Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Myth of Sisyphus

A.B. Demolition (in progress, detail 1.25 X 8" 31.5 hours)

Some mornings I can’t face the prospect of yet another day of painting. When I’ve completed a painting and I’m about to start another I often have in mind the myth of Sisyphus. In punishment for innumerable offenses, the gods condemned Sisyphus for eternity to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down as he approached the summit.

I’m not sure for what I’m being punished but some mornings the dream of being a full time artist feels like a bad idea.

Success has a slippery definition. By many accounts I’m a successful artist. I show at a well known New York gallery. I sell most if not all of the paintings I produce. My prices have gone up more than five hundred percent in six years. On the other hand, I earn less than the hourly minimum wage in Quebec and my work is virtually unknown in my own country or much beyond the narrow sub genre of photorealism.

It’s easy to be envious of the prices other artists receive for their work but it’s rarely mentioned that sluggish sales often accompany lofty prices. I remind myself that the main reason for embarking on a painting career so many years ago wasn’t the allure of untold riches but the promise of self realisation and self direction. There are any number of ways to turn a facility for art into a good income but I chose to make paintings.

Albert Camus said in his 1942 essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart’. As I begin my second half-century, on those mornings when I struggle to find a reason to continue to care about painting, I remind myself that Camus died in a car accident at forty-seven and that he doesn’t mention with what the heart is filling.

As evidenced by the above photo, I managed to begin another painting. I made my way back down the hill, took a breath, placed my hands on the rock and braced myself to push.