Hello and Welcome Friends,

  April, 2006
volume 4 number 3

With the exception of one painting, last month featured all of the new paintings I had on hand. I have an exhibition currently at the American International College in East Springfield, Massachusetts through May 20th. There is a reception to officially open the show on Friday, April 21st from 5 to 7 PM at the Karen Sprague Center for the Arts on campus. It is the largest show I've ever had with 57 paintings that span the last fifteen years. I do hope that you'll be able to come to the opening if you are in the area.

The exhibition is entitled, "Faces of the Divine." I chose the title not because of the half dozen paintings of visionary or celestial subjects. Rather I have always felt that painting landscapes (and portraits) was and is a personal reflection of the divine, the creation.

I want to extend my thanks to Alvin Paige, the head of the fine arts department for inviting me to mount this exhibit.

"Shimmering Pool" Oil on Canvas 28" x 38"

This painting is currently at the exhibit in East Springfield

Right now I am working on another portrait commission that I have to get done very soon and it is occupying all of my time. So instead of showing you one painting after another, I want to talk a little bit about creativity, inspiration and motivation - what it is that drives an artist, at least this artist.

Each painting is a series of decisions. The first application of paint is the deciding factor for and influence on the next stroke. Each decision builds on the previous. Like all cumulative processes, a misstep along the way can take the whole thing out of balance in no time. I have been known to spend as much time "correcting" a completed painting as I spent from start to finish. This includes completely repainting a "finished" canvas.

There are times when a painting seems to pour out of me and I am more a conduit than protagonist. It is a magical experience. I know that it is a combination of the many years of standing in front of the easel and the work that leads up to each painting. This kind of fluid success is often followed by the let down of the next painting that requires much more effort and lacks a smooth flow in favor of hard work.

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Thomas Edison's quote about genius, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." I think he got it right. Wayne Dyer describes the difference between motivation and inspiration. I'll freely paraphrase his idea. Motivation comes from within yourself. In my case, this is my work as well as my passion. But I am motivated in each painting to explore a new idea on how to express a mood, a composition, an interpretation of something that I've seen. I am also motivated by the not-so-romantic idea of being paid to do a commission. I am always motivated by the self-appointed challenge to surpass what I've accomplished in the past.

Motivation is not hard for me to come by, but it doesn't necessarily fire me up to launch into a passionate painting. But it does sustain the effort to complete a painting. Paintings don't usually happen in a short amount of time. Something has to keep you going....

Inspiration, on the other hand, comes from outside of ourselves. It is a gift. In this my experience is limited. But I have had the experience of ideas coming from somewhere else and landing in me. How I wish inspiration was something that I could count on and wait for faithfully. But it is unpredictable and, in my case, rare.

Perhaps the most material example of inspiration for me was in the summer of 2004 in Nova Scotia. I was out gathering material, sketching and photographing a place called Carters Beach. The water is crystal clear there and you can look down thirty or forty feet to the bottom. I was walking along the meeting point of sea and sand, looking down into the calm water. The sun behind me was throwing refracted rays through the water that danced in a network of light patterns on the underlying ripples of sand.

In a sudden moment I said to myself, "I know how to paint that!" The very complicated patterns overlayed with transparent water that reflects the sky is something that I've seen many times before. But I had never been able to figure out how to create the effect in a painting. Suddenly, in a moment, I knew how to do it without any struggle or analysis.

I was able to hold on to it and went back to the studio. I did this painting.

"Carters Beach Rocks" Oil on Canvas 38" x 28"

If you feel the way I did about the painting, you'll agree that it was quite successful. But I thought, "Maybe I lucked out. I'll do another one." So I did another, and another using the effect of looking down through water in a variety of compositions (the latest being "Shimmering Pool", above). By continuing to work it out, I transformed a moment of inspiration to an ingrained part of my painting vocabulary. Even the most brilliant inspiration will amount to nothing if it is not acted on.

And that is one of the major problems with relying on inspiration, it doesn't last. When you're inspired, you're excited about the possibilities, happy about the realizations and full of energy to carry it through. But paintings can take quite a while. Ever try to be inspired for a hundred hours? I can't do it. So after the initial blush wears off, it can be an effort to hang on to the critical parts of the inspiration long enough to carry it through to completion.

I couldn't address the idea of inspiration without looking at ideas that arrive, fully formed into paintings - visionary images. Many artists and non-artists have received such images. Some have created vocations to teach others how to do this. There is a whole subset of the art market called visionary art. You can search online and you'll find that many people have written about their experiences with such visions. I'm not talking about delusions or hallucinations. I'm talking about images that arrive in full, conscious awareness to perfectly sane and intelligent people and those that arrive in dreams.

I have had both experiences. But, as I said before about the experience of inspiration in general, it is rare. The spiritual side of it also figures prominently in artists' visionary experiences. For some artists, the spiritual side is their only subject matter. But I'll spare you my own experiences in that regard. I will, however, describe how one of my paintings "The First Civil Union (an open door)" came about. I hope you'll find interesting.

"The First Civil Union (an open door)" Oil on Canvas 66" x 35"

I saw a photo in our local paper of the first couple to receive a civil union. I was struck by the tenderness in the faces of Kathleen Peterson and Carolyn Conrad. My wife had mentioned that they would make a good portrait and we briefly discussed it. But I'd never met them and doing their portrait didn't seriously enter my mind in any way other than I thought it would be interesting if I did a painting of them... sometime in the future.

That night, I awoke at about 4:30 in the morning with the idea for a fully composed painting vividly in my head. I went directly to the studio and began drawing out the idea. Without models to work from, I worked out the composition, the position of the figures and how the interior setting would be arranged on canvas. Over the course of several days the idea was reworked during hours of sketching and redrawing the idea until the right balance was achieved.

It took me a week before I summoned the courage to phone the two women to see if they would like to pose for the painting. To my surprise, when I finally called, they already knew about my idea from a friend and were very enthusiastic about posing for me. When they came to model, I knew the position and relationship of everything in the painting. After all, I'd already seen it completed before I started.

There's nothing magical or mystical here. It was just a gift to me that my mind worked out a painting without my conscious self being very involved. Recalling the image and getting specific about how to carry it through was regular work. I know that the process was the product of things I had seen and things I was thinking about. But a fully composed painting coming into my consciousness doesn't happen every day. Despite the clear connection to my conscious experience with this painting, sometimes inspiration is a bolt out of the blue and I haven't a clue as to where it comes from. You might enjoy taking a look at some of these paintings. That kind of experience is not only a gift, it is something of a puzzlement.

So that is my brief reflection on my creative experience. I hope you've enjoyed what I have to say. There is much more to say about this, but for the time being, that should be enough. Let me know if you have questions or comments. I always look forward to hearing from you.


William H. Hays

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