The Secret Artist #6: Opposing Forces

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How do YOU find a balance?

Dear Secret Artist,

Do you sometimes feel pulled in different directions? Or question your true identity? I have for sometime been aware of opposing forces within me. One example is my extrovert tendencies vs my introvert nature, this was even more extreme during my twenties. I would sometimes experience from day to day feeling like a totally different person. I did not enjoy this flexibility in my character and most of the time I felt like I was having an identity crisis. Everyone else appeared to be solid in their character and sense of self. I felt neither this nor that. I felt inauthentic, fraudulent and flimsy. I longed to know what kind of person I was and to draw strength from being either one thing or another. Such is the confusion most of us feel before we cross the threshold of 30 and thankfully step into less fraught stages of growth and change. Today’s blog post is about how the restless duality within my seIf still continues, nothing has changed within me, only my perceptions have evolved and the opposing forces are now less a source of distress and more of a catalyst for my artistic practice.

There are many examples of opposing forces within me that I could choose to talk about: extrovert/introvert being one and my puzzling desire to be visible and invisible at the same time being another. Today I’m interested in discussing a perhaps more subtle contradiction that shapes the process of my painting.

It’s as if I’m split down the middle. One side of me is purely aesthetic, I have an eye for colour. You could say I have a colour obsession. The interplay between colours is an endless source of intrigue and mystery. There is a part of me that is completely satisfied with the puzzle of rearranging colour, texture, line and form into endless formations. This concern affiliates me with the Formalist Art Movement: without subject or representation, only the materiality of the paint and the compositional balance matters.

“The creative force and the expressiveness of painting reside materially in the color and texture of pigment, in the possibilities of form invention and organization, and in the flat plane on which these elements are brought to play (…)” ― Man Ray

abstract pinkartistquarter

Pink Abstract, Acrylic on Canvas 80x80cm

The other part of me is imaginative and loves story, metaphor, symbolism and characters, it can’t help but construct narratives. It reminds me that I was a writer before I was a visual artist. From as early as I can remember I have enjoyed creating images with words. Most of the content in my collection of sketchbooks from the past 15 years is written. I write in order to think.

The story teller in me seeks meaning and insists on creating connections. You may relate to my child self that would stare at a pattern on a curtain and watch it transform from the abstract into a face or an animal, this part of my brain says ‘there has to be more than this.’ But the aesthetics side of me does not want to be weighed down by story, tied to following linear connections. It protests that there is no meaning beyond colour, form and texture and it must be free to organise as it sees fit to achieve a compositional balance.

So, as I paint, these forces play out, constantly competing for dominant expression. Regardless of my intention to engage one side of myself or the other, they both come to the table, insisting that they are the authoritative mode.

In one moment a neutral mark may become a suggestion of a figure or a landscape and then my imagination kicks in, creating links between these snippets of representation. This momentum can also bring the obstacle of attachment, as it is harder to paint over a ‘something’ than a ‘nothing’ (neutral mark). Equally I find that a painting can’t be completed on the merit of it’s imaginative journey alone: the work must also achieve a compositional harmony of colour, texture and form. To achieve this whilst honouring the narrative elements is extremely challenging and can feel virtually impossible. Some paintings are epic, layer upon layer of intensive working, pushing through many stages until finally there is a pause and the restless sea is calm.

“In a sense my painting is a performative act.  I go inside the painting and when the balance occurs it is a shared moment of recognition between myself and the work.” ― Gemma Kauffman

The above is a quote from my About page on my website. These transitory moments of recognition and balance are what drive me to create. I need the process of making art to externalize and allow the different aspects of my self to play out. My art practice is the movement between the opposites.

These days I find that I no longer feel the need to be ‘this’ or ‘that’, or to adhere to a title such as writer, painter, performer, extrovert or introvert. This need to be labeled does not come from me, it comes from a world that needs things to be things. I believe we are in a constant flow and state of flux as we grow and evolve and that we are complex. Life is full of profound meaning and also simultaneously has no meaning at all, we are echoes of this fundamental contradiction. I believe people are processes not things and allowing ourselves to intuitively flow between our dual aspects is to claim our humanity, our oneness with duality.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

See you next week,

Love and Best wishes


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

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