Painting the same thing
A series of artwork is a collection of paintings that have a common theme running through them. Some examples of famous series are Sunflowers by Van Gogh, Picasso’s blue period, and Monet’s water lilies and haystacks.
Often when applying to one person shows or exhibitions, the sponsoring venue or organization is looking for a theme. This gives definition to the project and perhaps is considered more serious than a collection of unrelated works. Additional weight these days seems to be given to proposals that have a social angle or statement.
For example here are some recent shows at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art:
“Our Good Earth illuminates how artists reveal the marvels of nature, express compassion for the fragile beauty of flora and fauna, and caution against threats to the natural world.
With a selection of photographs from each of the artist’s five geographically-based series, Narayan Mahon: Lands in Limbo explores the day-to-day realities of living in countries that remain unacknowledged by the larger international community.
Diverse Nature: Gender & the Botanic. Exploring interpretation of gender, this exhibition reveals how cultures characterize nature to embellish sexual expression. “
So when applying to some upcoming shows, I knew I need to find a series even though in general I paint a variety of subjects and not with a running theme in mind. I knew I needed to propose something other than “my paintings” or even “paintings of barns”.
I checked my existing works looking for a common thread that I could expand upon. I have a number of countryside paintings and had recently painted a barn scene that I did not have a title for yet. The title I came up with became the theme of the proposal : “Farmland Meditations”. It is meant to be a non-standard look at farmlands and the countryside, that is, not just peaceful pastorals with barns and cows.
In order to make it stand out, I decided to pair the paintings with poems. After toying with the idea of creating the poetry myself, with the application deadline looming, I reached out on an art forum to see if I could find a poet with existing farm poetry or who would be able to produce such work. Responses dribbled in and I settled on a Wisconsin poet, Patricia Williams. I’d love to share some examples, but the poetry is pending publication and so I can’t.
I also need to produce more paintings to fill out the proposed series and also to have more recent examples which is also considered a plus. I needed more reference photos and this resulted in some winter farm scenes.
An interesting side effect of having a specific focus was that I actually increased my painting productivity. I completed 6 paintings in March vs only 1 in February and three in January.
From the proposal:
“These images and words reveal the beauty of the countryside and the embedded farmlands. Not just straightforward depictions but celebrating the beauty of rusted machinery, missing boards and peeling paint. No longer new but still functional and useful.
These unusual subjects are to break the viewer out of their complacency, to stop them from taking for granted these treasured lands.
The poetry will be placed on the walls alongside the paintings. A copy of the poet’s published works may be presented on a pedestal or platform.
Poetry is a great pairing with the slowness and deliberateness of farm life. You can’t accelerate the growing cycle and you can’t speed read poetry. The poetry will invite future reflection and appreciation.
We hope the images and words invite inquiry into the peaceful, bucolic countryside that is a staple of Wisconsin but for many of us seen only during weekend drives.”
I don’t know yet whether I will get a slot, but this exercise has me thinking more about creating works in series and planning for future show proposals farther ahead of time.