Home

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

Back again

February 15, 2016

Well, I’m back. Words desert me when I try to say anything about the last 8 weeks. I came through a long and tough operation, and am recovering well, though more slowly than I would like.

My work mates in the municipal traffic project sent me a wonderful bouquet, but also a sweet card of a still life painting- by Matisse. I wasn’t familiar with this side of his work.

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

It is such a little gem that it somehow reached through the pain and leftover narcotic stupor to remind me that I was more than my physical situation. And I got the energy to get my paints out so I could copy the still life. I love that, like the original, it is kind of crudely painted (used palet knife on the background), but still holds together.

My painting was already undergoing some fundamental changes. I wrote about those in the last post. One current influence is Flora Bowley’s, ‘Brave intuitive painting’. After some free experimenting according to her suggestions, I find that my  visual vocabulary demands a bit more structure than her layered free form approach. Still, I am learning a lot from trying some of her suggestions to free up the painting experience. Laying down a first layer, for instance, in cool colours, and painting on top with warm ones, letting areas of the underlayer show through. Also she encourages you to not get precious about what is already on the canvas, and to try new mark making on top of what you already have to push the painting in a new direction. Ruining the ‘good’ correct image to reveal more depth and expression.

That is what I’m in the process of doing with the painting here. It was inspired by a bunch of tulips wrapped in dark blue paper. But I felt the painting was a bit too pretty and confined by the realism.

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

So I’ve been breaking it down by using the palette knife in places and obscuring some of the bright colours and hard definition of form. It is still in progress.

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

One more thing I wanted to say about influences, I love the work of Jude Hill and am following a sewing, quilting, and appliqué course of hers online.  It is all about layering there as well.

Her approach speaks to me- she doesn’t plan a piece out to the last detail, she has a spontaneous, ‘wait and see what happens’ attitude. It is really refreshing and something I could use more of. Also, she posts her work in progress and you watch it transform and grow. I could do that more.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the patchwork and painting starting to influence each other before to long.

More on other new paintings next time.

Painting adventure

December 16, 2015

There is a lot of movement happening in my life, and it is reflected in my painting. I’m leaving old ways of seeing, and familiar approaches, and embarking on ‘The adventure of a lifetime’ (A plug for Coldplay’s new single YAY!!). The freedom I have in inventing when working in oil pastels has finally transferred to paint. I’m working in acrylics because I like layering and they dry fast.

I won’t take you on the complete journey, but this particular stream started months ago. I have mentioned that I do collages for relaxation and processing of any issues up for me. I always really like them, they surprise me and are fresh. So this one, with the painting by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya at center stage inspired me to try an oil pastel painting using the same kind of little shards of concentrated colour as Alexey K.

Happy collage

Which resulted in this piece:

Of dreams oil pastel

Working with colour in this way feels very natural to me. (This piece is in our currently running show at Scherer design store. In a few days they will have our exhibit announced on the site.)

I wondered if I could work this way in paints, but it is different when you can reach for one of 121 concentrated oil pastel colours, or you have to mix them yourself and keep using clean brushes to apply them.

But one evening I took a little piece of cardboard, and intuitively began working in small colour areas. That freed me up to take another step- I took all the leftover colours on my palette and made a background on a previously painted canvas with the partly dried paint and palette knife:

Underpainting with palette knife

Then I painted over it intending to work into the result below, but I like it so much I’m leaving it as is.

Horse acrylic on panel

The next two happened around the same time:

They are both painted in acrylic over previous paintings, taking cues from the background and at the same time evolving their own unique forms.

This method of working really suits me. I work messily and spontaneously on an already painted canvas and things just happen.
Gee that Flora Bowley book mentioned in the last post must really work, I haven’t even read it yet and my work is undergoing a major reorientation! 🙂

All of the preceding are quite small format- around 30 x 30 cm. Then I retrieved one of the fairly free paintings from this summer where I was trying to lose form, and painted over it. The tree emerged, and I worked into it some, but not much. It captures the energy I need most to connect with now as I face major surgery tomorrow. Hopefully I can bring it into the hospital where I can see it.

