We've all been at that place. And by all of us, I mean those of us who have ever sat down to work on a particularly challenging jigsaw puzzle.
Our fingers wander over the pieces we pick a few up and look at them; turning them over in our hands to see them from different angles. We put them down and move onto the next piece, usually taken from somewhere far off on the other side of the table.
As this process develops and progresses we occasionally find two pieces that match in one of two ways. 1. they actually fit together or 2. They have something other about them that makes us connect them. Perhaps they both a part of the same face in the puzzle, or a topmost edge. In one way or another we have found two pieces that have something in common, and we set them aside.
However, two perhaps three times during the course of a puzzle. Something spectacular occurs. We bring together several small section to form a complete picture. That place that I mentioned earlier, is the moment you realize "this thing" goes with "that bunch of things". Prior to that moment you may have known that those pieces you've been assembling in two's or three are important. You know that they connect but you're not entirely sure how they go together. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, you pick up a piece which connects them all and all those disparate pieces that have been floating around as groups of two or three things (that in themselves mean little), coalesce into a united organic whole.
For me, that is painting.
I have spent a great deal of time bringing together so many separate pieces of this 12 billion piece puzzle that is painting. Not unlike that comedic legend Gallagher, I smash those paintings apart into all their disparate pieces and gather them up on to the table. And I have spent nearly all my time, putting them together. The son-of-bitch about this process is that I do not have the box to look at for reference; no edges to string together, no corners to rely on. To further complicate matters new pieces arrive everyday. I lay awake at night, mentally arranging pieces, re arraigning pieces throwing ones out, digging through the trash to find them later and throwing them away again. I am continually building a picture of something: what it is, i'm not entirely sure yet.
I had the opportunity to talk with Gerald Ackerman, not terribly long ago, while the Gerome show was still up at Getty. I was particularly interested to ask him at what point Gerome really became a mature painter. He thought for a moment and replied that Gerome really hit his stride upon exhibiting "Duel After a Masquerade Ball":
If you are going to get into a sword fight.
Don't be the guy wearing the clown suit.
Not every painting after this was same of course. Gerome really continued to evolve as a painter throughout his life but here, something jelled for him.
I've felt frustratingly close to discovering that piece for a couple of weeks now, and it's a project I've been working on for months. Possibly years. Today I was sitting on my shower floor looking at my feet (It's what I do when I'm in the shower) habitually running over those pieces in my mind.
And BAM. It hit me.
By it hit me, I mean the shower-head fell of the holder and hit me.
It wasn't hard but it was enough to wake me the hell up. And in the moment of annoyance I happened to look at a glazed painting I had hanging in the bathroom. And not unlike Isaac Newton, being hit by an apple, I had discovered the missing piece of the puzzle while laying on the bathroom floor.
I have a lot of work to do now. I have so many small piles of partially assembled ideas and there is much to assemble. As such I'll leave you with what I worked on this week. I paint a self portrait every year, but I hadn't drawn one in a while. Oddly enough it look as though I'm looking at a puzzle piece trying to figure out where it goes. I expect my next self portrait will look much different.
Are YOU hiding my puzzle piece?
*While Isaac Newton did not discover the theory of universal gravitation while laying on the bathroom floor after being hit by apple, it does make for a comical mental picture.