George Bellows’s words are writ
large on the wall at the end of the current exhibition of his work at The Royal
Academy, London. They appear to be
addressed to younger artists, but I reckon the advice remains relevant
throughout any creative career.
We don’t know what kind artist
Bellows (1882-1925) might have become because his life was cut short. He died
aged 42 at a point where his work seemed to be in transition from documentary
realism to something more surreal and dreamlike.
His earlier work documents the
grittier side of Manhattan as it was transformed into a modern city. Bellows directs
his energy and his eye to look slant at the city. A dramatic series records the
digging of the foundations for Penn Station – a black hole in the middle of
Manhattan two blocks square. These dark scenes are often lit only by the glow
of workman’s brazier. Brave stuff to be painting in 1907/9.
He painted the poor of New York - people not normally depicted in works of art - such as his 'Forty-Two Kids' which shows street kids jumping into the East River to cool off.
He certainly lived up to his own
advice with his range of subject matter - boxing matches, seascapes in Maine,
family portraits, responses to the First World War. He also explored printing
as well as painting.
At art college he was a
contemporary of Edward Hopper. By the time he died in 1925 he’d left enough
evidence to show that he was still ‘learning his own possibilities.’ It’s tantalising to think of the artist
he might have become.
Bellows’s words apply equally to
writing. Having just spent the last month working ‘deliberately’, ‘painstakingly’
and ‘thoughtfully’ as I prepared my novel manuscript for submission, the quote
reminded me that it was time for a period of play and spontaneity!