“At one time I was convinced that unless I somehow was able to find my voice “a look”, then I would in fact be lost in the midst of all the visual noise.”
As parents it’s a pretty exciting moment when our child utters their first word. They have begun to communicate. They have begun to find their voice. As the child grows, their environment, education, experiences, culture, relationships, and sensibilities, all coalesce with their personality to develop an overall uniqueness. All of it contributing to what might be called their “voice”.
Finding one’s voice as an artist is not too dissimilar. The topic is an important one for David Griffin and as you’ll discover in this interview it has been a subject of much thought and interest.
As former illustrators, Griffin and I both understand that an exorbitant amount of importance was accorded one’s “style”. Distinctiveness was all important, but by itself is very superficial…and distinctiveness of style alone does not a “voice” make. Sometimes hired to illustrate assignments for which we had little interest, it was often the “style” that carried the day. To be successful in the fine arts, a couple of key ingredients to finding one’s “voice” are to have a strong connection with the subjects we choose to paint, and to have something to say. (I’ve written a blog on the subject, “Finding Your Artistic Voice”, which you may link to at the end of this interview).
Well, enough from me, let’s hear how David Griffin has come to the place that he is today.
What would be your definition of art? Art, at least for this interview, will be defined as painting. Art is when passion and aesthetics combine with the subsequent struggle to try to explain a truth.
How would you define your role as an artist? To use the passion I have within the struggle to try to explain my own interpretation of creation and it’s beauty. Hoping to continue the visual discussion.
What’s been the most difficult part of establishing your fine art career and how have you gone about it? The difficulty in establishing a fine art career, is at least for me, the conflict between reality and my own expectations. I would say finding my own true visual voice, and staying on course to refine it, is as difficult as anything I know. My own answer is to keep working everyday.
What have you found to be the major difference between illustration and fine art? Illustration for me was a wonderful introduction into the world of visual story telling, and to me the illustrations of NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Dean Cornwell and others are “fine art”. Any work of art that aesthetically communicates that well should be considered “fine art”.
In the midst of all the noise and various movements in the fine arts, how have you gone about negotiating your way through it all to find your niche? I’m not sure I have. To me this is the ideal, and the struggle…to actually find your own true voice in the midst of all the noise and other movements. Hopefully a visual vocabulary is being developed to speak in my own voice and being confident that is enough. Stay focused on what you know, all the while continue to learn, adding to your visual vocabulary. Remember, all of us are a work in progress. At one time I was convinced that unless I somehow was able to find my voice “a look”, then I would in fact be lost in the midst of all the visual noise. But what was actually lost was the thought that my voice is a singular thing, one per person for life, when in fact it’s organic, ever changing. As experience grows, so does your voice. When I realized this I began a new energized journey. I still struggle with my ability to communicate visually as I think I should, only to find that my voice is exactly what it should be right now. My voice and yours are products of who we are and where we have been, not a copy of someone or something else. As long as I continue the dialogue with passion and honesty with my subject matter, then the struggle becomes my real voice.
Your work definitely favors western subjects. Have you found that subject matter choices are integrally linked to finding your voice as a painter? Yes, I’m a product of my own heritage. Growing up in a sparse landscape forced me, literally, to explore this big world, only to find out that I would return to my roots a second time and discover who I really am as an artist. And I’m very happy I was given a second chance to come home and rediscover a real beauty and my real visual voice, in a place that I had earlier dismissed.
How did your choice of subject matter evolve? I’ve always painted what I knew. At first that was a small, sparse world. But with years and experience, both good and bad, I have been allowed to return to find my first small world is as big and beautiful as I wanted it be. The evolution of my subject matter is one continuous line of passionate study.
Does there need to be an emotional connection with the subject in order to paint it well? Yes, without passion and an emotional connection there is no real art.
Are there any aspects of the illustration field you miss? I miss the community I had as an illustrator. I miss my mentors, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, Mark English, and my friend and wonderful artist Bart Forbes. Although Mark, and Bart are working in “Fine Art” today, I always enjoyed their company and advice.
