Recent work

July 21, 2015

5 bottle still life, oils

5 bottle still life, oils

This might look familiar to some of you, I’ve been working on a series of Rende’s photos of bottles in front of some of my still life paintings. I did 2 versions of this one, and the second is still in progress. This one tries to be true to the photo which I loved because of the contrast between the rich darks and glowing oranges. I took it with very little light in my studio, so it is hand held and out of focus (see the signature) . The bottles are quite clean and sharp in the original painting. I was especially happy with the right edge of the bowl seen through the blue bottle.

And now for something entirely different. I fell in love yet again with another of Ivon Hitchens’ paintings.

Original September Bouquet, Ivon Hitchens

Original September Bouquet, Ivon Hitchens

So I spent some happy days copying it. My version is a bit livelier qua colour, I like them both. Also, my canvas was a different proportion so I had to fudge the layout a little.

Copy of HItchens September bouquet, oils

Copy of Hitchens September bouquet, oils

I just can’t imagine sitting in front of a vase, container (?) of flowers on a wood floor and producing something as gauzy and vague as this. It is a bouquet, yet there are hardly any greens except those nice two fresh strokes on the left.

What that shape is in the lower right corner, I have no idea. I can’t get inside this guys head in any way. If you see some of his other work, you’ll see that form isn’t the main thing with him. But I still love his nonchalance and in some of his other still lifes, the addition of scribbly outlines as well as decorative colour patches.

I’m getting up the nerve to do a painting of my own in his style; I’ve already done a preliminary watercolour study for it, but it is such an alien way of working for me. We’ll see.

Slow art, soul art

July 18, 2015

Art holds time, oil pastel collage, S Zoutewelle-Morris

Art holds time, oil pastel collage, S Zoutewelle-Morris

Who doesn’t have the ‘bread and butter’ part of their art practice? I sure did back in the 70’s when I made little landscape prints and calligraphy pieces to sell at art markets.

My husband told me of an artist who, a long time ago in Holland, was having trouble making ends meet. He set up a stand on the sidewalk and started making quick drawings of clowns for passersby. He did so well, he was able to finance his less saleable work.

Problem is when the clown drawings take over. When work made to sell becomes the focus, and not making work according to inner values, which then eventually may or may not sell.

Commodity art is a branch of business, like a supermarket or a clothing store. It operates on exactly the same principles- supply and demand, customer’s wishes are central, profit margins before quality. And virtually no ethical underpinning.

How does an artist let herself become part of this consumer chain? One current scenario is, the person has average or above average drawing talent and makes something which is trendy and appeals to a large public.

They have no trouble seeing their art as a product. For them, selling is just as exciting and challenging as making art. They are 100% dedicated to self-promotion.They are artists of business, rather than artists first. Mostly when they find something that sells, they keep working in that vein rather than taking risks and developing their art.

While they may start out making things that are connected to their own creative journey, they soon realise that to keep selling they have to make the kind of art their customers want. They’ve found that wholesale and licensing earn the most, and the fastest. Every piece of original art regardless of merit is unfailingly available as prints, phone skins, silk scarves, T-shirts, mouse pads etc..

Then they realize that they have now become administrators of a business, have to spend hours working the social media to keep up people’s interest in them and their products, and spend more hours (or hire someone) to package and post their work. They accept this and consider it the price needed to stay ‘on top’.

Eventually everything they do is in service to their career. As one artist put it, they have become walking infomercials.

Excuse me. But if an artist decides that this really isn’t what his heart was telling him when he first felt he gift of his art come through him, he’s the one that is supposed to be crazy???  I, and more than a few artist friends, when openly questioning this insanity have gotten flack for not being ‘realistic’ and realizing you have to have money to survive. But the core issues here aren’t just about money.

 continued in next post

 

 

Slow art, soul art II

July 18, 2015

please read part one, previous post first

So what is going on here?
There is a book called, ‘The Gift ‘by Lewis Hyde which exhaustively explores why art belongs to the gift and not the commercial worlds, and what is lost when we enter the market with a gift (I’ve written a series of posts on the book.) Basically, in gift cultures, to give something away freely was to enrich the tribe/community. A gift actually increased in value when given, and perished when held on to. Gifts and art were linked to something bigger than the artist- to the ancestors, to the spirits of the land, to the gods.
And in engaging in gift exchange, these large forces were also invoked. So that when you gave or received a gift, it connected you to the larger powers in the universe. Money exchange is anonymous and impersonal. But gift exchange in a small community creates a connection, a web of relationships. If I give something away freely, I create an empty place in my own life that will automatically be filled by the community.

Compare this trust that my needs will be met, with the desperation that so often accompanies selling art for a living in the above model.

