Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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04/11/2006: "Painting over your own history"

I got a request from the Greek journal Ododeiktes to publish two more of my images. I had to dig two old paintings out of storage (to take the high resolution images they need for publication) and looking at one of them (from a show I did at our city museum almost 5 years ago) I realized how much my painting has changed in the last several years and how much I dislike some of the work I did back then (though at the time I thought it kicked ass of course!).

I see how things have changed, backgrounds that were once just blocks of solid color slowly morphed into landscapes which have taken on more and more of a central theme overall. The figures have gone from very flat and stylized with heavy black outlines to more realistic colors and less distorted shapes.

Part of me wants to go back over some of them and “fix” them according to my new sensibilities…but I wonder if it’s important to leave a trail for ourselves…to keep things the way they were so we can see where we’ve been?

Replies: 10 Comments

on Tuesday, April 11th, marja-leena said

Hey, I just had one of my prints, from many years ago, published in a recent issue of theirs!

I think it's interesting to look at old work and see how one has changed and hopefully improved (usually!). In the interest of history, one should keep old works - someday when you are famous, art historians will want to see all that old stuff - so I'm told. :)

on Tuesday, April 11th, Elise said

Hey Marja-leena...out of curiosity, did you ask them to send you the issue...and if so...did they?

They published one of my very old prints some years ago but I never received the promised copy. Now they are using 2 more images but promise they will send all the issues that have my work but I'm somewhat doubtful.

Small world eh? I just wish I could read greek!

As for changing old stuff, yes, I'm sure you're right about the art historians (har har), but what about my pride???

Some of it is quite terrible.

on Tuesday, April 11th, berry bowman connell said

You're actually touching on what you had discussed before, about someone wanting to buy your stuff before you were done. It's a case of, what if they like it now but after you finish doing what you want to do with it they aren't as interested. If you've put it down and behind you, then maybe you should let it go at that.
Vincent went through some fairly acute changes over the course of three years, but, had he stopped to go back over his "old" stuff, it's likely he wouldn't have been able to pull off 288 paintings in his last year. And, yes, that also means that I think the theory of someone counterfeiting his work after his death is pure hogwash. One can almost see the brushwork evolve slowly from Yellow House to both the paintings of the doctor. Whatever moron who thought that 288 paintings of that caliber were too many paintings for one person to do in a year is really missing the point altogether.

on Tuesday, April 11th, Elise said

Well, I guess it's similar, although not really since no one currently wants to buy the older ones and maybe I could fix a few things and make them stronger. Sure, there's the risk of making them worse but art is about risk, right?

Oh, and did Van Gogh really paint 288 paintings in one year. Sheesh, I've always thought that maybe getting committed was the way to go. You don't have to pay rent, cook for yourself, or anything like that and you can still have access to art materials.

Sign me up!

on Tuesday, April 11th, marja-leena said

Elise, they sent me the two promised copies. I passed one to my Greek ex-brother-in-law. They seem to want to "borrow" a lot of artists' works, which they really should be paying for. The writers probably get paid, hmm?

on Tuesday, April 11th, Elise said

Well, that's good to know (that they sent the copies) I agree it would be nice to get paid but ultimately I'd rather have my work out there, ya know?

on Wednesday, April 12th, Joan said

An experience I remember vividly, regarding your situation:

Do you remember those "School Days" books? There was that space for your current "signature." When I was in early grade school I remember looking at the kindergarten year's script and being quite embarassed and wanting to change it, as I "had matured." Well I did it and in later years, have really regretted it. One, for erasing what was "me" at that time. Two, for being ashamed of who I was at that time. Three, for not having a sense of pride or value of history - be it mine or otherwise. And four, not doing any significant amount better! Just a bit of a "history" lesson.

Good luck with your decision.

on Wednesday, April 12th, Elise said

That's a great example Joan! I think I'm convinced, maybe the criteria should be that if I've already exhibited something and it's over 2 years old I should just leave it alone.

If there is some change I'm dying to make I can always just paint a new version. No law against that.

Oh, and I do remember the "School Days"'s cool you still have yours!

on Thursday, April 13th, greg said

Unless the works were ever considered "unfinished," and require some spot attention, leave 'em alone and move on ... or burn 'em ;)

on Thursday, April 13th, Elise said

Hey Greg, I like the idea of burning them!

Of course, jackie pointed out to Berry awhile back that burning stuff that's been painted can create toxic fumes...