Why I Love Deadlines

The New York Academy of Art is pleased to share a note by Hilary Harkness. Regularly posting her "Notes from Studio Lockdown," Hilary blogs with us as she prepares for her upcoming exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery in New York City, on Thursday, May 5, 5-7pm.

Dear friends,

As I prepare for my May 5th show (please come! the opening is 5-7pm at the Mary Boone Gallery in midtown, at 745 Fifth Ave.), I find that everything non-essential has dropped from my life. I have always built my life around convenience, trying to live within feet of subway stops. For years I lived within three blocks of the 1,2,3,L, F,M,A,C,E,B & D so I could waste less time. I work at home as close to the kitchen as possible to save on footsteps. I don’t care about clothes as long as I look ok, and will buy a generic wardrobe for a season in an hour at one store. I tell hairdressers to just make me look normal. My life has been designed to eliminate distraction.

I am currently finishing a painting of the last night of the Yamato, a Japanese battleship that went on a suicide mission in 1945. The painting began in my head five years ago while listening to a Dolly Parton song of all things. I researched exact battleship plans and drew out the interior on a thin piece of paper. You can see a hundred feet deep into the ship, and I have all the rooms to scale, receding into space. In this painting I wanted to speculate about the different things people might do when faced with certain doom. I knew where to dig for historical details, and how to make the painting make sense. I built a filing system to deal with my thousands of pieces of information. I looked over my past successes and failures at painting to pick approaches to materials that work. I covered the ferrules of my brushes with tape so reflected light wouldn’t disrupt my vision. I made mini-palettes out of plastic lids and taped them to my painting and taped folded bounty paper towel to myself to wipe my brushes on so I wouldn’t distract myself with movement. My goal was to be smart about the process so all my efforts would directly make the painting more pleasurable for the viewer.

taping brushes to reduce glare
The truth is, the past year and a half of work on this painting has been a disaster, as always. I drew the plans small, then changed the shape of panel so I had to tape extra pieces of paper to the drawing. There were so many perspective guidelines, I couldn’t see what I was doing and had to color things in with markers to visualize the space.

muse as avatar
I redrew it on a clean piece of paper to the size of my new panel, then wadded up the drawing and carried it around town in my handbag while fretting about conflicting themes. Want to annoy your friends – pull out a 42” drawing at dinner! Want to annoy your non-artist girlfriend - insist she tries painting so she can see how hard it is (she made it look easy)! I have maybe a hundred ideas for sea creatures to add to the flooding bowels of the ship, but the deadline is in a week so my subconscious will have to pick the best five. Despite my best attempts to stick to the appointed story line, my real themes about domesticity have dominated, completely subverting or even sabotaging the painting from within.

cat as avatar, atop the sketch

I was smart about how I started the painting, streamlining my life and methods. But with a week to go until the art shipper arrives, I’m finding out what’s important: whatever comes out. 90% of my effort has been with playing with things and pushing things around and now I can only trust in the process, that my subconscious has been primed and I can make something effortlessly. It’s as though I’ve practiced making the painting, so when I paint it, I already know what I’m doing and it feels effortless – but not really in my control.

So what do I love about deadlines? My friends who believe in me and send their love and support to me as I sit diligently watching my painting unfold. I don’t even have to explain to them how I feel because we all go through this. I can’t be the artist I would like to be, but maybe this experience is what I signed up for when I devoted my life to painting.

Yours very truly,
Hilary Harkness

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this I'm actually looking for blogs/articles on this.