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Living Tree, Oil pastel on Cansons pastel paper (SOLD)

This is an older work of mine. I’m including it to show the different textures one can get with oil pastels, and also because working this way-  ie more fantasy-like, is very close to me and is what I am missing with the more realistic oil paintings.

Trying to keep an open student mind/beginners mind I did a looser crop of my bottles, then let it dry a bit and worked into it with oil bars and oil paints, keeping in mind my oil pastel techniques. I’m happy with the direction, it has promise.

My bottles, close crop, first stage, oil paint on canvas board

My bottles, close crop, later stage, oil paint on canvas board

The longer I do Tai Chi the more I value it.  I love that you can keep going deeper and deeper, forever discovering new things.

In the beginning, 15 years ago,  the focus was on externals, mastering the basic  movements in the form (I do Yang form)  and being concerned about how good they looked-  how good I looked doing them!

But eventually you get over that and Tai Chi becomes your discipline, something private and priceless, and it is down to you and your practice and no one else, except maybe your teacher.

The 15 minutes a day I devote to my practice are precious because they focus me on essential things that tend to get lost in the everyday rush. Maybe I’m impatient before I start because I want to get going with my lists, plans, tasks.  But just the act of stopping, consecrating the space and time needed to go through the slow, meditative movements already calms me down.

I become aware of my breathing, my body, my feet standing on the ground. I move the energy down to my legs and feet and breathe deeper down in my belly. I come into my body and get out of my head. I am aware of how I am standing, how my weight is distributed, I feel the soles of my feet on this holy earth, anchored here, receiving. And I feel my upper body opening to energies coming from the sun and other cosmic forces.

As I start on the familiar, graceful sequence of movements, I feel whether my body is in balance or not, I sense my connection to the space and place around me, I feel my joints, I feel tension flow away as I take steps and move my arms in slow circular arc and dips.  I feel this moment of being in a body, in life, on earth  under the sky and concentrate on how the weight shifts, how a single movement can be a strain or effortless depending on your awareness. How some movements torque my body into uncomfortable poses, and how the next move releases the twist in a powerful but controlled counter movement.

Gathering energy, releasing it, dancing and fighting in slow motion. Tai Chi has its basis in martial arts. So while it looks like a gentle prayer in motion, engaging with a well executed movement could throw an opponent across the room.

I emerge from the continuous undulating rhythm of movements, come to rest and breathe.

I am in a completely new ‘place’ physically and mentally, ready to start the day rooted in the things that count. Hoping to bring that quietness and powerful intention of internals into the external world of things and doing.

Why website?

May 26, 2012

I would like to ask you, the small group of regular readers, or anyone who happens to drop by this blog for suggestions on the following:

My present website, ArtWell was created 5 years ago, and reflected my activities then. It also represented what I thought a website should do. It was my first site and has not been fundamentally changed since it was made. I don’t speak fluent HTML and though I can manage the text, structural stuff like adding pages and slide shows is beyond me. So it is very much out of synch with where I am now; for example, I don’t offer the whole range of dementia services outlined in that category. And the shop isn’t effective at all.

I have been working on a replacement site on Weebly for awhile, and it is OK. It obediently shows an overview of my main work areas with short texts to go with them.

And it totally bores me.

So, what questions would you like me to answer on a website? What can a website add to this blog, which is an up-to-the-minute log of my thoughts, activities, and work in progress?

At the moment I just don’t see the point, yet at the same time it might be an opportunity for something new. I know it might be nice for people to be able to easily navigate through my several portfolios, ie.- harpsichord soundboard painting, oil paintings and oil pastels, and letter work. I guess that would be the reason to maintain a site. But so far it doesn’t really get my bells ringing.

Thoughts appreciated.

Creating community

May 24, 2012

Group dining together (Source)

The issue of community has been up for me recently, it is always a concern of mine, but something has changed.

