We’re excited to bring a new weekly feature to the blog: each week we’ll be highlighting a new member of The Abundant Artist Association. Our members have graciously answered our questions about their art practice and business and we’re looking forward to sharing their wisdom and experience with you over the coming weeks.
Our first member is abstract artist Gwen Meharg.
TAA: How would you describe your art to your ideal collector?
Gwen: I use abstraction to paint hope. Hope is what lingers after the ugly and difficult. The layers, some of them not pretty, represent moments of time frozen for examination. A moment in time, be it seen or unseen, is still true. I wrestle with the paintings until they resolve into beauty. The paintings are a reflection of who I am and also my religious tradition that offers hope that, in the end, each journey resolves in beauty.
TAA: What motivates you during slow seasons?
Gwen: Sheer determination and stubbornness. Motivation has to come from within. Anything else is a game. BUT as far as games go, a crituqe and/or accountability group helps. Not wanting to disappoint, not wanting to be the dead weight, helps keep the people pleaser in me going.
For over ten years I attended two different in-person critique groups. It was hard. I had six children and traded for babysitting. What was interesting was how my kids got into it. “Mom, have you finished your paintings? How many?” “You better do your work.” They were merciless and enjoyed it!
One group allowed up to four paintings, the other three. I wanted my money’s worth so that meant seven paintings a month. I was working smaller and more direct then but it still took me twenty hours a week to get the paintings finished. Today, I could not make seven paintings a month, but those years of seven paintings a month instilled discipline in me. Now Ithe TAA community and an online artist accountability group keep me going focused when things are slow. Our time is precious. I do not want to waste anyone else’s time by my lack of diligence.
And after 29 years of stubborn determination, I am seeing some fruit. Sales are still elusive, but I have an opening scheduled January 1 at a high-end bed and breakfast in Fort Worth, Texas and a solo show at Pardieu Gallery in April and May in Allen, Texas.
PS. In the past I allowed my parent’s and sibling’s drama to derail me. The Big Leap was instrumental in breaking that destructive cycle. When my father died in October 2018 I learned I was ” intentionally disinherited”. I was shocked to learn it was a seven-figure loss. WIth the tools I am learning from The Big Leap, I watch the drama from afar rather than being sucked in. I have the rare privilege of knowing the cost of my freedom and for the first time in years, I sleep at night.
TAA: How did you settle on your current way of working? (How did you narrow your focus?
Gwen: There has always been a spiritual theme to my work. Faith/prayer drew me back into art after my life as a software engineer. (I majored in computer information systems and statistics at university. Twice. I have an MBA.)
An abusive misogynist pastor and serious illnesses among friends left me without words to pray. Instead, I painted my prayers. Painting twenty hours a week, using abstraction, I thought I was doing something new. It turned out the heart of the paintings remained the same. A narrative of hope just shone through. I capitulated to the fact that I can’t escape who I am. Life is complicated, layered, I want to uncover the ribbon of hope.
I paint beautiful, maybe not pretty, but beautiful paintings. I read once that looking at a painting for three hours actually grown synapses in the brain. I want to make art to grown synapses. I want to grow brains and hope.
I work in series. I can look back to the mid-1980s and see the roots of where I began in my work today. Each year between Christmas and New Years I create a painting that challenges what has gone before and explores what might be. This determines my focus for the next year.
TAA: What is one mistake you’ve learned an important lesson from in your business?
Gwen: I really want to cuss here. Comparing one’s self to the successes and/or perceived successes of others is detrimental in art, art business, and life.
Compete, sure, but compete WITH not AGAINST. Competing with allows room for multiple successes and personal growth. Competing against creates losers. Art is a personal growth career. There is work to be done. Study. Learn. Grow. Be wise. But, guard against comparisons.
Not all artists will earn their livings from their art. NOT earning your living through your art does not mean you are not an artist. I believed that for decades. I am thankful for the changes in the art market that are making room for more of us. But still, financial success does not make you a great artist. Do what needs to be done to take care of yourself and your family and make art. You are not a lesser artist because you are fiscally responsible. Hooray for those who bring in a living wage through their art. Hooray for those who earn a living wage and make art.
We need to see each other and support each other. I guess I need to give this more thought, but until then, here ya go.
TAA: What was your greatest success from the past year?
Gwen: This is going to sound lame, but I did a review of the past year yesterday and was SHOCKED at the successes. I have stubbornly refused to plan since 1982. Five, ten and twenty-year plans were the rage when I was in business school. It freaked me out and I refused. That bled over into my art career. But in 2018, I risked a little planning. So my greatest success in 2018 was recording and acknowledging my successes, small and large.
I created goal boxes (NOT PLANS!) on four pages that I glued into my calendar. Four exhibition boxes. Twenty-four blog boxes. Twelve email boxes. Twenty-four art excursion boxes. Three gallery boxes. Twelve art-related travel boxes. Four art consultant boxes. You get the idea. I will not tell you the names of the ones where I checked off NO boxes. They had to do with personal care. Sigh.
Looking over those pages yesterday, I was THRILLED to see how many boxes I checked off. And I had to add boxes to exhibitions in 2018 (seven!) I had forgotten about most of them. You know how it is. You do the work and move on.
Maybe in 2019, I will learn to pause and celebrate before moving on. Enjoy the wins. Spend less time looking at what might have been. Check off some personal care boxes. I am going to be nice to me. Treat myself as kindly as I treat strangers. (But not drivers who cut me off. Nope, those losers….)
Gwen Meharg is an abstract painter based in Fort Worth, TX. You can see her work at http://gwenmeharg.com.