Tree 1 acrylic on canvas board

Tree 1     acrylic on canvas board

Robert is gone. I thought I’d post the letter I, and thousands of other artists received, since it so beautifully conveys the generosity with which Robert graced the world. I never knew him personally, but his being in the world made a big difference to my life. This letter is from his daughter, Sara:
May 30, 2014
 
Dear Sarah,
On Tuesday morning, at 10:20am, Dad passed away. He was at home, surrounded by his family. My brother Dave’s Airedale, Stanley, lay on the floor nearby. This day was also my, and my twin brother James’s, birthday.
A few evenings earlier, Dad and I were sitting up together, discussing a favourite piece of music. “Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has the ability to take you from placidity to power in one sonic breath. It is music of dignity and strength, with primitive, energetic passages, evoking absolute beauty from the simplest of phrases. It brings up something that has everything to do with significance — squeezing joy and motif that you just can’t drop — it stays with you.”
I tapped along on his laptop as he riffed a stream of consciousness, his sense of wonder twinkling, then sparkling, his voice growing ever softer, his hand squeezing mine when we paused. “The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless,” he whispered. I remembered, again, the wonder of nearing the summit plateau at Lake McArthur, rounding a corner to the West Coast Trail’s packed, silvery strand and, moment by moment, the unveiling of the magic hour on the Bois d’Amour in Pont Aven, Brittany. A few more steps, a couple of breaths to our destination: a silent sharing in the marvel.
I thanked him for the millionth time. We all thanked him as he slipped away. “Thank-you, Daddy, thank-you.”
And what about your twice-weekly letters? This ardent epistolary friendship, this living commitment, a connection and conviction to the imagination and creative heartbeat, and to lifemanship? Dad wrote to you last October, after receiving his diagnosis, and since then we’ve solidified our intention. He wrote:
“From the get-go we have been aware of the value of these twice-weekly letters to artists and others. Sara has helped me with many of them. We’ve shared our artistic journey together and have often talked about this day. One of the ideas we’re tossing around is that she start off by writing once a week. The other letter would be a favourite previous one of mine. If we ran all my previous letters once a week, they would last for 27 years! Finding ourselves at new chapters in our adventure, we sincerely hope we can continue to be of service to you.”
And so, I’ll write to you. And you’ll get Dad’s letters, too. It will be my honour to do so, and will continue to be with the deepest gratitude to you, his friend in art.
Sincerely,
Sara
PS: “Over the days of this journey, a kind of energetic serenity has set in. Something happens with the mixture of space and time. I feel a sense of story. Others have told me you can feel it in your brush, and I do now. A family of mergansers swims close by — the young are almost ready to fly south. Perhaps you have felt it too — it has something to do with purity.” (Robert Genn, on the Mackenzie River, 2000)
Esoterica: Dad’s dream has been to reach artists of all stripes — individuals with a common joy, journeying in this life-enhancing, inexplicable affair of the heart. He wrote, “We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities — to get more joy and understanding from their own unique processes.” With this dream in mind, please forward this letter, or letter of your choice, to someone you think might find it of value. If one, or many, chooses to subscribe, we will exponentially widen — as a diverse and generous community of worldwide artists. “To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.” (Robert Genn)
“Art is something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open-ended, never complete, and never perfect. Art is an event.” (Robert Genn)

“We live our short spans in the vortex of a miracle, and while we may not be the center of that vortex, it is magic to be anywhere in there.” (Robert Genn)

“Love me truly!
Remember my constancy.
With all my heart
and all my mind
I am with you
even when far away.” (Anonymous text, Carmina Burana)

Subscribe, for free, to the Robert & Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter.

Colour beyond vision

March 14, 2014

Purple apple

Purple apple,   oil on canvas board

This is the painting started in February. It features a beautiful CD cupboard Rende made. Plus, to the left,  the arm of a couch he made for us a long time ago.

