Visual Artist as Writer? / by Gary Perrone

This title immediately puts me at odds with myself. I think writing is a good practice and an excellent use of time, however I believe one must be able to write about oneself, from an artist's perspective before taking on the difficulties of writing about another artist's work. Sometimes it seems undue pressure is placed upon artists to write about each other as way to establish credibility. Perhaps show the artist as something other than a self-absorbed extremist, living in an ivory tower. 

The fact remains, as a lifelong artist I am uniquely qualified to write about my own art. In my posts I intend to elaborate on my art through the eyes of an artist. I will, in effect document the philosophies that lead my art and life. I will share the people, subjects and things that inspire my creative spirit and the challenges I face as an artist today.

Much that has to do with my current art creation has roots in my career in advertising. It is unavoidable as my career taught me discipline and how to break down a concept to find the kernel of creativity. It is annoying because I was an artist before I was an art director or graphic designer or any of those visually oriented occupations. As a student of advertising design writing was not part of the curriculum, although headlines and text were always needed. As I progressed through my career I found all creative projects started with written instructions of one kind or another. Thus, I and every other visual creative professional quickly realizes the importance of writers and indeed, many ad agency creative executives have backgrounds in writing and journalism, above visual arts.

This makes it more of a challenge for visual types who may have a hard time putting the ethereal into words. As an art director I appreciated this particular reverence granted to writers and always strived to get my own "writing" in projects whenever possible. If ever some bit of advertising copy I penned made it through the creative process unedited or purged I felt a victory. In each case I did not let it be known I was the contributor. I felt there was an automatic bias towards anything I wrote, as there were hired writers on any given team.

Being able to clearly communicate my ideas, my demands, whatever it is – verbally and in writing has always been important to me. Like anything one chooses to do well, practice helps. I have many notebooks and journals filled with mind dumps from years past. At some point I found journaling to be very valuable in terms of purging my mind of unproductive thoughts. I came to discover in retrospect some entries can be unintelligible. Even when journaling about a specific topic, say a bad breakup or trying to beat an addiction.

I came to discover in retrospect some entries can be unintelligible.

Regardless, the journals are very important to my art. When I first started to paint, around Y2K I needed a reason, a concept. I love Dadaism but I was not about to throw paint in the air to see where it landed. I prefer to control the chaos of my art. My painting style came out of my desire to transfer my thoughts into color rather than words even though my thoughts are mainly verbal. When my mind races and becomes overwhelmed, there may be images and visions but whatever I experience is accompanied by a non-ending stream-of-consciousness – in words. I do not hear this, it is purely in my mind.

I thought journaling would be an effective way of transferring my thoughts to a piece of paper through writing. I found a similar effect occurred when I put down writing-like marks of paint on a canvas, which in effect became a visual journal of the same stream-of-consciousness. This is the basic concept of my painting style.

My journaling serves different purposes. While it can be therapeutic at times, at other times it is a useful tool for unlocking my creative mind. There are times when I have tried to incorporate written journaling into a visual piece because the words are so essential and an inescapable layer in the entire process. In the instances I have attempted this I encountered a very different journaling process. In this case, the writing, or rather the depicting of verbal language became very slow. Unlike the rapid and sometimes hysterical scribbling I found cathartic in my notebooks, in my painting each letter became a glyph that felt like it was being carved into place. I found my thoughts in temporary states of suspension (mantra) as I endeavored to bring my hand up to speed with my mind. Upon completion of four such panels I was exhilarated. Not only had I succeeded in fulfilling the vision of my paintings, but I also found the process itself to be transformative. I believe one can purge unproductive thoughts through writing and I believe writing can be very useful in setting the course of one’s life.

Streams – 2006

Streams – 2006

Be Still – 2006

Be Still – 2006

When I journal with intent it is like repeating a mantra. For instance, I painted Streams at a time when I was feeling an extreme sense of existential restlessness. The first of a quartet, Streams represents the maximum. A barrage of nonstop chatter. The last of the panels, Be Still represents the minimum. The two panels in between, This Is and I Must are part verbal mashup and mantra, like a winding down to the quietude of Be Still.

Four panels – 2007
Purchased by a U.S. Federal Attorney in 2008.

Each panel is 12” X 24”

Of course, I realize journaling of this kind is not the same as storytelling. My paintings contain the transference of perceived thoughts as a form of creativity unique unto itself. Nevertheless, writing is essential to the creative process. Even for a visual artist such as myself.

– GP

P.S. My life as an artist depends upon my generating revenue from my art and related services. I welcome replies, inquiries and opportunities. I am currently working on a series of watercolor images relating to the historical dead of northeastern Texas. You can find/purchase my available paintings at