What I make started tumbling out of my head when I was 42. It usually comes out fully formed — a sudden bolt — so what I practice isn’t what to make — it’s about how to catch it the best way. I started practicing with just black letters on regular paper, then small white canvases, and then white letters on color images on larger canvases. Later, when whole paragraphs started coming out, I started practicing how to keep up, and how to fit everything, which turned out to be with oil sticks on giant canvases, black and white. So when I say I have a practice, the intentional part is finding good ways to show what is coming out.
But this isn’t always true. Sometimes what comes out in the bolts is clear to me, but when I try to get it down it just doesn’t work. I’ve learned there’s just too much there, it has to be unpacked. So for these I started practicing how to hold the idea for a long time, even months or a year, and use a part of my mind where nothing comes out instantly, and just think. It turns out these have a second bolt, I suddenly see how to make it, and I drop everything to do it. My studio is my hallway so I can make these anytime day or night. These are the huge oil sticks that look abstract. So a bolt of thought, then months of long thinking, then another bolt, of how to make it, and I make these in minutes. After I’m out of breath and sweating and have a blister and sometimes there are tears. They are very physical.
During all this I started teaching myself how to make art, materials, their chemistry, and the history of artists here and other places. I’m self-taught. I went to school for other things. I never imagined this would happen. It just started tumbling out. That’s more research than practice, but it’s also the same.
Which brings us, I guess, to why this is all happening. It started after a change in my psychiatric meds when I was 42, for my bipolar 1. Since then, with my psychiatrist closely watching my levels, I’ve been in a hypomania highs except during the depressions. In the hypomanias, things come out in bolts, and that’s what started it all. I was told once, “your mind’s like a honeybee, you go from flower to flower, and then you make honey, like no one else, things no one else can see.” I like having a different mind, even as it needs twelve pills a day to treat. But what I make is not about any of that. It’s about what I see. For random reasons of currents and chemistry in neurons in my brain, I just feel and see and match things up differently.
So if this is your fix, you might not quite find it anywhere else.
It’s fine to use big art words to discuss all this, they have their time and place, and I can do that if you want. But simple words are best. It tumbles out of my head, when my head is running high, and since then it’s been lots of trying and practice.