Art, The Teacher

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So, here’s the truth. This interview has been sitting in my inbox for months, so naturally, I’ve been semi-ignoring it daily. It’s really rich – almost too rich, like a salted chocolate mousse I tasted in Singapore once – the kind where it’s better in small bites with a tiny, cold metal spoon. It’s an interview with the brother of our dear friends, a man named Adam Lee who creates art in a light-filled studio in Melbourne. And this morning, I read it again, sandwiched between a 30% off coupon I don’t need and a morning devotional I most certainly do:

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And I read it differently this morning. It wasn’t an interview anymore, a simple online conversation between two complete strangers. It felt like a sermon. A hot iron, pressing together sheets of intuition that had been there all along, imprinting them into my head and branding them for posterity. I don’t know, it’s Monday and I’m probably over-thinking this (always a notable concern), but in the off chance that this hits all the right notes for you this morning, here it is. A few thoughts on creativity, hard work, connection and the unstoppable pursuit of faith in something:

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How do you share your story through art, and why is this an ideal medium for you?

More and more I’m realizing that my main interest in making art is to explore the world – to try and understand it or filter it or possibly touch on something of the wonder of it. I think about this in terms of the expanse of the natural world around me but it’s also about the world within. Making art has always felt like the most natural way for me to explore that. Painting is a medium that seems to be able to carry things which are difficult to articulate and somehow make them known to us.

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I sense a lot of faith-based undertones in your work – is this intentional? How do faith and life go hand in hand in your studio?

My work is underscored by a consideration of the world in light of something greater, as I see the world as a created one. Many of my favorite artists of the past have in some way explored what you would call the search for meaning or for God. The art I make really comes out of a desire to connect the temporal things of life with the expanse of something greater. It is the earthy and the spiritual in connection with each other. In many ways I think this is about a search for belonging which I see as something underpinning most human activity.

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On another level doing something like making paintings takes a lot of faith, for me anyway. Painting tends to be something without easily defined parameters. It’s not measurable like a lot of other things in life. Most days in the studio do not produce a finished work of art, just baby steps toward something off in the distance. There are so many days spent in the studio which can seem like a waste of time, like nothing was achieved because there isn’t necessarily anything solid at the end of the day. Sometimes hours are spent just looking at a work or making drawings no-one is likely to ever see, or allowing a painting to just sit for a while. So you have to have the faith to see that each little thing makes up a part of the bigger picture – this is largely what the creative process is about. It’s exploring something unknown and not always easily expressed in any other way and trying to make it known through very temporal, limited materials. That, to me, requires a lot of faith to just keep going even when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. It’s all worth while when you have one of those rare days when it feels like everything fits into place and you realize the worth of all that hard work.

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How do you work through a creative block?

To be honest I never really seem to suffer from creative blocks. There are just too many paintings I want to make and too many ideas and images which intrigue me. I do have some very difficult “blocks” with particular paintings which I cant seem to resolve. There are paintings which can sit for a year or two before I figure out what I need to do to them. But even the paintings which just don’t ever end up working are never destroyed as I always work them into something else or paint over them.

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What does work/life balance look like for you? Do you compartmentalize, or are the two ideas symbiotic?

I’m a husband and a Dad and I teach a few hours a week too, so in many ways I have to compartmentalize. I’m a big believer in the approach of keeping very strict studio hours and I think there has to be a discipline in painting. This certainly doesn’t suit all artists and, in fact, I was just reading an interview with one of my favorite painters who said he could never work in the studio like a job, keeping the same hours each day.

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But my best work comes out of that discipline of keeping regularity regardless of whether I feel “in the mood” to make anything. So it’s very important for me that I go to the studio a certain amount of days a week. Generally I work between 830/9am until about 5/530pm and then I head home in time to help feed our little bubs dinner. But those are solid days where all Im doing is making work and trying to forget about everything else I need to do.

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What are the core values that anchor your days? How are those different from the core values that anchor your art? Are they?

My family is central to my daily life, so everything else really fits in around that. Often when I’m hanging out with my little girl I remind myself, as corny as it might sound, that I wont ever make a better work of art than her, and it’s an ongoing thing, being a Dad and being “present” in your kids lives. And I think that’s a danger many artists struggle with where their work comes first and everything else falls behind. I can’t do that. I find more and more that my work comes out of my experience of family anyway.

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Lately I’ve also been thinking about the idea of slowing down, which is really hard in the world we live in. There’s always going to be a million things which need to be done but I find find I can get stuck in the habit of moving along too fast, checking my phone every five minutes as if I’m going to miss something essential or allowing my mind to be off somewhere else thinking about the next thing. It’s easy to totally miss what is happening right now. I think something like painting forces you to have to slow down, to consider things, to leave everything else for a few hours and just wait. I can get so caught up in stuff that doesn’t matter much, so I’m trying to be more conscious of that. I don’t want to get so busy I miss the wonder.

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(Thanks for the words, Adam, and the photos, Woodnote. And to you, readers, thank you for the space to share the things that feel really big to me.)

  • Thanks for sharing these beautiful observations on life and work. I still spend a lot of time scrolling through my phone, even though I make a conscious effort to put it away more often. Presence is something I’ve always struggled with – keeping the mind still and engaged enough to focus on one single task. Elizabeth Gilbert always has funny and poignant things to say on that subject. :)

    Now I’m rambling. See? Unfocused.

    Love to you! xo

    • Ha, unfocused = highly creative. It’s a gift we have to temper for sure. ;) And I LOVE Elisabeth Gilbert!

  • This really did strike just the right chord for me today… so thank you for choosing to share this at this specific moment. Adam’s work (and studio) are beautiful. Well worth the wait. #feelinginspired :)

  • A great interview. Well done. We love Adam Lee’s work and Woodnote Photography and not to mention your unique and interesting way of capturing the essence of a subject. What makes someone tick! love it. Thank you.

  • Yes, thank you for sharing this, Erin. Art indeed is very faith-based the way he describes the seemingness unproductive moments adding up to something bigger. I really needed this reminder today. Love to you, dear!

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