STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 (Why Painters Go Mad)

Work in Progress: “The War You Will Always Have With You” starts to stare back


I have a saying that is only partially in jest: “Insanity is an occupational hazard  for painters.” Look at art history, especially during the Modern era, and the trend is pretty evident.

Now I happen to be a very sane and stable individual myself. At least I think I am. But I can understand why going through the process of creating art opens the psyche up for derangement.

The smallest dab or gesture on a painting can make it or break it. My wife Michele Bledsoe  and I are intuitive artists. We work it out on the canvas, trying to convey the contents of our minds without relying on preparatory sketches or source material. When it works, there is the thrill of discovery.

The problem is we never know in advance what the smallest dab or gesture might do to the entire composition. Until I see it myself, I don’t know if that little adjustment will make the canvas sing, or drag it into the abyss.

Fortunately painting is a very flexible, forgiving medium. Mistakes can be fixed. Lots of my painting process consists of reworking elements that just didn’t work well enough.

I had been working on my latest major painting, “The War You will Always Have With You,” for about 2 months before I had that eureka moment. I gave my lion pupils, simple little circles of white, and it was like suddenly there was another presence in the room.

The art was looking at me even as I was looking at it.

Since I took the photo above, I have completed this painting; it took about another month.  My next post on the subject will show the finished piece. But even after 25 years of painting, I am still amazed how a little change takes the art abruptly from raw to finishing touches.

I don’t buy into the romantic myth of the crazy genius. Real mental illness is a drab and frustrating experience, an obstacle to where great art really comes from. That’s why I’m glad to be a Remodernist artist. It’s a much more integrated and healthy philosophy than the fragmentation of Modernism, or the deceptions of Postmodernism.

“The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).”

The Remodernist Manifesto

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3

17 thoughts on “STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 (Why Painters Go Mad)

  1. Why painters go mad?

    Contemporary painters *don’t* unless they’re particularly uncareful with their oils.


    “Cadmium Yellow” was made from cadmium, a heavy metal.

    Some gesso and some white paints were made with lead.

    You know the phrase “Mad as a hatter”? Mercurous nitrate was used in curing the felt, which lead to mercury vapors.

    Most potting gazes have (or at least had) stuff like cadmium, and cobalt in them.

    So yeah, working out your image can be frustrating, but to REALLY get mad you gotta absorb some toxins.

  2. I love this post and I love this painting. Sometimes its just one odd, different, unique thing that makes an ordinary creation extraordinary. And you are right — it is not something we can plan. Can calculate. It just….happens. I can’t wait to see the finished piece!

  3. This is kind of a dumb question, but is the center of the swirl just over the lion’s back the center of perspective? I’ve never really understood perspective (vanishing or otherwise). How do you establish it?

  4. There is a real science to perspective-but I don’t use it myself. I only use it in bits and pieces where I think it will be effective, and in other places I contradict it. I do the same thing with light and shadows, I don’t follow natural rules, I make up what the painting needs. I think that might come from the training I got in theater lighting, where you put spotlights and colors coming from every which way to heighten the drama. It’s instinctual drawing for me, rather than following the accurate formula.

  5. You know of course that in art you can only be “mad” in the approved way. Too many careers depend on that not to be true.

  6. Thank you for the insight to your work Richard. I am having the same eye issue with a guinea fowl painting and I suspect fixing the eyes will take care of the problem. I have a rooster in the same style hanging just across the room and his eye definitely conveys the spirit and character of the bird.
    I tend to straddle that crazy line a little myself, but it would be unfair to blame the creative process or my art. Of course, I’m being facetious. I’m merely obsessed with ideas I want to bring to life in visual art and struggle with the time and space to execute all of them.
    Back to your lion – I think it is one of your stronger paintings. Bravo!

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