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van Gogh still life taken by me standing in front of the original

No, sadly enough the above image is not my new still life. It is an early van Gogh.

I treated myself to a midweek excursion to a museum I’d wanted to visit for years, – the Kröller Müller  in the Veluwe area of Holland. It is a 3 hour train journey from up here in the north. I found a good hotel deal and took off on Thursday.

It is a lovely museum, if you are into museums. I don’t know what was wrong with me that day, but all the glass, white walls and modern art were oppressive. (Whereas in England and Scotland, the often historical buildings which house their art museums are magical just to enter.)

I went mainly for painting inspiration. I wanted to be taught by 19th and 20th century masters how to handle paint in a more spontaneous way. Well, the only moments of awe or magic I had were in front of the van Goghs.

Helene Kröller-Müller started collecting his paintings early on, and these less known works are just so beautiful. (Amazingly, this museum allows you to photograph the art as long as you don’t use flash. I think they just gave up the fight, how can they take everyone’s iPhones away?!).

So the photo above was made in front of a real van Gogh, the canvas bearing the marks of his hand and eye and heart. It was extremely moving to be in the presence of this work, it is so sensitive and full of love for the object, for life, for colors.

The way of working is delicate but strong, and the strokes, though stylized have not yet evolved to those whirling impasto strokes characteristic of his later work. I must say though, that some areas of some of the paintings were so thickly applied, they looked sculptural. This is completely alien to my way of working,  I really have to get my head around it before I can experiment with it myself.

Luckily I just signed up for a full day workshop on how to handle paint more spontaneously. I’m looking forward to loosening up!

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Ex-shop and oil painting studio ready for harpsichord

In December 2010, Johan Hofmann a respected Dutch harpsichordist and teacher, contacted me about an exciting project. He was having a new instrument made by Matthias Griewisch. Griewisch is considered by some to be one of the best period instrument builders working today.  My part in this would be to paint the songboard full of flowers as is traditionally done with Flemish keyboard instruments from around the mid-1600’s. The image below is of an instrument made by Herwil van Gelder for Jan Dirk Immelman. I painted it in 2007.

harpsichord decoration

I am deeply honoured to be involved in this project. In August last year I went to Edinburgh’s Museum of old instruments, St Cecilia’s and studied the original, unrestored version of this rare double manual harpsichord.

Ruckers double manual harpsichord circa 1638 photo St Cecilia's-

Johan and I (and Matthias via Johan) have been brainstorming about this instrument for a year now- how it would look, what we wanted to keep from the tradition, what we could change to reflect the times we live in as well as Johan and Matthias’ aesthetic preferences. And of course my sense of how this would all influence the sound board decoration.

It has been a fun and exciting collaboration so far, punctuated by dinner out on the terrace here, a pastry-filled birthday meeting, and climaxing in Johan and friend Bert’s return from Germany yesterday and the delivery of the ‘case’. (The case is the upper body of the harpsichord containing the songboard- the strings and keyboard will be added later).

It is so beautiful. It is just so beautiful. (I’ve been listening a lot to Aerial by Kate Bush, these words should be heard as music, they are about 45 seconds into the video).

It/she/he already has a soul. Here is a picture of him/her under wraps, awaiting adornment with garlands, flowers and arabesques. This will take about 6-8 weeks.

More will be revealed later.

Under wraps

Thanks from ArtCalling

January 1, 2012

heart-angelsblog.jpg

I like practical, connected, and meaningful art. I am excited and inspired by the arts in healing and community art.  For the last years I’ve been committed to finding alternative paths for myself and other artists so that we have choices outside the traditional ways of exhibiting and exploiting art. I have done a lot of thinking about right livelihood in relation to art, so will be airing some of those ideas here.
Over the years my thinking has been inspired by other artists, writers and friends, and I look forward to sharing some of those sources.

Dear friends, with the above words in march 2007, I started this blog.
Looking through the past 5 years’ posts I’ve stuck pretty much to the original intent.  The main themes have stayed roughly the same.