Our international online artist’s group is doing a joint project called Space, Place and Story. We were all asked to answer several questions about what ‘home’ meant to us, and how the place we lived in affected our art.

In answering these questions my usual story surfaced, of feeling displaced here as an internationally oriented American in provincial northern Holland. And the feeling of loss I carry around with me having left several communities behind in the states and in Scotland, so far not being able to recreate an intimate sense of community locally.

It turned out that many in our group were dealing with similar feelings of being an outsider.

As my contribution to the project grew, primarily through some compassionate and perceptive questioning by one of the project leaders, Sibylle, my ‘usual’ story began to change. I saw how, though it had been uncomfortable, the breaking down of my professional identity here in Holland had made way for a deeper, more inclusive kind of art sensibility. I’ve been infinitely enriched by being here in another culture.

In a little book called, ‘The Community of Kindness’ from Conari Press, there is a story of how a woman always used to spend her childhood summers at a lake where other families would come year after year.  That ended when she reached adulthood.

‘The experience of being part of a community can be so powerful that iits absence feels like a deep wound. That’s useful because the pain reminds us that it is important to be connected to others. But at the same time, we can get stuck looking backward, mourning what is lost or even  trying to reconstruct something that cannot be put back together again.’

This, and the project with my artist’s group are opening new perceptions for me of what community could mean if I stop trying to recreate what I’ve lost, but look instead to what is here. The truth is, that in searching for my fixed idea of a close knit community of like minded people, I may have overlooked some of the many chances for connection that I have closeby.

Realizing this has also opened up a question about how my art could relate more to the issue of community and connection, and I’m asking myself, ‘Is there a way to enhance this?’

Dirty painting

May 21, 2012

This morning, to experiment with applying paint thicker, and to jolt myself out of the perfectionistic path I was travelling, I decided to copy a Morandi. The composition is straightforward as is the matter of fact application of paint.
(There is nothing wrong with my previous series, I’m satisfied with it, but I miss the playfulness and abundant colour from my other oil pastel and mixed media work).

I mentioned in a previous post that the, ‘De Ploeg” paintings I’d seen at the Groninger Museum looked quite ‘dirty’, not in the smutty sense, :-)but literally full of bits of dirt and sand, and who knows – studio floor sweepings!?  And I loved the texture it added.

So when scraping off the remains of old paint from my palette, I decided to mix those in with the paint I’d use for the Morandi copy.

old oil paint shavings

I gave myself about an hour and used thick paint and large brushes, and I didn’t allow myself to correct and smooth. There are ‘mistakes’ but I loved working this way.

Copying Morandi’s composition and subject

And here is a close-up of the painting surface with all the bits of old paint mixed in.

Detail of surface of painting

It is difficult to be a professional, and even more difficult to profile as a professional, and still keep a beginner’s mind.

The term ‘beginner’s mind’ comes from Shunryu Suzuki’s classic book,’ Zen mind beginner’s mind’, and it refers to the open mindedness needed to experience life anew each moment. It is also about the humility needed to refrain from the, ‘I know this already’ attitude, and to keep learning.

In the most recent period of my ongoing oil painting journey I reached the point where I have some handle on the technique. And I’m at a cross roads as to where to go after the last’ bottle series’ painting.

I could keep repeating more or less successful bottle paintings, but that doesn’t light my lights. And I was already beginning to feel restrained by the realism. My original inspiration to paint again was Elizabeth Blackadder”s oil paintings, and they play with simultaneously touching realism lightly and letting it go.

Blackadder painting, ‘Still life with Chalice’

Blackadder still life

I really miss that student state of mind I had at art college. We’d get an assignment and just leap in to see where it would take us, experimenting all the way.

So I am trying to retrieve that and break away from what I’m already doing to see what I can do.

OK, now the hard part. Do I show my process here? As a professional who certainly intends to sell some paintings further on down the line, do I risk creating an image of myself as an amateur by showing my failures along the way? Or do I put all that aside and share my journey honestly, trusting that when I settle on a direction, it will be strong and convincing enough to attract serious buyers?

