ARTISTS REVEAL THEIR BREAKTHROUGH WORK | ALI CAVANAUGH
A few things were happening in my work and behind the scenes leading up to a major technique shift in 2015. My muse of 18 years (my daughter, Neve) was going away to college and starting a life of her own. She would no longer be a part of my daily life and daily inspiration. At this same time I was losing curiosity in the realism technique that I developed over the previous eight years. I knew that change was inevitable and I was excited for what a new chapter would hold.
In February of 2015 my daughter, Saoirse, was two years old and happened to be climbing on a table in my studio one evening. It was in that moment under the hazy florescent light, she looked at me and a feeling of inspiration struck me. I took some photos that led to me painting Lost.
I posted that first painting of her on social media and it received an overwhelmingly positive response. This gave me the enthusiasm to paint her again. Saoirse’s expression was open and honest. The innocence, the energy, the whole dynamic was a huge shift from the previous eight years of work, that had been focused on young women showing inward, private emotion. I was searching for ways to simplify and abstract my watercolor technique. I wanted to paint Saoirse with an open, more energetic approach.
This exploration of a new way to paint started with my break through painting, Open. I limited my palette to blues and greens to reflect a dream state. I began pouring and dripping watercolors instead of controlling each paint stroke with tiny brushes. My approach pre-2015 was very literal. I took an idea and then painted every square inch with perfection and control.
In Open, I let the water fall and move and dry and then speak to me. I responded by removing color or laying down more color. The painting and I went back and forth, as if we were in conversation. My new approach was to allow space for surprises. I had to learn to be forgiving in my process so that I could leave unexpected mishaps in the final painting, while at the same time develop areas where I wanted the emotion to me more direct. This break through painting taught me to embrace imperfections and to preserve a place for spontaneity in the creative process.