Through airing ideas here and the dialogue that has followed, ideas have developed and gained clarity. Especially those concerning new ways to think about art and; the challenges of art and market.

I’ve shared my oil pastels, older oil paintings, and new craft work. Have shared my dreams and goals, my ups and downs, and generally let a little slice of my life show here.

I want to thank all of you who have been popping in here from time to time and especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. My life has been enriched by your thoughtful remarks and the contact with like minded-souls as well as those with other views.

Alpha, Michael monocle, Thea, Rachel and Phil have been the most active commentors.  Thanks so much folks.

13,037 people visited in 2011. Most of you are from the states, with the UK and Holland close behind.

The top referring sites in 2011 were:

Thank you.

Elizabeth Blackadder Blue Crab Still life

What I initially loved about Elizabeth Blackadder’s oils was the sense of space- the total lack of clutter. And her colours, but most of all how she used realism as a departure point and arrived somewhere new.

Krabbé’s work is dear to my heart because there is so much joy in it. I love his exuberant colours as well as his sense of decorative pattern. But most of all, like Blackadder, he starts out from a realistic departure point and ends up with something entirely his own.

So how does one translate these things into one’s own work?

First of all, I have to have some work in order to even understand where these elements might apply. But even at this early stage of finding my way with oils I’ve learned this important point:

Anything you copy from someone else’s work without having developed and grounded it out of your own experience will be a mere mannerism.

This is to say, that it will be only a superficial visual device. What is wrong with this?

Let me give you an example. My first attempts at integrating what I saw in Blackadder’s work into my own were based on the way she used objects on a table with a lot of space around them. My usual way of working fills up every nook and cranny with elements. What I ended up with were bad Elizabeth Blackadders because none of these decisions were built on a learning experience over years of developing a working discipline.

After lots of false starts, I gained insight into what it was I wanted to take from her work.

It had to do with the sense of commitment underlying it rather than the colours, objects or layout. I wanted to become like that person who had worked hard over the years and finally found her own authentic expression.

That is what I recognized, the yearning and perhaps willingness to make that kind of commitment.

Theme continued the next time I post.

Finding my way with oils

December 23, 2011

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

 In August after being totally  inspired by the Elizabeth Blackadder retrospective in Edinburgh, I started painting again.

I’ve been keeping it up fairly steadily since then, and have been debating how much if any of this process I was willing to share here.

The searching process produces a lot of missers, and I didn’t see what sharing these publically would achieve. (Especially since I do profile as a professional artist in other areas like oil pastel drawing).

But there have been insights during these past 3 months of work, and since I’ve personally missed having a teacher or advisor, I thought I’d share what I’ve been learning here. Perhaps there are others also trying to find their way with oils (or other media) in comparative isolation. (Robert Genn’s list, Painters Keys is a great help).

The first thing I want to talk about it what happens when someone else’s work blasts a hole in your soul. I mean that feeling of suddenly knowing what is is to be alive and why you are here and what you want to do. All those doors opening at once. How do you ground that? What does is mean to your own path?

Most recent influences on me have been Jeroen Krabbé and Elizabeth Blackadder.

Jeroen Krabbé The Andeman Sea

Initially I copied elements of the work of both these painters. And this helped me to a certain extent to understand their approach and techniques.

But the main quest, of course, is how to find my own direction and create work that feels authentic to me.

I felt pretty good about my oil pastel drawings, but they didn’t translate easily into paint. And anyway, what touched me in the Krabbé and Blackadder work was the hint of a total new direction for my own work.

More on how to translate inspiration from other people’s work into your own, scroll down.

In his’ Making and Connecting’, Gauntlett hits up against a basic dilemma- how to work with a gift in a market based society. How could a discussion of craft and art not touch this issue?

This upsurge of people making things and sharing them in on and offline communities is distinguished by a strong current of giving and sharing. Think of book drops,art  postcard crossing, many forms of guerilla art, etc. So much of this tendency is a reaction against the present system where the worth of things…(and people!) is determined purely economically.

