Heavy Shoulders in Sunset, an Oil Painting

Here is a painting I finished in the spring that I had to hold off posting because I had entered it in a contest. The downside of this is that I forget many of my original thoughts on this painting, as I went travelling afterwards. Sometimes artists lose sight of the potential other reasons their art was rejected in a contest or grant application, not so much that it’s “bad”; likewise, no artist should abandon their style and voice and paint a completely different way just to appeal to a jury. That is mostly what I want to say about that, as the painting didn’t pass to the round of finalist. The good thing is: it gave me a deadline to finish it by and it’s ready for whatever comes next.



In a previous post, I began writing about the need to refocus the direction of my art. What art am I going to keep making and what have I moved on from? For example, people often compliment the very old paintings I did from when I was 17 and tell me to make more art like that; however, that part of life is over, whoever I was then is over, and so if I want to make art with the same kind of tone, subject, or feel, I need to find a new way to do it. (On that note, I am going to putting more artwork on “clearance” in my store because I need to make room literally and metaphorically for new work.)


It’s pretty human to become obsessed with something, whether it’s Game of Thrones, or DIY lasers, or an ex-, or your job. So, I think this themes of robotics, cyborgs, medicine, disability and repair are a new obsession for me, and I have no reason not to entertain it if it keeps my attention. Frequently, I abandon subject matter within one or two paintings because I don’t feel a neurotic level of attachment to it, so we’ll see. At least, I feel like I’m not painting this subject because of shock value or because it’s a trending issue and like my art is a tool for pushing my probably ignorant opinion.


Heavy Shoulders in Sunset - Detail
30″x40″, oil on 1″ canvas, 2017


The other problem I am constantly fighting with is to what extent should there be hyper-realism or detail, or faults for the sake of expression? Where’s the middle ground between a stale photo-realistic painting and one that stops looking believably real and tangible because it’s gone off the edge into abstraction? I feel like I really struck the perfect balance in this painting, although I’d like more room for texture.


There’s plenty “wrong” with this painting, as some people have pointed out in the anatomy. Yet, if I painted this to be perfectly correct, it would lose certain points of expression, like the feeling of statuesque strength, the convenient symmetry, the pose itself. If you can strike the magic spot between intentional faults and the feeling of belief, then it’s worth the sacrifice of realistic accuracy.


Heavy Shoulders in Sunset - Detail
30″x40″, oil on 1″ canvas, 2017


This was by far the most difficult spot in the painting. It was repainted maybe half a dozen times. This painting was mostly painted from my head, and I had to find the one only image on Google of a yoga teacher holding her shoulders in a similar position to correct mistakes. Shoulder blades slide everywhere, and the way the muscles and folds of skin sit changes with the slightest movement. I’m still not sure if it’s right, but it’s the best result I got without over-painting the area. Some of the other challenges were finding the right quantity of detail for the arms, and the right colour of the light on the wall vs. her skin.


I hope this painting touches the goals I had, which were expressing “the feelings of attraction, pain, and a sobering calm” (previous blog post). I’m also really enjoyed painting a very muscular, androgynous body. There’s nothing in particular that gives a definitely clue that this is a female body (aside from my decision that it is, because I’m personifying it); it could just as well be anyone with a leaner physique and long hair. Some more food for thought.


Another interesting thing that happened when I showed this painting to people is that people of polar opposite tastes in art all liked it. That almost never happens. Furthermore, I like this painting. Usually if everyone likes one of my paintings, it ends up being one I secretly hate (a seemingly common problem for artists, I gather). I was pretty nervous about what people would think of this image.


Thanks to the people who took the time to critique the painting as I worked on it. You can always look at my Instagram for work-in-progress pictures as I work on something, though I had to delete these in particular for the contest. Prints of this painting are in my store.

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