I like sharing my process, that is how we inspire and learn from each other. So this morning’s experiment is in the post above, ‘Dirty painting’.

Bead feed

May 18, 2012

When I’m at ease, free of deadlines,  then before too long, the craft supplies come out.

The annual bead and jewelry fair was in Groningen last weekend, I thought I held back fairly well.  In one stall, there were about 400 (!)colours of size 11 seed beads to choose from! Here is a portion of my purchases, filling in the pink, hot red colurways. And a beautiful range of sage greens, metallic and frosted forest greens, as well as some misty greys and pearls.

fun at the bead fair

And below is a part of my existing seed bead collection.

Mostly tending towards blues, purples and aubergines

And what do I do when I’m let loose on all these gorgeous materials? Below, Evelyn’s necklace in progress.

Multi-strand necklace in progress

My aunt wears a lot of beiges and pastels. My sense of the colours was an antique, cameo feeling, soft golds and ochres, and shell purple and dusty pinks. I finished the multi-strand, then including some hand blown glass beads from Eastern Europe, made a separate strand to wear with it or separately.

Finished necklaces

Here below is my current project, inspired by bracelets I saw at the stall where I got my seed beads, for Dutch readers, Monique’s website is definitely worth a visit. I purchased the directions from her, I”ve never done this particular type of beadwork before and am enjoying the meditative work of threading this (late) mother’s day gift for my mother-in-law.

Some of the bracelets on display were fairly bling bling qua colour, I chose smokey blues, greys and irridescent blacks instead.

Tanny’s bracelet in progress

Detail

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This is a large format painting compared to most of my work. It is 50 x 50cm,  around 20″x 20″.

After working with this theme for months  now, I realized a short while ago where the underlying fascination with light shining through coloured glass might come from. I recently remembered a phrase of Michael Ondaatje’s from the English Patient I wrote down about 20 years ago intending to do a calligraphic artwork with it. I never got further than a sketch, but the image of the ‘glass curtain’ has never left me:

The next day he heard snatches of the glassy sound as he lay once more covered in cloth. A noise out of the darkness. At twilight the felt was unwrapped and he saw a man’s head on a table moving towards him, then realized the man wore a giant yoke from which hung hundreds of small bottles on different lengths of string and wire. Moving as if part of a glass curtain, his body enveloped within that sphere.

The figure resembled most of all those drawings of archangels he had tried to copy as a schoolboy, never solving how one body could have space for the muscles of such wings. The man moved with a long, slow gait, so smoothly there was hardly a tilt in the bottles. A wave of glass, an archangel, all the ointments within the bottles warmed from the sun, so when they were rubbed onto skin they seemed to have been heated especially for a wound. Behind him was translated light – blues and other colours shivering in the haze and sand. The faint glass noise and the diverse colours and the regal walk and his face like a lean dark gun.

From The English Patient, by Micahel Ondaatje

Below is a detail-  the green glass is old and full of little bubbles,  I applied light green with drybrush to create a haze that imitates the effect of the countless little bubbles in the glass.  I love the mosaic of colours in the right half of the painting and hope to expand on that effect in the next one.

Friends at decor-artuk recently posted a helpful entry on marketing for artists. A short exchange between us followed, and I’d like to continue my  bit here – everyone is welcome to join in, of course.

As my oil paintings mount up here (and they are the first work in several years which I feel are worthy of exhibiting), I will soon be re-entering the marketing fray in some way or another.

So just a reminder that my ‘anti-marketing’ posts aren’t about not selling one’s work, they are about the other sides of art which are getting lost in the marketing discussion. These facets of art/the arts are essential to human spiritual and cultural life, I feel. So I’ll continute to write about them here, perhaps reminding us why we chose to be artists in the first place.

