Looking Back at Ones Art Career

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.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

2 thoughts on “Looking Back at Ones Art Career

  1. Great suggestion Steve. It is really important to look back over our past works. I make a living selling at outdoor shows from May – October, but I make a habit of keeping a few paintings from each season…..often the ones I like the best. This gives me a way of looking back over the years and seeing how my work is evolving. I have also compiled a book, which is quite easy to do on the computer these days, and included pictures from the beginning of my career to the present.
    It seems we are always feeling we need to do and accomplish more with our art careers, so I think looking back has a duel purpose: it is not only great to be able to see how our styles and interests have evolved, but it is also important to remind ourselves of how much we have already accomplished.

  2. I’ve had a stop and start career as a painter for forty years. It is only since my retirement six years ago that I began to paint with more consistency. Already I wish I had documented all my paintings, in this time frame at least. I have been lucky enough to have gallery representation but many are gone and I have no record of them. In the past two years before I take paintings into the gallery I have them professionally scanned to a CD and have an 8 x 10 print made for my portfolio. I also have 2 each of 5 x 7 and 3 x 5 folding cards made for my own use. It is always good to know that I can use that scan at any time to have prints made of any size, but that’s not where I want my sales to go. In the new year I plan to give myself the housekeeping project of doing a proper inventory. Already I can see good changes and growth in my work. About eight years ago I had an opportunity to buy back one of my early paintings done while I was a student when it turned up at a gigantic community garage sale. I was so proud of it back then, and truly regret now that I didn’t buy it as it was done in 1968. What a wonderful timeline I would have had and could have had early documentation of my progress. Alas! Missed opportunity … but never again.I truly believe artists need to remember where they have been so they can appreciate their own accomplishments now.