It seems to me that life is one big search party. We search for ourselves, our purpose, our loves…we discover who our friends and family really are. Growing up, no one ever tells us that most of the questions that we ask as youth are unanswerable using someone else’s words. As we all end up learning, we need to find these things for ourselves.
It should come as no surprise that as an artist I prefer imagery over words. I often struggle to unearth the right words to explain how I feel, which is especially evident right now during the tumultuous time that we find ourselves in. (And yet I start writing a blog *eyeroll*). Even answers to simple questions such as, What are you working on, When is your next exhibit, even How are you, have been escaping me. The creative professions, specifically the fine arts, are impacted differently than other fields of work when the world is turbulent.
What does an artist do to keep a positive vibe in their work when the world is burning, or during a bitter cold winter, or during a time of great personal struggle? Some artists turn to dark art, changing the direction of their work. That may work for some artists. But hello? Have you seen my work? I am Peter frickin’ Thaddeus, painter of vibrant artwork full of life, love, and pride. I see in color. How could I possibly turn this body of work into something as angry as the world that surrounds us? What does an artist with an upbeat artistic vibe do to protect against the darkness around us?
I think it’s physically impossible for me to create dark or angry art. Believe me, I’ve tried. The darkest I've gotten was a black and white (ish) series of paintings years back. What began as deep brooding paint strokes on canvas turned into a series of Old Hollywood celebrities like Hedy Lamar and Jean Harlow…from that fabulous photo shoot of her with the vase of what I believe were hydrangeas. Sure, they aren’t colorful like most of the work I’ve done otherwise, but they are far from “dark”. I love me some old movies. Silent horror is amazing. The visuals without knowing what is to come because there are no audible words—brilliance they probably didn’t even know they had. If I tried to paint these scenes they’d view more as “Young Frankenstein” than “Nosferatu”.
More recently than the Old Hollywood celebs, I've started using a rain motif in my work. I love the rain. Not at an outdoor art show of course, but I’ve had some of the best times in the rain. It’s also a sign of renewal and life. Once your hairdo is already ruined there’s really no sense in fretting, right? I use rain as an overlay in some of my work—imagery I really wanted to paint, but the rain adds one more element, one more challenge if you are predisposed to see it that way. That said, my rain motif is meant to be, and I think generally seen as an added element as opposed to something sad or dark. At least the way I paint it.
It’s my nature. I’m predisposed to the positive, whether I like it or not. Of course I don’t always feel happy. I can’t even count the number of times just this week that I wanted to throw in the towel. Or throw that towel at the wall, or out the window. Or wrap that towel around a rock, set it on fire, and throw it through said window. To be certain, these are tough emotional times for us creatives who spend our lives exploring our own expression in all times, good, bad, and otherwise, only to make the final product visible to a world that may or may not feel a connection to it.
With all of this swirling in my mind, I have to say that if I’ve been successful at anything in my 20+ years as a professional artist, it’s keeping my work bright, upbeat, and unique.
So what’s my secret? I have a few.
First, I have created my own world. I’ve done my best to create studio space that is another home…a creation station where I can block out the world for specific periods of time to focus on forming my visuals of expression and send them back out to the world as I rejoin it. During winter I spend long hours in the studio creating and planning. The short days never bother me, because my hours are so long I often never see the gloom of the outdoors (with the possible exception of a walk to and from the house, as my studio is on the second story of my detached garage). I store my vibrant collection of paintings partly on the walls of my house to keep my mood up when I'm there, and the rest I store in my studio…within eyeshot of the painting area. This distance is close enough to give me energy from the work, but far enough so as not to influence my next piece too much.
Influence. That’s a question I get quite often. What famous artist influenced me? Judging by the looks on the faces of folks who have posed that question over the years, I never seem to have an acceptable answer to it. There really isn’t an artist that my work is “influenced” by in terms of style. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the work of many artists, and can even sometimes find commonalities in other artists work when I think about it. I love the color-play of the Fauves, the simple brilliance of the art of Keith Haring, and the comic intrigue of Roy Lichtenstein, but I’ve never thought to spin off of any of their styles. I’ve always frowned on the idea of recreating others art (except during the learning process of course). This is part of me creating my own world. I would much rather craft something in my brand than model my collections after an artist already famous for their style. This has been the key to the uniqueness of my work. Even if it means I’m starting from scratch in getting the world to see and understand my work. I’d rather be authentically fresh in my approach.
What is another secret to keeping my work upbeat? Constantly being conscious of the difference between my input and my output…my input being how I feel, and my output being what the world sees. Just because I’m angry when I paint something doesn’t mean it will look angry. Often times my strongest emotions, when paired with a paintbrush, create a focused vision on canvas. My input changes as my mood shifts while creating a piece, and by the time I get towards the end, I’m more conscious of what that piece is portraying to the world (my output). What feeling or emotion is this output evoking? It varies from painting to painting, but most often I hear “happy”, “powerful”, “wow”, and the like. More recently I’ve gotten tears…from happiness or poignancy, either way, I still consider those “positive” tears. As I approach the point where a painting becomes more complete, I consider its output and decide whether I can imagine others feeling such feelings. If so, I continue to complete the piece as planned. I want my pieces to portray progress, both in style and substance. Jumping down a dark rabbit hole is not what Thaddeus Art progress looks like. I didn’t even like writing that sentence. Most of this thought process is second nature to me now.
Aside from all that, and maybe most importantly, I’m able to keep my artwork upbeat during the down times because I try everyday to surround myself (virtually or otherwise) with those people who make me feel that there is always room for more good in this world, the kind of good that is beautiful, that is healing, that is fun.
We may not ever get all the answers we seek and as barriers pop up along the way, every one seemingly worse than the next, it's worth reflecting and remembering just how we were ever able to see clearly in the first place. To me art is not only a snapshot of any given time, but it is a beacon, leading us to our next discovery.
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As an acrylic painter, I use my soft bristle brushes to tell a story of love and pride in vivid, contrasting colors and strong whimsical line work. I portray a love for life and the magnificent creations this world has to offer, and love of the diverse array of people that occupy our spaces and the relationships they enter into. In my work I celebrate pride in the communities we come from and live in, and pride in ourselves, embracing who we are in bold fashion.