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Question: Do I need to make the same painting over and over again to be successful?

FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)

Q: Do I need to make the same painting over and over again in order to be successful? I often hear this sentiment but I am not convinced, although I’m sure there has to be some truth to it. Does a deeper exploration of one idea prove more fruitful or does it become stifling? How to people stay focused on one idea without burning out?

A: I need to break down your questions. The answer to this first question is… no.

Regarding your question about doing a deeper exploration of one idea—it is definitely fruitful to fully explore one concept, but that is not the same as “making the same painting over and over again.” In the early ‘90s I was painting “just” female nudes on color backgrounds. They were painted with no source material or reference, and were purely imagined. I called these paintings Bad Babies. In the eyes of some beholders, I was painting the same painting over and over again, but the truth I was looking for was in the difference between these paintings, on both a formal level and as far as the images were concerned. Small shifts between the paintings proved very fruitful. I went deep into the subject and achieved a certain kind of intensity, which is what I enjoy.

I worked that way for a few years and after a certain point I did feel the need to shift. In 1996 I started working on a series of paintings from small plaster maquettes called Bad Habits (the idea of “bad” seems to be a constant), and worked like that for several years. They were still primarily female bodies, but the work was entirely different in how it looked and felt. Eventually I shifted gears again in order to find a new way forward. And so it has been for all the years that I have painted.

I am now making paintings of couples and could not be more engaged with them. I never believed the feedback I got from people who felt my work was limited because the subject was almost always female. I always knew that I was creating very different paintings within one body of work. Eventually a male body or two popped up in the work, and this changed the pictorial concerns. There are, of course, artists who change the subject of their work over and over, but tend to paint the work with the same style and technique, or using the same formal ideas, over and over during the course of their careers.

There are many different ways to approach your work. I prefer my way forward since it tends to work for me, and I enjoy it.

In the end, find what is fun for you, and you won’t ever burn out.

Lisa Yuskavage

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I think being true to yourself also means having some kind of internal creative north star that you can return to and always find a way to nurture.

I’m a pretty firm believer that pleasure is a way of organizing your mind. In some ways, creativity is like meditation.

I just came in and was like, “Yeah, I don’t know, I was making these paintings in my basement and I’m just gonna keep making them, even though they suck right now and hope that they’ll just get better.”

It feels to me like I’m only at the beginning and there’s still a lot to discuss and process within the realms of painting. In this life, I wouldn’t even have the time to work in other media. And in my next life I’d like to be a horse.

Many artists and similar minded people come visit me, like you guys. Many gallery people come visit, too, but most of them don’t understand these kinds of things. I’d be open to talk to a gallery about doing something if there was someone who understood me, but there hasn’t been anyone so far [laughs].

Staying really alert to the unknown, not faking it, but really being in an awkward situation where you do not know what’s going to happen, is crucial. You need to not just do that in terms of the materials, but you also have to do it in terms of the concept.

I liked painting with oils, but it didn’t connect to me as a material that made sense for any of my concerns. I was looking for something that made more sense to me personally, not historically.

My flower paintings are very popular and I receive many commissions for this work. To be honest, I can get bored so I need to step away and look for other things to be inspired by before returning to the flowers.

About the Author

Lisa Yuskavage

Visual artist

Widely associated with a re-emergence of the figurative in contemporary painting, Lisa Yuskavage has developed her own genre of portraiture in which lavish, erotic, vulgar, angelic women (and more recently men) are cast within fantastical landscapes or dramatically lit interiors. Seamlessly blending pop cultural imagery, color theory, and psychology, Yuskavage draws on classical and modern painterly techniques and, in particular, marshals color as a conduit for complex psychological constructs.

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