It’s widely assumed that artistic ideas arise from an ocean of possibilities in a free, spontaneous, unfettered way. Perhaps the initial impulse to make something is free of inner constraints, but I often wonder about the rest of it. Every painting requires an array of decisions which are thrilling and fun to make, but the way they’re made probably owes more to well-worn grooves in the psyche than to anything resembling free will. The ley lines of ones personal psychology seldom become evident, but once they do, they’re hard to ignore.
I started out with this edgy but sweet little Persian Miniature, collected many years ago and promptly stuffed away in a file. It’s not unusual to find Eastern hetero-lovers gazing longingly into one another’s eyes, but two ladies doing the same thing while offering wine to each other is definitely unusual. Perhaps this is what the ladies of the harem got up to, or perhaps just what the artist hoped they did. A recent studio visit by Lisa McLymont and Cat Sheridan shook the image loose from memory and prompted a quick rummage through the files. At long last, I experienced a strong push to work something up.
I used nearly everything from the original painting to make my own. The figures, headgear, bolster pillow and position of the hands are all pretty much the same as in the original. I opted to stray away from the peeping tom voyeurism of the Persian version (the original seems to be an inadvertent peek at secret goings on seen through an open window). This meant figuring out what to do about the rest of the bodies, a problem solved by one cross-legged figure and one in kneeling pose. I used the same configuration in an old piece entitled “In Love With the World” from the Red Woman series. It has the advantage of putting both figures at eye level without abandoning the lower half of the painting to a boringly long expanse of legs. It worked once, so I figured it would work again.
After spending time with Lisa and Cat, I knew I wanted one dark skinned and one light skinned lady, but the decision as to which should be which came immediately and with no thought. Ditto for the clothing. The jacket worn by the lighter woman is based on what Cat wore on her visit, the rest is made up.
I wanted a contrast between the two women, which led to one femme and one less-femme figure, but I wonder about this. Is the lady on the left clothed in billowy trousers with a sweet pink top just for contrast, or did I put her in them for reasons not quite known to myself? Who offers and who receives? Does it matter?
I am struggling with a sketch for another work requiring similar decisions. The question as to whether I am capable of choosing freely is an open one.