These difficult times have caused me to do some reflecting. Old insecurities creep in, and I wonder why I bother. The need remains, so I put aside the questioning, as I have done for over forty years of trying to create. In the doing lie the answers.
I keep coming back to my journey, my path, and I have to find my answers—others will help, but in the end I have to find my own answers. It is not easy; it takes hard work. I find that if you are lucky, you will find inspiration along the way. It might be a fellow artist (Susan Loftin), an artist you admire (Duane Michals), a book (Unaccustomed Earth) , a movie (Everything Is Illuminated), music (Loretta Lynn), nature—they illuminate your path, but you can’t forget it is your path, and yours alone.
Silence the voices so you can hear yourself. It only gets more difficult with the many contemporary distractions, starting with the phone. You can’t do that. It has been done. You have nothing to say. You don’t work hard enough. When I get in a rut, I remember what Nellie Mae Rowe said about playing in her playhouse. It helps not to take myself so seriously.
Make no mistake, attempting to create is difficult work, hard work, brutal work. I have to be persistent and keep at it. Looking back is distressing, thinking of all the bad work I’ve made in order to get to a few good pieces.
Rest is needed. Time away from the studio is essential. I have to live life. Spend time with those you care for. Eat good food, drink, garden, travel, read—nourish your soul. I’ve been very fortunate to have a wife, family, fellow artist friends who I care for and who care for me. I can’t underestimate what they have meant to me. Show your gratitude.
Balance. The scales are always tipping one way or the other. It is a great state to be in if possible; it keeps me open to possibilities.
Many things have changed over the years, but one thing remains certain: there is the studio, and there is what happens outside of the studio. The two must remain separate.
If you don’t have to do it, move on, find something else to do. When I look back at the many talented people I’ve know that gave up on their art, I can’t help but think that the need was not there. I wish I knew how to define this need, but if you have it, you know it. Many times I’ve wished I did not have the need.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, to fail. You have to have a certain strength to put your work out there. Do it. The good, the bad and the ugly; all make us who we are.
Take the time to look. It does not have to be limited to art.
Don’t fear beauty. It has its redemptive qualities.
Visual art should not have to be explained by a statement.
Remember that others write about art, critique it, collect it, curate it, own it, sell it, but the artist creates it. My friend Judith Alexander taught me that lesson.
Photographs of Mario Petrirena’s studio and works-in-progress by Emily Llamazales. All photos courtesy of the artist.