March 11, 2017
photo Rende Zoutewelle
Painting has been low key for awhile. I’ve tried showing up at the canvas anyway, but end up just rehashing stale ideas. It is a period where I need fresh input, so I’ll be giving it a rest until inspiration comes again.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the little guy above. I’m not quite sure what got me started on making felt birds. I had made a flock of them as brooches several years ago.
Maybe it is because the birds around here (northern Europe) lift my spirits. Not only do I regularly see blue cranes on my walks, but also flocks of geese stringing across the big skies chattering and calling to each other; and that rare treat, a swan family, whooping above with the wonderful whooshing of the wings. You just feel like you got blessed when they have passed by.
My husband has rigged up several bird feeders close to our large dining room windows and we’ve come to know the regular visitors well. Sparrows of course, coal tits like the one above, chaffinches, blue tits, ring doves, and English robins are the main ones. I just love the coal tits with their neat little black fronts and soft yellow bellies and sides. They like sunflower seeds best and will perch at the feeder tossing out everything else until they get to a prize, then they retreat to a higher branch and crack it open by holding it between their claws and pecking at it until they get to the meaty part. Chaffinches and robins will sit on the ground gratefully picking up the rejects thrown out by the coal tits. Watching the interactions between the birds is also entertaining.
So basically I made these birds to keep me company upstairs in my studio. The chaffinch is kind of crude, it was a first prototype . They definitely have some kind of presence, though, because our dog is jealous of them!
photo Rende Zoutewelle
If I do make more (not for awhile, they are So Much Work) I’d do a sparrow next. They are incredibly beautiful when you stop to look – with soft grey feathers and reddish chestnut caps and streaks of black, and various browns on the head and wings. There are also white accents, bringing out the contrast of all the different feathers. And did you know there are dozens of different types of sparrows? I didn’t until recently.
Anyway, the weather here is more springlike, so instead of sitting inside making felt birds, I’ll be out in the garden enjoying the real ones!
January 14, 2017
These two images were a departure of sorts for me, they are based on some photos I took in high summer last year. I don’t get inspired much by the idea of painting landscapes, it feels too limiting. But these two small format pieces on panel were done with a large brush to keep from getting caught up in details, and I like their freshness.
Every day I walk through these wide open Dutch skies and fields. There is a lot of water where we live, giving movement and direction to the flat, spread out landscape. I am constantly moved by the land here, how the light hits trees and fields, the changing colours throughout the day. It would be a natural painting subject if it weren’t milked ad infinitum by good and bad local painters. I have rarely found an ‘in’ to painting my surroundings because I like to use lots of colours and I need room for fantasy as well as reality.
Here is another realistic one from the same series:
This piece, done more recently, is more in line with what comes naturally to me. I love how the landscape elements creep into the still lifes, or is it the other way around? It is also large, 50 x 50 cm.
This one below was more successful to my eye, I knew more about where I wanted to go with it.
I love the small boat in the upper left corner, floating on a sewn sea with little red stitches. These pieces definitely have their own rhythm and structure if I step aside and follow where they want to go.
The latest in the series:
There were lots of surprises here, it is quite large, 50 x 70 cm. The little boat has returned to a more prominent place. The beet is kind of archetypal and the spirals please me.(There are elements reminiscent of some of Bob Knox’s work. A fellow artist from Findhorn who taught me by example, just how fun art could be. If you google him you’ll probably come up with a lot of his beautiful New Yorker covers.)
Leading on from here, ‘Garden’ is my new theme, I think. I’m totally inspired by our community edible garden and the work of Fritz Haeg.
December 7, 2016
I’m writing this one off the top of my head, no research, not a lot of links, etc., though I’ve written about the topic extensively in my book in progress.
A very young child appears on Idols or on YouTube and a talent is discovered. Take Jonathan, a three year old at the time the video of him was put online, ‘conducting’ a Beethoven symphony in the living room. It was hysterical, but also so fresh, so open and completely uninhibited. Picking his nose (gratefully most of that was cut out), and at the end, losing his balance and giggling uncontrollably on his back on the carpet as only a 3 year old can.
Couple of years later- Jonathan at 5 in a tux conducting a real orchestra, very serious.
First of all, a disclaimer here- in J’s case, I think there is a genuine desire to conduct, and the hunt for fame and money doesn’t seem to be the motivator. There is truly music singing in this kids veins. So please, if any of his relatives see this, don’t be offended. I’m sure he’s maintained a lot of his original purity.