The thing is, if you reject the pressure to commoditise your art and yourself, you are rejecting the main paradigm, the actual foundations of reality nearly everyone in this society is being run by. You are stepping off the path. You are dangerous. that is why when you start to withdraw from the accepted ‘way it is done’ people will feel threatened and try to make you feel like a fool.

What is actually happening is that one by one, people are starting to question the usual way of doing and thinking about things. Charles Eisenstein calls this familiar way the ‘old story’ and says we are collectively moving toward a ‘new narrative’. This is true for the arts as well. He also says that it is almost impossible to hold the new story alone. If you try, you will be drawn back into the old way of seeing things, either by peer pressure or money issues. The only way to create and hold the new story is through community – one more reason to talk about these things together and support each other in making unconventional choices.

There are many, many artists looking for new ways of working with their gifts. These channels are not yet in place as  secure money generating structures, but they are coming. Actually, it is artists like us who are questioning the current paradigm who are creating the new forms.

What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media.
-Robert Hughes

I would call this ‘soul art’. It has a lot to do with Hyde’s idea of art being a gift:

There are three aspects of a gift involved in creating a work of art:

  1. The inspiration, vision or idea that makes one want to create.
  2. The talent and skills to  bring that idea into tangible form. The artist creates something higher than herself and is
    enriched by doing so.
  3. The work of art is offered to something larger than the artist’s ego- the tribe, community, the muse ,whatever,
    there is an acknowledgement and gratitude and releasing of the art so that it can enrich others.

This kind of art takes time and belongs to other natural processes which are of value and take time; healing, nurturing, tending, growing, creating. It is made as a response to an inner intention and is deeply engaged with the artist’s growth and development both in his skills and as a person.

Soul art, when shared freely with the community, creates nourishing relationships. Coming from the heart, it is naturally sustainable and in harmony with nature. It is made from the sense that what we have is already enough, so there is trust that we’ll find what we need rather than trying to manipulate, control and compete for it.

Hyde, in his book, admitted that we live in a reality where an artist needs to sell to live. He offers one suggestion- make sure your art is created in service to your gifts, to the higher aspirations of your soul and heart- where you take risks, don’t think about the market, where there is a pure, gift sphere to create from. Then, after, you can see if it has market value, sometimes is does, sometimes it doesn’t.

The art that matters to us, which moves the heart or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living…that work is received by us as a gift is received. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift

Nicholas Wilton’s most recent post gives food for thought, again. I find his sharings always thought provoking, and they definitely give me insights that help with my work. This one though, hit a nerve.

I happen to be wrestling just now with the part of my book in progress that is about art and livelihood. I’ve found a way to sidestep the money is good vs money is evil discussion by asking, ‘which story do I want my energy to contribute to ‘. It isn’t about money anyway, it is about creating meaning. What image of life do I want to strengthen by giving it my time and energy?’

If I jump whole hog into the art as commodity reality, then I am supporting an economy based on money as the bottom line for determining value. By proxy I am acquiescing to exploiting people and resources to get high profits. I am saying yes to non-ethical long-term negative consequences of short term thinking. I’m using my life to perpetrate a system I don’t stand behind in any way at all.

My heart, unlike Nicholas’s was never wholly into selling my art as a life goal. I wanted a more collaborative, connected, kind of art. I wanted to do good, add value to life, and there weren’t channels for that kind of socially engaged work until just recently.

What I get from Nicholas’s post and from his art, is that it isn’t a black and white thing. There are artists like him, who seem to be able to dance with the marketplace without losing the gift aspect of their art- the aspect connected to the muse, to the sacred, to the greater things. The kind of art that carries a connection with life’s mysteries and large questions, the kind of art that can soothe souls and inspire people to either make art themselves or make changes in their lives to let in more play, imagination, connection.

The danger in approaching art as commodity/product is that this aspect is too often lost in the fray to get the work seen and sold. An artist starting out with all her values intact can easily get overtaken by market values.

I guess this is the essence of my problem with saying ‘there is nothing BUT money in art’, it places art squarely in the marketplace. Seeing the world as it is now, in seeing old systems collapsing and creativity needed for renewal in every part of life, I would ask, do we need more art products? Or do we need artists leading authentic lives, creating from their heart and soul to bring these much needed values into the world? I learn from other artists all the time, that it isn’t either/or.

But I want to make a case for the alternative to seeing art, like everything else in this society, as a transaction.

 

 

 

 

 

Artist’s signature

June 22, 2015

Recently I read that your art should carry your signature….without you ever having to sign your name. (I’m not sure of the source, I think it might have been here .)

Friends have said to me that they can see when something has been done by me- whether graphic design, calligraphy, oil pastel or paintings. They recognise a personal mark and/or approach in the colours and visual vocabulary.

