Building a Body of Work

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It was March and the countdown had begun. In six months, my co-exhibitor and I would be hanging our artwork in the exhibit space at a local community college. We had seen the gallery space. In fact, we had seen the work of two other artists hanging up in that venue. I still wasn't exactly sure what I was going to paint for the exhibit. A week went by, and I was still combing through my library of reference photos looking for subjects to paint and debating about the best approach. Should I try to paint a unified series? Should I paint big, small? Should I paint on unframed gallery-wrapped canvas or flat panels I could frame easily? My indecision was due to a lack of experience with the options, and it wasn't helping me get started building a body of work.

I decided to break with the general consensus that artwork in an exhibit should be framed as simply and uniformly as possible. Everything I read told me that it should be about the art, not the frame, but my justification for breaking this "rule" was a goal I had set at the beginning of the year to try many different substrates and framing options this year to find out what I liked best. As a result, I ended up using both 1.5" deep unframed gallery wrapped canvas and flat panels in black and brown wooden frames.  

That was not the only rule I ignored. Advice abounds that artwork should be presented as a series or with an overarching theme or style -- something to tie the work together. Because I work from my own reference photos, I had trouble finding enough photos with a common theme. What I did have was a number of very different subjects that inspired me. I decided to paint varied subjects -- landscapes, interiors, florals -- to figure out which subjects I enjoy painting.  

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In hindsight, having consistency in my presentation and working within a theme would have greatly improved my exhibit. This is especially true because I was exhibiting with another artist whose work would naturally be quite different than my own -- a different medium, style, substrate, and framing. Our only consistency was inconsistency!    

In the end, I produced only seven paintings for the show, each one better than the last, but all different.  For many reasons, I would have preferred to wait until I possessed a body of work before committing to an exhibit, but that might have meant missing out on this great opportunity to learn what exhibiting entails and discovering what I am capable of when I push myself.