How did you do that? How does an artist prepare for an exhibition or art fair?

How did you do that?

I’m ready to attempt to answer the question “How did you do that?” now that I’m back from exhibiting at The Other Art Fair in Sydney, have my computer (partially) repaired and have had some time to assimilate all the things I learned over the past couple of months.

This week I was asked the “How did you do that?” question about getting a body of work ready for the art fair. (Artists call a collection of work a “body” of work.”) The person asking on this occasion is looking to ready themselves for a solo exhibition next year.

When it comes to giving an answer, the bit I know is that you need to have a particular number of works, depending on the size of the gallery. They need to be finished in time for framing or, if like me you don’t frame your paintings, in time to do all the finishing off of edges, adding hanging wires etc.

The bit that I don’t know how to answer is the other side of the “How did you do that?” question, how did I know what to paint, if it was good enough, how did I come up with a theme, and how did I start? Those questions I didn’t know the answer to while I was doing them, and I can now only answer them, and only up to a point, with hindsight.

Photos from The Other Art Fair Sydney 2019

The truth is that when you come to see an exhibition, any exhibition I believe, the artist didn’t know what or how to do it when they began to build it. Even if they are experienced and there is a known theme, the act of creating paintings within that theme either expands or refines that theme, so it shifts significantly over time. And this is how things should be. Artists create and that act of creation brings forth both something not seen before, but also not imagined.

Yes this is a wishy washy answer. The only thing I can say is that each unknown step I took towards my body of work for the art fair revealed my next step. I never knew what that would be until I’d completed the preceding one.

From a more practical angle, and I have my art friend Sarah Mufford to thank for ingraining this in me, you want a consistent body of your best work.

Until this was reinforced for me I was distracted by thoughts like “Oh, I think people will like this!” or “This would look great in (this) type of home!”. These are thoughts of the audience, not the work. I needed to turn around, refocus on my work and simply paint the best I could.

So how did I develop me theme? It came out of painting, working in the studio experimenting and playing and asking myself questions like “What do I love in this so far?”

How did I come to my colour palette? It came out of painting, choosing colours that worked well but were still surprising and asking myself questions like “What does this colour say to me and how can I use that?”

Yes, the answer to just about every question comes out of the act of painting. So my biggest piece of advice is to just start painting and trust that it will lead you to where you want, and need, to be.

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