What do you find most fulfilling about being a painter? The possibility, maybe even reality, that I’m working at a calling; that being an artist/painter is exactly what I was created for.
How did your art training prepare you for a fine art career? I’m afraid my art training was somewhat lacking in preparing me for fine art career. I came to the idea of being an artist as a vocation late in my college life, sort of out of desperation. I started out as an illustrator, knowing only that I could draw a little, but with no other knowledge of painting. I suppose my art training took a drastic turn when as a student in the New York Illustrators Workshop, after college, I visited my first real museum the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So for parts of two years as I was learning to be an illustrator, I was really building a foundation in fine art without knowing it. I guess I learned the craft of painting by painting, endlessly painting, basically copying the artists I saw in the museums in New York. Something I never really had access to In Lubbock.
How do you determine the concept for each painting? A concept for any painting I believe has to come from honest inspiration, being inspired enough to commit to the idea, even a momentary idea; trying to recreate something viewed as ordinary into something out of the ordinary, and maybe just sometimes, extraordinary.
How much preliminary work do you do? Preliminary work is now thumbnails and color sketches, combined with much more thinking, contemplative thinking, before the painting is started. This allows more room for ” happy accidents” to occur. It’s those magic moments when something unexpected happens in the struggle of allowing head, heart and hands to connect, then starting the painting, preferably without thinking while trying to get out of my own way.
What colors are typically found on your palette? Titanium white, cremate white, cadmium yellow medium, lemon yellow, cadmium red light, terra rosa, transparent oxide red, alizarin crimson, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue dark, phathlocyanine blue, and ivory black. (Manufactured by Holbien, Rembrandt, Michael Harding, with the addition of a set of grays from Vasari).
What do you hope to communicate through your work? If I don’t communicate with passion, the beauty, truth, and the story of my idea, then I have not communicated at all. Hopefully I give the viewer something to “chew on”, some meaningful nourishment.
What’s your greatest artistic challenge? My greatest challenge has been, and continues to be, my struggle to move my ideas from head/heart onto the linen, hopefully with a refined result.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why? Too many influences to choose from, but from early on the illustrators I mentioned earlier had a big influence on me. Since then I would say Sorolla, Zorn, and a few Russian artists. But probably the most important influence has been a gift; the desire, passion and energy to pursue this calling, all given from God.
What causes someone to be strongly attracted to a particular painting? What must be present in both the art and the viewer in order for that to happen? In my opinion, attraction to a particular paintings is as varied as each painting; it’s mostly a mystery. Like many of you, I have heard comments from viewers/collectors that still inspire me. It seems, in a lot of cases, the viewer is being “apprehended” by a painting for a completely different reason than I thought would attract them. This mystery continues to inspire me to think and paint on a deeper level.
What type of marketing do you do? Website, Facebook, Gallery, and marketing through the shows and exhibits I participate each year.
If you could spend the day with any three artists past or present, whom would they be? This will change the minute I type this, but for this moment, Sorolla, my friend Bill Anton, and my daughter, Elizabeth. The next day it would be NC Wyeth, Gely Korzhev, and John Pototschnik. How many more days do I get?
If you were stranded on an island, which three books would you want with you? Books have always been so important to me; gateways to a place of inspiration. Only three? My Bible, my friend Lyn Chmiel’s new book “An Authentic Nature”, and a sketch book. Wonder what I’ll do for a pencil sharpener.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you like to do for a living? I’m still trying my best to be an artist. I haven’t really ever thought seriously of anything else.
What are your artistic goals for 2014? To be still learning how to paint in 2015.
David, thanks for a superb interview and willingness to share your concerns and search for a unique voice. Your openness will be an inspiration to many. As for me, I’m hearing your “voice” loud and clear. Please keep speaking with that brush.
David Griffin’s website
Searching for your artistic voice? Here are some helpful tips.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE
Scheduled Workshops for 2014
22-24 May – Dahlonega, GA
20-22 June – Lowell, MI
18-20 September – Jackson, MS
1-3 October – Portland, ME
(For details on each of these workshops, please click HERE)