Last spring Mary MacNaughton invited Laurie Fendrich, a professor of fine arts and the director of the Comparative Arts and Culture Graduate Program at Hofstra University, to mount a retrospective at Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, in Claremont, CA. In Brainstorm, her weekly blog at The Chronicle Reveiw, Fendrich describes how it feels to unwrap and revisit all her old work.
Since hanging several of the older paintings on my studio wall, I’m finding myself sitting in my painting chair, staring at them in bewilderment. Who painted those pictures? I mean, I know who painted them — I painted them. But looking at them reminds me of the times I’d visit my mother, long after I’d become an adult, when she’d show me old drawings she’d found that I’d made in the third grade. I’d look at them and feel absolutely nothing.
Hanging next to new paintings that are in progress, the old paintings invite comparison to the new ones. I’d like to say that my paintings have become demonstrably better — that they’re more mature, or refined, or something like that. Instead, I can’t shake the feeling that everything’s more or less the same. I’m reminded of what an artist friend told me many years ago — that painters are lucky if they come up with even one good painting idea during a lifetime.
I also can get an entirely different feeling — that the older paintings are better than what I’m doing now. All my paintings clearly derive from the same hand. Oddly, my older paintings are simpler, more classical and restrained than my newer ones. You might say they’re less raucous and happy, more stoical and quiet. You’d think it’d be the other way around, wouldn’t you? Shouldn’t paintings evolve naturally from youthful ebullience to mature sobriety? Nothing’s predictable in art, that’s for sure.