When a work of art, piece of music, phrase of literature, etc  connects straight to my soul I get launched out of my small life with its everyday cares. I get reconnected to the best in myself, and reminded of why I am here- even if I can’t express it in words. It is just a profound reassurance that life is fine as it is, warts and all, the larger wheel is turning in a beauty and order which is unfathomable to a human mind, and my small life is somehow held and counted in it. Those mysteries are what art touches.
A past post, Art’s worth, explores the issue further, with Rob Riemen, a Dutch publisher and writer who spoke eloquently of how art was a solace to him after a series of devastating personal losses.

In Kristina’s (decor-artuk) reply to me she says, ‘… it does seem that art has lost a lot of it’s true characteristics; it has become like everything around us – you can sell it and you can buy it, it’s that simple’. (See the full comment here. )

Yes, Kristina I think , you are perfectly right. This made me feel my age, because being part of an earlier generation than most of the avidly marketing 30 somethings, I feel that loss keenly.

For one instant I even wondered whether in advocating a more ethical, and connected art I was becoming dated, an art veteran holding on to a disappearing age. But actually I think what we see emerging in all kinds of wonderful quirky forms outside the established art world -this is the future of art.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Photos of the museum by Rende. Other photo credits: de Ploeg paintings – Groninger Museum. Fashion photos- site of Iris van Herpen

I spent yesterday morning in the Groningen Museum.  It is an edgy, internationally acclaimed building and collection. It is very competitively positioned and run as a status symbol for this northern city, which is considered inferior by the culture gurus in Amsterdam. Maybe that is why most of the exhibitions, chosen for the wrong reasons (commercial and status)  in my mind, rarely speak to me.

But Thursday, I went especially to see the Jan Altink paintings, he is a member of the ‘Ploeg’ which was mentioned in a previous post.

While there I also saw two other featured shows, both having to do with fashion. I wouldn’t have normally gone out of my way to see these, but they were both inspiring. This vimeo of  the opening of the Azzedine Alaia show gives an impression of this fashion artist’s mastery. He designs, cuts and sews each piece. The craftsmanship is to die for, and the details, materials, and ingeneious handling of materials were so inspiring.

The entry into this show was in a dimly lit room, showing off his black evening dresses on a round platform. You can see this in the above mentioned vimeo. They were all body hugging exquisitely feminine pieces in luxurious velvets and silks, shown on nearly invisible plexiglass forms, and draped impeccably.

The other show was of a young designer very much in the picture here and internationally, Iris van Herpen. Her work is more sculptural than wearable, in my opinion. I like it as art, it is fresh, and as exquisitely crafted as Alaia’s. She uses all kinds of materials and techniques from 3D printing to casting. She thinks alot about things and each collection is based on an issue that is up for her. It was impressive to see this work in real life.

Finally, I spent the rest of the time with the Altink paintings. Ate luch at the beautiful museum café overlooking the large canal, and went back for another hour to see a selection of the Ploeg collection.

The paintings are so messy!! Not just the tossed off strokes, but the surfaces! They look like they’d been dragged through the dirt, or at least as if the brushes with paint had. Close up all you could see was gritty colours, step back and there was a reasonably harmonious whole. Totally not my way of perceiving or working, but intriguing all the same.

Holland is kind of progressive in some areas. (The Dutch tend to think of themselves as very progressive, to some extent they are, but not as much as they would like to think. How progressive is a society that is cutting the art budgets to suicidal levels and at the same time elevating the sales tax on art from 6% to 19%, and in 2013 to 21%!!) later: as of July 2012, this has luckily been reversed. Praised be!

Anyway, there is a new feature in the museum I really like. You get a memory stick type thing on a key ring when you get your admission card. Every exhibition has selected works with an electronic box beside it. If you want to ‘collect’ that work, you just put the stick up to it and a little green led flashes on the box to show that piece has been added to your images. When you are ready to leave, you just go to a computer and send your collected images home via e-mail and turn in the stick.  You can see mine here . My collection starts with the dresses in the banner across the top of the page. Just click on each image to see a larger version.