So how do we reconcile this genuine desire to share our creative efforts outside an economic framework with the just as real need to earn a living?

Free platforms as exploited labour*

*(This subhead is a direct quote from the book).

OK, we have some new channels for sharing our art and ideas- YouTube, Facebook, Flickr etc. These are open platforms where, for no charge, with no credentials, and hardly any conditions, we can put our stuff out there.

Some people claim that You Tube, for example, makes gobs of advertising money off the millions of people posting and viewing videos there. Gauntlett has done some research and writes that it actually costs YouTube more to host the site than they are receiving through ads. (Based on 2009 figures, YouTube makes a bout $1.20 per video on ads per year and spends $3 per video to host the site).

We generally accept that no ads would mean no free sites.

He also says that most of us don’t care about the ‘free labour’ harvested by these sites because we want to share our work and we have ‘no thoughts of economic value’ except being glad that we don’t have to pay to share our creative work online.

Around a campfire

David suggests that the atmosphere in most of the open platform sites is like being around a campfire. Maybe my singing voice is beautiful and I could print out tickets and charge a fee, but that would completely change the underlying agreement of mutual sharing.

OK, fair enough. But then he goes on to rightly say, that in a society where everyone gets paid for what they produce, creative people should also get paid for their efforts. This is where it gets tricky.

Gauntlett cites the  example of the music business to illustrate this point. People seem to feel entitled to download music free of charge while most of the musicians are struggling to survive from their music. Some established bands or star status artists make good money from their products and tours, but they represent only a fraction of the whole profession. As a rule, it is the managers, PR people and other middlemen who are making big bucks off the musicians ‘backs. Gauntlett has a suggestion to remedy this. Read the rest of this entry »

If everyone is an artist….?

December 15, 2011

There are several points of discussion ,’Making is Connecting’, brings up for me. The first one is:

if anyone can make and sell their work on (and off) line, is everyone, then an artist?

If everyone is an artist, then, of course, no one is.
Not in the same sense I’ve been brought up to believe; that an artist is someone with a calling who devotes his or her life to learning to express themselves in their chosen craft/discipline. This almost always involves a rigorous path of education and then the required 10,000 hours of practice before one can even begin to make work of stature and relevance.

I think, though, that the ways to discern people devoted to excellence in their calling from the dabbler have been blurred. James Krenov acknowledged this in the last century and suggested that keeping  professionalism and amateurs strictly separate was the best way to honour the artist and leave the hobbyist to putter in their own domain. I apologise for sounding harsh, but for many years this is how I felt about hobbyists, even though in some fields, I am one myself.

Pro-Ams

Things are radically changing, though. In his book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson cites the rise of the so-called ‘Pro-Ams’.  (partially  paraphrased)

This is a kind of amateur who works at increasingly high standards…the Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. The Pro-Am uses his leisure not for passive consumerism but is active and participatory involving knowledge built up over a long period of practice.

While no professional in any field enjoys being undercut by people offering lesser quality work at cheaper prices, I actually welcome this democratisation of art and creativity because it frees us all from some very confining boxes.  Creative people are finding channels, not previously available to non-professionals, for sharing their work.  And professionals,too, get a chance to let down their hair and try out some other areas without the constraints of having to be perfect first.

Real Artists

I think there will always be a place for excellence and authenticity. There are simply artists who either reach such high levels of their craft that it communicates to whoever is receptive to it. Or they touch a nerve which the whole society is poised to express but hasn’t yet realized. And  in so doing give it a voice and a face.

And reluctantly I must admit, that maybe the distinction of the Real Artist might be passé.  Or it is expanding to include various degrees of commitment and expertise.

There is to my eye definitely a distinction between the talented crafter who at this moment is flooding Etsy with (extremely popular) owls, birds and vintage. And the artist drawing from their own experience to give wings to a vision.

More about art vs craft another time.