What is a “retrospective”? In art-speak, it’s an exhibition showing the development of the work of a particular artist over a period of time. I met Rebecca Raubacher last Friday in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, at an event honoring her and her retrospective show at the Rehoboth Art League. Here’s one of her early drawings.
Talking with her got me thinking about how our paths as artists change and build over the years. Rebecca has always been a consummate draftsman, and her current paintings have a lot of mixed media drawing techniques with oil sticks and metallic inks. Her themes of faces and figures has continued throughout her career.
So here’s the question for you – have you gone back recently and looked at your earlier work? (This is not a “have-you-gotten-better” question – who even knows what “better” is anyway.) And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been making art for one year or fifty. All of us choose what to keep and what to leave behind. That choosing and abandoning gives us our “style.”
Thanks to a house fire in ’83 (arg), I don’t have much of my earliest undergrad work back in the 60’s. I did take a photo of this piece called “Datachip” which I did in 1979. It’s hard to get a good photo of a drawing behind glass, but you get the idea.
Shortly after that, I abandoned drawing for a while and started making a series of large-scale origami kimonos and other large collages which sold well in the ’80s and ’90s.
And like a lot of other artists, I was doing commercial art along the way, like these covers for the NEISD Community Education program – they were mostly collages, too:
And my love for clay has always followed me around – here’s a bowl I did in the 80’s – faces and clay!
So the things I’ve kept are clay, collage, images of faces, and earth colors. I’m still experimenting within those areas. And, overall, the idea of “shards” – constructing new things from small found objects, images and clues from the past, connects the dots for me.
Go back and look at your own work. What colors and themes and images predominate? I read a lot of those advice-for-artist blogs that say, “Get out of your comfort zone! If you like neutrals, go wild with color! If you like watercolor, try oils!” I don’t necessarily agree. Our style develops from our intuition about what we do best.
Our personal retrospective journey is just that, a journey. We take what we discover along the way and build on it. More likely than not, the work of other artists influences us but it doesn’t define us as we keep what resonates and forgo the rest.
So your homework is to find the oldest piece of personal artmaking that you have, and give it a good look. Post it on Facebook if you like! See what changes you’ve made. Think a bit about your personal retrospective. It’s fun and enlightening.