Self Portrait with Mahl Stick

Once in a while someone will ask me if it’s difficult to sell a painting, knowing I’ll probably never see it again. Surprisingly, the answer is no. (And of course not, I’m grateful for the sale!) More often than not, I don’t feel a sentimental connection to my paintings. That is — once they’re finished.

With some work, the really hard part, for me, is finishing. When I’m working, I see the picture daily for months or years. It’s always with me, whether in my mind or my hands; all the whileThomas Kenneth Conway analyzing different steps and going back to check my work, like wrestling with a complicated equation.

At a certain point, the picture develops its own momentum and carries on as if independent from me. I feel as though I’m watching, not doing. Once I see the painting headed for resolution, a kind of fearful surprise comes over me. It’s like a prelude to loss — the dread felt when you recognize you’re about to drop something, knowing it will break when it hits the ground and you can’t do anything to stop it. It can be frightening. I’ve caught myself avoiding this moment, seeing that a picture is just about finished. I have often run from it, sometimes just turning the panel to the wall (and ignoring it for days or months) or committing some drastic change which delays the end.

I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember. Part of it might be that fear of loss, thinking about sending the picture away… But more than that, I think it’s a kind of loneliness, knowing my relationship with the painting is about to end. More than any other subject, I find these feelings in self-portraits. It seems obvious, but they’re very personal paintings, often painted in the pursuit of some theory or technical issue. But above all, they’re driven by the simple pleasure of painting, unaffected by pressures of sales and exhibitions. To tell the truth, it saddens me to finish these paintings.

Click this image (below) for a high-resolution detail.

Thomas Kenneth Conway

Comments (1)

  1. 6:55 am, April 14, 2013Michael  / Reply

    Your subtle gradations of light and shade and amazing. This is an excellent painting.

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