Have you ever been asked this question? As as artist, I am often asked what my painting style is, or to somehow categorize what I do. Or, many times, someone will do it for me. A surprising number of people have said to me, “Your style is very impressionistic.”
I’m honestly not sure how to describe what I do in terms of style. One thing is sure: it has changed over the years. I loved abstract paintings even as a teenager, but I did not even pursue a painting major at first. I chose a ceramics major. Clay, kilns, all-night parties (with food!) while a raku or gas firing happened – all of this appealed to me. But I kept making flat things and painting on them, and never did well in that department. At the suggestion of a professor, I changed my major to painting.
Once in the department, I became familiar with the materials, even as a “style” eluded me. Some students seemed so confident! Their paintings were bold and sure, yet usually unimpressive to me. It seemed as though there were a lot of grey and black paintings in the department. Most of what I saw struck me about the same way my used palette did: a little bit interesting, if accidental. That’s not to say there were no good painters at the Kansas City Art Institute. Just no one I really wanted to emulate at the time. I couldn’t figure out what I was after, exactly.
I found it ironic, in view of my inclination toward abstract painting, that I ended up with the professor who was most know for “realistic” painting: Wilbur Niewald. What I came to understand was that abstract painting is a whole lot better when the painter has a visual understanding of whatever is being represented, or visually referenced. Wilbur was not really a “realist,” but more of a “representational” painter. His pictures included figures, still lifes, landscapes and cityscapes, mostly. He, more than any other single person, taught me how to see. Really seeing makes a better painter, whatever the “style.”
I finished my painting degree when I had 2 small children at home, and I was pretty fully consumed with raising them and the 3 more children I went on to have. Ten years later, I picked up my brushes again. Guess what? My painting had changed again, even though I had not been painting at all.
As I have continued to paint, my interests have shifted, and my physical approach my materials has evolved. How else could I end up using re-purposed house paint almost exclusively? I do love oils, but there’s just something about house paint. I love the way it loads up a brush, the way it drips, the different effects of the various finishes.
So what is my style? You tell me. In the art world, we sometimes say or write a whole lot of words that say essentially nothing. I usually will say that my style is “contemporary,” which means very little. Maybe I’m associating my painting style with dance, in which “contemporary” combines some of the best elements from ballet, jazz, and other techniques with elements that are altogether new, often inspired by contemporary music. That works for me.