Summer Heat, Madness, and Paint

Andrew Conti painting studio summer


It has been rather hot lately. It is still early early Summer, and already the temperature in my studio is well past 80 degrees. Every year, I debate with myself if this is the year I install an air conditioner and get on with making my work in comfort.

But perhaps not. There is always something that stops me. The energy that comes from heat is a kind of battery for me, one that I am hesitant to remove. Somehow in the heat of summer I feel more focused and energized. Urged on by heat to do more and more. To keep working despite myself.

There is a madness to working in the heat to be sure. A kind of bodily dysfunction that leads to mental states we couldn’t reach otherwise. A trance state, a state where the movements and the actions of the body come to the forefront. You sweat, movements are harder, you feel the heat around you like a physical presence. And as you work against it the mind recedes.

Now, I stop myself here, because I realize just how new age-y and spiritual this sounds. These are two things that I generally resist, especially in my art. I’m not particularly interested in creating a kind of spiritual painting, or in reaching spiritual states to create my work. I neither see nor seek anything supernatural.

In fact I have a fear of those things in painting. I’ve seen how in certain states people can become so fascinated with the movement of a brush, and the tactile nature of the materials of paint, that they lose themselves. As a result they also lose the painting. After waking from their state, all that is left is the visual equivalent of gobbledygook. Grey smears and muddy ideas.

But there is a demanding dance involved in painting. A physical struggle to stay ahead of the logical/critical mind. It can be so loud and invasive, so willing to assert itself when it really needs to stay quiet. When you are painting you are compelled to interact with this voice, and a lot of other voices that are swimming in the pool of your mind.You have to find someway of distancing, of limiting, and ultimately dispelling them.

I always come back to this quote by Philip Guston.

“When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.”

The presence of heat for me becomes a kind of physical opponent in this dance that limits the mental ones. It dulls the voices as they fall exhausted. The heat creates a resistance. One that must be confronted physically. And in the exertion, the mind will drop away, leaving only you and the canvas.

This is something I truly embrace in my painting at present.

So I resist the air conditioner little longer. At least for now it works for my painting.

But never for drawing, oh… no…. Once your sweat ruins a perfectly good piece of paper, you never do that again.