I’m actually thinking less of him and more of the kids that appear on Idols, with their pushy parents, greedy for the recognition and money the kids talent can be used to gain.
What I’m trying to point out here is that important things get lost when what starts out as a gift gets turned into a commodity.
Having the ability to sing, conduct, dance, etc is a gift. It is connected to intimate internal values like life path and purpose. It needs time to develop and mature and become one’s own. Gifts are connected as well to the larger whole, our gifts are gifts to our community as well as for ourselves. In many non Western societies, the gift is how money and goods move around, and there are clear guidelines for how a gift is handled. Is it kept or passed on? Is it used up, is it used as a diplomatic gesture? There are myriad ways a gift travels and as many ways it influences what it comes in contact with. Gifts are powerful, they can awaken forces which contain the potential to incite or heal, to create or break connections, and more. They engage the imagination and call to unseen powers to participate in the giving and receiving.
In many folklore tales, hoarding a gift for one’s own enrichment is often the first step on a road to calamity. And we feel this- we know why when something for the the good of the community is appropriated for personal use, it is wrong.
Lewis Hyde says that every artist labours with a gift. He names 3 ways an artist and gift interact: first is the gift of talent the artist has; the second gift aspect is developing the talent and engaging in the creative process, the artist moves to a new place; and third, the result or product of this process is also a gift. Hyde acknowledges that each artist needs at some point to find out how to keep the qualities of the gift amidst the inevitable pressure of interacting with a purely commercial system.
When young Idols winners, or young, undeveloped art talents are pushed into the spotlight before the talent has matured, before the person himself is mature enough to understand the nature and application of their gift, then we all lose something precious. The artist and their work become links in the commodity chain, and the values change from giving, gifting, freedom of expression, taking risks, doing something for the love of it- to ‘What do I get for it?’ We all know what that looks like and there is really nothing new to learn from it. Same old same old buy and sell.
But next time you see a conductor lost in the spirit of the music, leading his orchestra to new heights, or an artist working on a project making urban wildlife habitats purely out of love for the animals, or anyone at all using their hands and skills for love and/or betterment of something, try to see what that does to you.
My experience every time is that it opens a place of generosity and inspiration in myself.
Isn’t that what we really need more of?
November 6, 2016
This is part 2 , scroll down for part one, ‘New eyes’.
In some ways I envy artists living in the time of Matisse (late 19th early 20th century). They had a clear artistic tradition to rebel against. In other words, their explorations made sense and had a context. They were responding to what had gone before, whether they were building upon that tradition or setting off against it. The Impressionists left the hard boundaries of classic realism and idealised philosophy of Romanticism to explore the transient effects of colour and light.The Fauvists were looking for individual emotional expression through simplified form and colour. Each of these movements of the time appeared new and even radical to the eyes of their contemporaries. There were discoveries being made about just what a painting could be.
In our times, everything in painting seems to have been done, so there is very little to react against except perhaps art as commerce. Anyone trying to find their truest work is basically on their own.
Matisse came to painting relatively late in life (his early 20s). His father worked in a textile shop and his mother was a haberdasher. Matisse grew up in the heart of the textile district. He had a classical education, but also attended an art school for decorative techniques applied to fabric.
Only after an illness where he was confined to bed and began to draw did the spark catch fire, and in 1890 he began an avid search to further his art education.He attended various popular art institutions of the time including the École des Beaux arts where he was a student of Gustave Moreau. He started out like almost all of us, learning the rules of perspective, colour, and how to paint. Here is an early work.
He’d been drawing and painting by this time for about 12 years. I call this ‘early’ because in his oeuvre of nearly 600 works, this is an early stage.
Matisse went through a difficult period in the beginning of his career, but unlike many starving artists of the time soon had success, which by 1912 was international. He had the means to travel- to London where he was influenced by the paintings of Turner, and to Corsica which revealed the wonders of Mediterranean light. Later, exposure to the art, textiles and masks in Africa made a deep impression on him, as did the Byzantine art and icons of Russia.
This painting is from 1904, and was an experiment in the theories of Seurat. Placing small dots of colour next to one another to be combined visually in the eye of the viewer.
The painting below seems to be influenced by Cezanne, and the one underneath that was an early experiment in using short thick strokes of colour like van Gogh.And finally, a flirtation with cubism, which didn’t last for more than a few paintings from 1916-1918.
November 1, 2016
Have you ever noticed that something you’ve looked at for years can suddenly come alive and take you to a completely new place, enabling you see through new eyes?
That’s what happened to me with Matisse. I’d always liked his exuberant work but no more than dozens of other artists I admired.
