My wife and I had the pleasure of attending the opening reception for a retrospective exhibition of Thomas A. Pressly Jr.’s paintings at The Radius Gallery, in San Antonio, Texas, on November 14, and we were intrigued to see the acrylic paintings he created over a 40-year period. We’ve admired Pressly’s work since the early 1980s, and I have written about the artist several times in American Artist. However, seeing even the most familiar paintings alongside those that preceded or followed them gave us a completely new perspective on Pressly’s achievement. As we moved from one painting to the next, we became more aware of the forces that influenced Pressly as he created pleasant marine paintings, semiabstract compositions, intimate portraits, impressionistic landscapes, and architectural studies. It was like having a revealing conversation with a good friend as he reviewed the experiences of his life. We’re certain it was an equally meaningful experience for the artist because many of the paintings on view were sold to private collectors, museums, and corporations decades ago and have been unavailable to Pressly since they left his studio.
Few artists can undertake the monumental job of borrowing paintings and securing permission to exhibit them as Pressly’s wife—Emily Cameron Pressly—did for this retrospective, but they can find ways of looking at their work through various stylistic periods, methods of expression, and changes of subject matter. The simplest way would be to pull 20 paintings out of storage racks and organize them around a room in chronological order, or to put together a slide show of paintings created over the past 20 years. You could also copy our friend Thomas S. Buechner, who put a strip of wooden molding around his studio in Corning, New York, so he could display either his most recent paintings or those he saved over the years. As he enters his studio, Buechner can immediate connect to his most recent painting ideas or remember a series of pictures that still might be expanded.
A wise friend, Peter Carey, says the challenge of knowing ourselves is one that is always worth pursuing but can never be completely resolved. Artists have a particular need to review and analyze their creative expressions; and retrospective exhibitions, informal displays, or collected photographs can help them remember who they are, what they have to say, and how others can see the visual world trough their eyes.
Have you found an effective way of reviewing your work that you would recommend to another artist? Or, is there some insight you have gained from seeing a retrospective exhibition of a great artist’s work? I’d appreciate it if you would share your experiences.