The challenge for me in this painting was to keep the spirit of the first inspiration. There are some unresolved areas in it still, but in all the painters I admire, this is true. If you try to get everything too ‘finished’, or ‘right’, the life goes right out of it. It is a balance of honouring the first moment of vision, and working on it to enhance that rather than take it over with what the mind thinks it should be. That is why there is a magical element in creating. It is a letting go so that something unexpected and uncontrolled may enter, just as much as a skilful manipulation of technique.

No way was I going to lose that cocky little purple apple. The other fruits gained more conventional colouring, but I left this as a reminder of the worlds of colour just beyond vision. And that a painting can be anything you want it to be.

Here are the first stages of this painting:

Transition

June 24, 2013

Though it has been mentioned occasionally here, I’ve been wanting to talk more about the ‘place’ I’ve been in on and off for about 2 years now.  Until recently the only way I could frame it was as a light burn out or some kind of long incubation period before the next creative cycle.

But it seems to go deeper than that this time. I have no energy or desire to promote myself or my work within an art world context, and my interests seem to be veering steadily away from the prevailing ones in this society. When I realized that there was no shared language to talk to even my online artists support group about my aversion to current contexts and marketing techniques for art, I realised that I am in a transition period comparable to the one I experienced when I was in my late 20s.

At that time, I had had 6 years of professional success as a calligrapher, artist and graphic designer in Pittsburgh, and I was facing the fact that internally I had no idea of a direction for the future other than more of the same. That started me a long internal search which ended up leading me to an international spiritual community, now an ecovillage, in Scotland.  It was a radical move to leave my family, boyfriend, cats and career to jump into the unknowns of communal life.  I’d expected to stay 2 years but ended up living there for the period between my 27th and 33rd year.  6 intense and beautiful years which formed my values and consciousness profoundly.

Now I am in my early 60s with the feeling that my best work is still in front of me. But the issues I care deeply about – the ones that I have always cared about most- are pushing to the surface and asking to be acknowledged and honoured.

I feel a new urgency to align with the healing, rebuilding, and transformative forces emerging in society, and not just through the arts. One recent trigger for this was the book ‘Walk Out, Walk On’, by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. The two take a magical journey around the world visiting 7 different communities. These communities are almost all located in poor, dangerous areas with few resources or opportunities to build a safe, comfortable life. Yet through initiatives of  impassioned individuals coupled with the strength of community, these communities have found ways to be positive, resilient and healthy by drawing on their own resources, traditions and culture. And most significantly, without outside aid.

Always in these stories, one person takes a risk with a new idea. This one small step sometimes ends up spreading until it gathers momentum to become a major transformation which radically improves conditions for many people. One example of this kind of viral idea (I think they call it a meme)  is microcredit started by Muhammad Yunus.

So even though I live out here in the rich, Western world,  I, too, feel to be in a transition which many others are also facing. How to use my energy to help transition to the new society wanting to emerge in the midst of our broken dysfunctional systems. It is a healthier, more resilient society built on trust, community, collaboration, creativity, caring. That is my work as a person and an artist, and in a sense always has been.  I just don’t yet have an idea of what it is going to look like here in the north of Holland.

For right now it is just about taking the next step here- cleaning our home, tending the garden and my relationship, going deeper with my painting because that is where I draw my inspiration.

And holding still. Not grabbing at the first opportunity to be useful just to alleviate the discomfort of seemingly doing and achieving nothing. These periods of unclarity and sometimes darkness are necessary in transformative processes.They are rarely documented because one feels so uncertain and confused whilst in them. But things are a bit clearer now, and it is an important place to communicate from.

Of course I am also active, writing as guest author a chapter for a new book on care; reaching out for new connections in the circles which are involved with transformative societal work; planning my courses for next season; keeping up my blog and important new connections with other bloggers in transition(more on some of these great people in another post); and perhaps even starting a new blog just to track this journey, which I am sure will be ongoing.

Coming along for the ride? Would love to have you. I’ve started a new blog on this subject, you can see it here, www.tendingtime.wordpress.com

 

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.