When Is A Painting Finished?

"When I've painted a woman's bottom so that I want to touch it, the painting is finished." - Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Large Bathers, 1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Image via The Yorck Project. 

Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe Large Bathers, 1887Philadelphia Museum of Art, Image via The Yorck Project. 

When not painting bottoms, it's often hard to know when a painting is finished. Sometimes, you just know and you put your brushes down. It's a quiet but wonderful feeling of satisfaction. 

Sometimes you're unsure. When this happens to me, I try to put my brushes down and let a painting sit and my feelings marinate. I'm not always successful at stopping when I should, but stepping away from a painting, and coming back to it is one of the best ways to figure out what bothers you about it. Too much red? Not enough light?  Sometimes I can put a painting away for a week, and then when I look at it again, I realize I love where I stopped and I know it's done. Other times, I pause to look at a painting everyday for weeks. I turn it around, look at it upside down, and wait. If things keep bothering me, it's not finished, and I keep painting. 

No bottoms here. A recent series I'm working on. Are they finished?

No bottoms here. A recent series I'm working on. Are they finished?


On Finding Patience and Experimentation

I'm currently working on a series of paintings similar to this one on canvas. The style I most often paint in is layered, energetic and gestural. I try to paint intuitively and spontaneously, and my mind is clear when I'm painting --or at least that's the goal. This is of course abstract expressionism, and it's a style I find simultaneously frustrating and liberating. Each painting is a struggle to find balance between shape and color, light and dark. I often find myself overworking a painting especially when I'm frustrated, and in an effort to give myself space and find some calm, I have started painting smaller works on paper in different styles in between painting sessions. I sometimes call these smaller paintings "patience paintings". Paper is far less precious than canvas, and taking a break and experimenting with different styles helps me focus and clear my mind. 

Here are three different styles I've been experimenting with all inspired by images of moths. 

Acrylic on brown paper. Each 20 x 25"

Acrylic on brown paper. Each 20 x 25"

Acrylic on Arches Paper, Each 10 x 14"

Acrylic on Arches Paper, Each 10 x 14"

Acrylic on paper. Each 8 x8"

Acrylic on paper. Each 8 x8"

Acrylic on paper 8" x8"

Acrylic on paper 8" x8"

All originals are for sale. Please e mail me for prices: rena.thiagarajan@gmail.com

Color me Pondicherry

This past December, I took a weekend trip to the seaside town of Pondicherry on the South East Coast of India. A two hour drive from my hometown, Chennai, this former French colony is an eclectic mash-up of French and Indian.  You might know it from Yann Martel's famous book, Life of Pi, and if you were to visit for the first time, you wouldn't be the first traveler to walk its colorful streets in search of the zoo. There is no zoo in this town, but it's so worth a visit. Tamil street names still begin with "Rue" and French and Tamil homes alike, are painted beautiful hues of turquoise, pink and orange.

My recent series of smaller works on paper, titled "Pondicherry" gets its color palette, energy and shapes from iphone images I took while wandering the streets. 

I am a Painter

I am a painter.

It has taken me five years to call myself a painter. Here's my story:

Five years ago, I enrolled in an advanced painting class at the San Francisco Art Institute through its Adult Continuing Education Program.  I hadn't painted much since college where I managed to only fit in three art classes in four years otherwise filled with physics, chemistry and geology classes. But a decade later, in an art studio whose ghosts included Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, I picked up a paintbrush, and began painting.

I was a corporate lawyer and wanted a creative outlet; something fun to do to balance my busy life which at the time included not much but work. Since I lived a short walk from the Art Institute, I signed up for an advanced painting class, the only class that fit my work schedule. It was January, 2010, almost five years ago to the day. A few days before the class, I got an e mail from the instructor Glenn Hirsch asking me if I belonged in an advanced painting class. Yes, of course, I replied confidently. I had always loved to draw and paint as a child. In another life I would have been an artist.  

Now, five years later, I live that other life. Getting here, much like painting was a slow process. As a child, I painted when I felt like it. I'd paint one picture and hope it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. If it didn't go my way, I'd tear it up and move on to another activity. Glenn's class, which I took five times, taught me three essential skills that helped me become a painter: discipline, patience and risk-taking.

Over the last five years, I have learned to be disciplined about art. Somedays my fingers itch to paint, but other days I am uninspired. Turning my art into a practice, however, means painting even when I don't feel like it. Talent and affinity might play a part, but I believe it's painting regularly that makes me a painter. 

I've also learnt to be patient with my paintings, and work through frustration. My paintings are layered, and are painted over several sessions. I embrace the process and the struggle, and know that my first attempt at a painting is just that-- the first step.

And finally, painting in series, the only requirement of Glenn's classes taught me to take risks. Painting several paintings at one time helps me try new things, let go of perfection and take risks with my art. For every painting, I put up on this website, there is one that doesn't make it. 

Painting is a big part of my life. It brings me much joy and satisfaction, but it is also a practice and requires discipline and dedication. I didn't go to art school and am not formally trained as a painter, but after five years of painting, I am now a painter. 

The very first three painting I made in Glenn's painting seminar at SFAI. Scenes from a City, Jan-March 2010. 

The very first three painting I made in Glenn's painting seminar at SFAI. Scenes from a City, Jan-March 2010.