This is less easy for me to see, I’m up too close generally. But I was surprised yesterday when going through some old work and throwing pieces away (this has to happen periodically, worth another post), I discovered a watercolour (one of the ones I’m keeping) from 40 years ago (no, I’m wrong, it was 27 years ago) which reminded me of one of my recent bottle paintings.

I’ve cropped the painting and put them side by side.

The watercolour with diamonds is done at the time I was exploring the range of colours in value- contrasting crystalline transparent pastels with dense fiery reds, indigos and earth colours. And this was inspired by my mentor Abe Weiner’s work (type in Abe Weiner either in the Search box here or google to see his paintings).

I was quite amazed by the similarity in colour feel and handling of works separated by 27 years of time and development. Here are crops of both works, and underneath are the originals.

Bottles 5 late stage of development

Bottles 5 late stage of development

I’ve only recently begun to work simultaneously on two or three paintings.

And I’m discovering that there are numerous advantages for me in doing this.

First, I don’t obsess as much on one painting. Normally, I’ll spend a lot of time working into what I’ve set down initially to try to ‘get it right’. When, often what I had was already good and fresh, and I just should have left it alone! Having more paintings in the sidelines waiting for their turn, helps me detach (can you hear that sound of a suction cup letting go? Thwock)! and turn my beady eye on a new victim.

Secondly, each painting has its own character and demands a different approach in applying paint, colour, etc. (though I do try to work on paintings that have a similar palette). So it has happened that where I was getting too tight on one painting, and worked on one with a looser approach, getting back to the first one, I could let go a little easier. So far that has been the biggest advantage for me.

Third, trying to finish one painting in order to get to the next new one can put me in a frame of mind which isn’t optimal for taking the patient, caring steps needed to finish a work with honour. I am slightly bored with the end stages, I like the excitement of the first parts of the process best and have to discipline myself not to rush completion. So being able to work on several at the same time avoids the feeling of having to rush to get to the next one.

The one above is interesting, it is being worked on with others in the bottle series (see an earlier post):

5 bottles

5 bottles

 

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

Here was an earlier version of it:

Early stage bottles 5

Early stage bottles 5

I tried to keep those landscapey little blocks of green and pink in the background and background bottle, but just couldn’t pull it off. It was useful though, because those colours do shine through here and there in the present version (top of page) and liven it up.

I learned with this one that you can’t honour both intentions, realistic and abstract, at least I can’t – not yet. An artist friend, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, wrote in a recent conversation that it is tricky to straddle the line between realistic and abstract. He works in both sometimes and has shown them together. [Evidently I misunderstood a previous conversation Eoin and I were having, and he doesn’t consider the skies pure abstracts- see his comment below. Apologies, Eoin].Now that is tricky, but in this case I think he pulls it off. There is a clear intention there of showing the lovely empty skies with the abandoned fireplaces, and I feel they enrich one another.(Do look at the short video on his blog, and the music is wonderful).

I’m going to show some interim stages of paintings I’m working on. One reason is that I’m working on 5 at once and it is taking awhile to get to completion on any one piece. Also a factor is that there is lot of movement going on in the way I’m painting, and it is kind of exciting to share the process. Anyone who has been following my oil painting progress knows that from the beginning I’ve been working toward a looser approach- less drawing more painting.

Here is the piece that is sort of the bridge between the highly realistic work I’ve been doing and what I’m moving toward. It isn’t done yet, it’s missing some sparkly white highlights in the glass for one. But I did parts of it with a palette knife. I was going to do the whole thing with impasto, but I didn’t have enough control over the small areas and I was becoming unhappy with the assignment I’d given myself. So I went back to brush. Still, it has something fresh that I like, especially the blue bottle far right.

5 bottles

5 bottles

The next one below was one stage before where I am now. I’m including it because I love it. I just threw down the colours on there, and it has the freedom of some of the 37 minute work I did a few years ago. Even though there are some inaccuracies (shapes of the blue bottles, for ex.) I am sorry I didn’t just leave it as it was. I was especially sad to lose the wonderful rhythmic brush work on the clear bottle in the background.

Blue bottles stillife

Blue bottles stillife

 

Though I tried not to, I blended too much, with a result of a more polished, less raw feel.
The photo is also a bit too blue-green, the colours are truer in the one above.

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

I’ll also include Rende’s photo, and you can see that I’m starting to deviate from exact reproduction of the image. For example, the visual pun here, is that Rende has photographed the same bottles I used in the still life, in front of that still life. I’m not translating that literally because the fruit should be out of focus as part of the painting in the background. I like the painterly way I sketched it in there and am leaving it that way.

Bottle still life    Rende Zoutewelle

Bottle still life Rende Zoutewelle

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