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What we really need more of

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?

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.

matisse-atelier

source  Atelier under the roof 1903 H Matisse

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.

 

matisees-a-la-seurat

source   Luxury, peace and pleasure 1904 H Matisse

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.

1911-henri-matisse-view-of-collioure-and-the-sea-1911

source   View of Colloire and the sea   1911  H Matisse

 

 

1898-sunset-in-corsica-henri-matisse-1898

source   Sunset in Corsica 1898

1947-henri-matisse-portrait-of-lydia-delectorskaya-the-artists-secretary-1947

source    Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya, the artist’s secretary, 1947 H Matisse

 

 

New eyes

November 1, 2016

matisse

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.

Crowded stilllifes

October 23, 2016

cr-stillfe1-begin

underpainting and first forms sketched in        acrylic 40 x 50cm

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🙂 ).

cr-stillfe1

Crowded still life 1    acrylic 40 x 50 cm

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.

glazes-begin

Neutral underpainting    acrylic 40 x 50cm

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.

cr-stillfe-glazes

Crowded still life 2  acrylic 40 x 50cm

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.

airy-blue-stillife

airy still life       acrylic    40 x 50cm approx.

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.

kitchen-still-life-1a

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.
fields-n-trees

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.

merged-layers

More in this series coming soon.

Back to work

October 1, 2016

It has been a challenging summer dealing with various health issues. But now I have energy again to share some of my life with anyone interested.

Making artwork has never really stopped. Some weeks after the op, I was already painting a copy of a  Matisse stillife. Spring inspired me to paint trees, then I got sick in June and things ground to a halt for awhile. Around that time I started sewing a quilt by hand, having bought 2 packs of beautiful Tilda cotton squares on sale. I liked the slow pace and the kind of mindless precise work.

Fall brought new inspiration. My last post had been in June and, with the onion paintings, I had broken through to a new way of working, .

onions2

Onions2 acrylic

It was kind of intimidating to try and pick that up again, I’d tried and failed a few times. So I decided to ease into painting again by doing something familiar. I feel most comfortable working in defined areas, like patchwork really. My oil pastel drawings tend to begin as grids, so I chose a few of my favourites and began copying them in acrylics.

It is so true that just working, regardless of being inspired or not, most always opens up the next step.

Even though I stopped again after completing these 2 below, doing them launched me into a new phase in my painting. More about that in the next post. Meanwhile…

When stuck in one medium it is often helpful to go to another. I decided to make collages out of some old oil pastel drawings. I did one a day for a week, here they are:


take care, til next time.

 

To the loyal handful of followers, thanks you make it worthwhile. And to new passers by. thanks for dropping in. It feels good to be sharing my joyful discovery painting mystery tour with you.

Continuing with the  ‘Spirit of Trees’ series, I took on an unfamiliar subject this time-  landscape/architectural. This painting is a lesson in overworking, and why it is so compelling, even though 9 times out of 1o it goes wrong. Below is a version I found ok but too fussy (with the detailed roof tiles). I wanted a yellow tree per se. And I wanted to keep it painterly and fresh. But I kept trying to get the whole thing looser, and eventually, I feel I lost the sunniness of this version. See painting under this one.

grandfather tree sunny copy

Grandfather tree sunny        50 x50 cm acrylic

 

grandfather tree greenish

Grandfather tree meets the walking dead

In my search to use my own colours rather than the given ones (see that the warm terracotta from the rooves is replaced by greens), I feel I lost something of the warmth of the first version. It kind of looks eerie, like the light before a bad storm moves in.

Between this phase of the painting and the previous one, I had also painted the sky soft yellow, you can see the remnants of that behind the buildings. That move killed it, so I reinstated the blue. You know what?, it began not to be fun any more, yet I’d started it with a wonderful sense of excitement. I’ve learned ( I hope!!!) to stop when the joy goes underground and painting becomes about trying to ‘correct’ something, or ‘get it right’. The fatal flaw in this painting was that I started with a concept (yellow tree) and didn’t listen enough to the subject or the painting.

A few days later, I got inspired by a photo I’d made of two onions on my work table. I took an old painting and drew right ontop of it, then started in painting rapidly, leaving some patches of background exposed. I loved it so much after the initial blocking in, that I didn’t dare to work on it any more.

onions1

Onions1 acrylic

So I put it aside and started a new one ontop of yet another old painting. I listened better this time and kept the freshness. It is mostly done, see below.

Here is what I learned, the lessons are particular to my own trajectory toward an intuitively sensed goal of where my truest work lies. So maybe they will be applicable to you, maybe not, but here they are:

  • let parts of the painting remain unfinished if that’s what looks right
  • cherish the roughness, don’t try to paint ‘beautifully’
  • don’t try to have everything make sense
  • follow the painting, not my original ideas about it when I started
  • don’t describe, dance.
  • the goal isn’t to get the subject right, but to get the painting to feel good, true

By the way, I feel that this tutorial taught me more in a few minutes than several advanced painting workshops I’ve taken. And buying a brush similar to the one this woman used was also a revelation! Materials help or hinder so much.

Here is the second onion painting, almost done. It makes me very happy.

onions2

Onions2 acrylic