Recently, several friends coincidentally sent me cards of his realistic paintings, then I ran across a larger reproduction of the woman above in a magazine, and voilà I was gob-smacked.
Reading of his life and taking some time to study his whole oeuvre, I began to understand why this artist and why now.
The obvious answer is that his whimsical and direct way of painting answered some call in me to be more direct in my own work. But going deeper revealed other insights.
What distinguished Matisse from many of his contemporaries was his refusal to be pigeon-holed in any one of the numerous movements in art that were coming and going at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th centuries. He flirted with Impressionism, worked in a neo-impressionist style, and was considered the French leader of the Fauvists.
But he only used each mode of working as long as it served his search for his true work. When he had integrated the techniques and philosophies of these approaches, he left them to continue his personal path of discovery.
One thing I love about his story is seeing how he was influenced by each of his encounters with contemporaries. And what contemporaries they were! He was good friends with Picasso,bought sketches by Cezanne early on, rubbed shoulders with Seurat and tried his hand at pointillism, and was blown away by Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings. Imagine being alive in those times with all of that going on! What a challenge to navigate these different streams and still come out with something original and authentic to your self. This is what touches me most about Matisse’s life long quest through painting.
Next time I’ll take you through some of his early paintings, and I’ll show the influences on his work and how he continually outgrew them.
October 23, 2016
HI folks, this is a continuation of the series I’m working on which seems to be about dancing between realism and abstraction. I needed to keep the freshness of this underpainting and sketch, so I let go of certain givens, like making the yellow ball (which was a pomegranate) bright rose red. When faced with a decision, I chose for ‘feels good’ for the whole painting, rather than ‘right’. Looking at this now, I can also see how landscape is coming in, through the patches of green, like crops seen from the sky. (The red and yellow stripe are the Dutch bulb fields 🙂 ).
Above is the ‘finished’ piece. It simply means where I chose to stop working on it. Some things aren’t ‘completed’. But it is the imperfections I love so much in others’ work so I left them in mine.
The next piece was quite different. I wanted to work with more neutral colours. It is painted over a few portrait studies I did, you can see a face peeking out behind the small dropper bottle at the upper right.
Without really thinking about it consciously, I started painting this with glazes rather than solid colour. I think that I was quite intimidated at first by the strong and dominating shadows, and this was a way to approach them cautiously.I really loved the black broken lines of the charcoal sketch, so with dry-brush I imitated them in places.
For some reason one of my favourite areas in this painting is the little rectangle with the orange and greenish blue plum on the lower right just next to the plate with radishes. I also like the shallots.
It would be tempting to ‘fill in’ everything (see bottle and dropper bottle upper right), but my instinct was to leave it. These paintings are done in a spirit of following where the painting leads. There are lots of open areas, spatially as well as in content. I like the surprises I got while painting it. Things happened which could never be planned. When you’re in that kind of flow, each painting opens out naturally into another one. I don’t have a subject yet, but this exploration will definitely continue.
Next post will be about Matisse. ah lovely.
October 10, 2016
One of my present challenges with painting is to distil some basic elements out of a crowded composition.
I don’t like to set up still lifes these days, they strike me as too formal. So when certain aspects of our messy kitchen counter caught my eye, I took a picture and decided to work with it purely as a starting point. This first piece above wasn’t entirely to my satisfaction composition wise, but I liked that I was able to break out of slavishly following the actual photo.
Later, I revisited this set up from another angle. This time I used a specific underpainting which was a previous failed work. Last post I talked about using some of my oil pastel drawings as models to kick start my painting. Take a look at the lower left panel of this piece below.
I decided to enlarge that as a separate painting. It didn’t have enough design elements to hold interest, but it made a great underpainting for the next still life I did.
I let the composition and colours of the underpainting lead my decisions in this still life. Finally, my two ways of working seem to be coming together- the realistic, and the freer, fantasy approach. I need the everyday objects to anchor and engage my attention. But I also need the room to be able to play with colour and light. I also enjoy the freedom of not having to explain everything. Areas are left out of focus and a little mysterious.
That’s why I feel that the approach to painting which speaks most to me is as poetry. Distilling the essence of something without explaining the magic away.
A lot of realistic painting bores me because of the intellectual approach. Just imitating the likeness of something even if technically well done isn’t necessarily art. As either viewer or maker, it doesn’t bring me anywhere new, it doesn’t open any doors in my heart or soul.
Here is a merged photo of the still life over the under painting.
More in this series coming soon.