at least, there's a little, but not much. And my new pieces will likely not be so radically different looking from what I already do, but I know that something different has happened with this idea, and it's exciting enough that it will take me to a new place in painting for a couple years. The metaphor is the best way to describe it: the corner I've turned has not driven me off the road, but I can see that I've picked up speed, and it's a long fast road. Yay.