How long do you hold on to old work?
On burning pet shops and art work that takes up space
And just like that, all my studio mojo and blog post writing motivation got sidelined.
I’ve not had time to write for the last week or two because we had an offer on a house accepted and it has shifted all our mental energy towards document signing, list making, garage sorting and furniture dreaming. This is big for our family. We are stoked. The next two months will be really busy.
I had already cracked the seal on cleaning out my art space in the garage, mostly because I wanted to get back to a regular studio schedule. At the same time we have been looking for a new house for many months. Cleaning is imperative. It really sucks to be asked by a friend to help load a moving truck and show up the morning of the move and have nothing ready to rock in clearly labeled boxes.
WE DON’T WANT TO BE THAT KIND OF FRIEND.
So last weekend I got back to the purge. At some point in the process, I realized I needed to throw out old art work. Unfinished ideas, old experiments and just bad work had grown to an equal proportion to new work I had not made in the last several years. You know that scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, where he is rescuing animals from the burning pet shop, and he keeps stopping at the aquarium full of snakes, makes a sound of disgust, and keeps avoiding them in favor of cuter pets?
That’s kind of what throwing out old art work feels like to me. I avoid it. I constantly pass by the piece that needs to go. I may stop to hiss at it but I keep on moving until something really clear hits me and I have no choice. I want to better understand where all the difficulty lies in tossing out a piece of my creative past. I’ve never been good at quitting or cutting ties with anything in life. Maybe it’s supposed to be hard.
Among the group were a couple pieces that had once been a part of a body of work I showed in an exhibition back in the early 2000s, but they had so badly decayed that they didn’t even look good anymore. There was no solution for repairing them so there was no point in keeping them. I had looked at them repeatedly filled with what I recognize as a mix of nostalgia, longing for their original state and disappointment in my own art storage laziness.
Then there were three large paintings. One finished, and just the hottest steaming garbage you ever did see. Two were unfinished. I had pulled them out once or twice a year and put us through a ritual acknowledment and speculation, but the last time they had been touched with wet paint was in 2017. I was in a different art making headspace then. I remembered feeling stalled out on where to take them at the time. Did I want to go back to that old way of thinking? Looking at them now i was suddenly over come with that feeling you get when you eyeball someone you’ve been glad you haven’t seen in ages across the street. They see you, and start to head your direction. You are trapped in a “so we doing this again?” type of feeling.
[Cue box knife]
As I jammed these wads of canvas into the trash I kept sensing an argument elbowing it’s way up to the crowed dive bar in my head.
“Well maaaaybe you could still do something with this?” I asked the surly bartender wearing a “Nader for President” shirt.
He looked at me for half a sec with eyes narrowed to slits and then just nodded at the tattooed girl in fishnet tights, denim jacket and ballet skirt behind me. I guess I was going to wait awhile for my PBR. (I’m pretty sure this actually happened to me at a Tad show in Seattle in ‘95.)
Nostalgia can make for bad choices in general. It keeps you stuck.
On the flip-flop, while moving houses, changing spaces, or changing patterns may be disruptive and cause anxiety, it feels like an exciting relief to scrape off dead ends and start fresh. Being forced to break off the roots that keep you in the same place feels reinvigorating. The last thing I want to do is ask one of my homies to load dead weight into a moving van. I would be a bad friend.
At the end of the pet store scene, Pee Wee runs out screaming with his hands full of serpents and passes out on the sidewalk.
Someone wake me when this moving process is over.