Heather Elizabeth Garland, “Narcissist/Mirror”, 40″ x 30″ oil and Prismacolor on panel, 2014
A second installment of our ongoing series, asking an artist how he or she decides to call. This time I asked Heather Garland, a painter living and working in Brooklyn, NY to talk about her work. Some of Garland’s works are open-ended, taking months or years to resolve and others involve distinct layers that she refers to here as “fairly step by step”. She has different modes of finishing and different perspectives. Here she also talks a little about the afterward of a painting. At the point when the painting itself seems finished, she feels some time needs to be given to understanding it, and thinking about what to do next. Visit her website to see more of her paintings and views of a recent installation, “The Wanderers”.
Are you a good closer?
I am a good closer. I work in a variety of modes from traditional oil painting approaches to repetitive drawing to mixed media installation. It all stems from painting, but with a hybridity of forms causing each “closing” to occur by different means.
Is it easy or difficult for you to be finished with a piece? Do you make a clean break or let it go kicking and screaming?
It is scary to be finished with a piece. When something is really good, I always have this gut fear mixed with excitement. Not everything that is completed has this quality/creates this stir in a heightened pitch, but when it does I know it’s something special.
In the work I have been doing recently (heart drawings overlaid with black shapes) there is a fairly step-by-step process. There is a feeling of relief and a little bit of pride when all of the steps are complete. The last one gave me that gut wrenching feeling, so I think it’s good.
When you call it done are you smiling? Is your relationship to finishing troubling to you at all?
When I am done I am critical. Finishing work can be troubling when I have been working on something for months and just see no end in sight, and conversely when it is finally finished. There are always the questions too; is it good? Was it worth it? Will anyone care?
I recently put away a 4’x5’ painting I had been working on for over 2 years. It is by no means finished, but its presence was so looming it was dominating conversation in the studio. Sometimes I don’t want to finish things. I had 5 other open-ended works that were pulling me more when I put the one away. I once had a teacher tell me “you can’t do what you don’t want to do.” It’s the truth. That piece will come back to me if it’s meant to.
When I finish a work that I have been at for months, there is usually a bit of shock. I will clean up, go home, and come back the next day. If it still feels finished, it’s finished. And then I just sort of stare at it for a while, and figure it out a bit more…and what to work on next.
How do you see yourself compared to your peers, in terms of how easily you call an artwork finished? How much does the idea of calling things finished affect the type of painting you make or how you define yourself as a painter?
In comparison to peers, finishing work (and making art in general) is a very individualized process. I go look at art, and talk to fellow artists about their work, and lives all the time…finish is not usually part of the conversation though…I mean that’s not entirely true. I talk to my friends about pieces that I’m having trouble wrapping up…Listen to their suggestions, thoughts…
If I have a particular painting I am in love with, but not finished with in my studio I will feel a pressure to finish when I have a show approaching. Like most artists, I tend to work in series, and I will usually have a number of works in mind for a show, but the timeline, the space and how much of it I will get to use will dictate what I present to the public more than the finish of a singular piece.
I don’t know how any of this can define me as a painter. I suppose I am fairly open ended in my work, which makes dates matter a little less. I am definitely a non-linear thinker, which I think defines my work and how it is presented to the world more than anything else.
Any other thoughts on finishing?
Thank you for asking me about my thoughts in general. Finishing work is an interesting topic to ruminate on. It’s something all of us do from time to time, and hopefully we each learn how to do it in ways that best serve our temperaments.
Read more about this project and the first installment of “On Finishing” with Anne Harris here. More to come!