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Before trees

March 19, 2016

Working on the sampler for Jude Hill’s online course I’m following (well, dipping into) is giving me insights into how I work generally.  The idea here is to weave some fabric strips together as a base, and then work on the grid formed by the strips of cloth.

spiritclothsampler2

spiritcloth sampler, in progress

I chose the circle as a uniting theme, but the tree wanted to be there in the middle, and when it appeared, the work stopped being an exercise and connected with my heart.

Someone once commented that I should stop working in all those little rectangles in my art. But this way of working speaks to me, is actually a part of my personal visual vocabulary. I realise I feel most comfortable within defined spaces where I can play with edges, defining them, letting them fade, overlapping. And each square a little story of its own. If you look at Jude’s work, you see her breaking out of the grid repeatedly, but it is there as a strong basis to the design, holding all the separate parts together.

You can see in the next images, how I like to work. I used an old painting(shown upside down) below.

background painting before trees

old painting used as background for Before trees

On the painting below, you can still see part of the neck of the greenish bottle (far right) showing if you look carefully. And other areas have been painted over letting parts of the background show through. Using an old painting as the background determines the palette a bit, and some of the movement.

before trees

Before trees

But I got stuck fairly quickly on this one. It was too familiar and I wasn’t learning much  by continuing with it. Using prompts from Flora Bowley’s book, mentioned in several previous posts, I decided to risk ruining/losing what I had in order to find something new. So I turned it upside down and treated it like a background.

Ah, trees again, they just wanted to be there. To orient between the old and new versions, look for the yellow sun on the painting above, and now you’ll see it peeking through behind the big tree on the left.

before trees2

Before trees, worked on further

Here is a later stage.
So, for me, the textile work at teh top of the page,  and painting are intimately related. They are both about layering, not planning overmuch, following where the work seems to want to go, and being patient with all the twists and turns on the way.

before trees1

Before trees, more definition

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

Why artists need to play

August 16, 2015

worktable- the good kind of creative chaos

worktable- the good kind of creative chaos

I’m revisiting Shaun McNiff’s excellent book, ‘Trust the process’, first read 5 years ago. The subtitle says it all, ‘The artist’s guide to letting go’. Last time I read it, I experienced his thoughts as a confirmation that art making is completely separate from business. The posts I wrote on it reflected that. But this time around I am gaining so much from his deep understanding of creative processes, writing as well as painting.

One eye-opener for me was his suggestion to see the creative process as involving all of you. Therefore, you can kick-start visual creativity by, for example, moving your body, and taking cues from those gestures to make marks. I did this today,  starting out by dancing to my favorite Andreas Vollenweider CD. I had some good quality smallish watercolour paper and the dancing led quite naturally, still moving, to making rhythmic strokes on the paper with watercolour crayons. Very quickly the paper and tools became too small to contain the gestures I was making, so I ended up on newspaper sized paper using large crayon blocks and  ecoline inks with big brushes. I liked the wax resist effect, but soon I was combining charcoal, watercolour sticks, crayons and ink.

IT WAS FUN!

McNiff says you need to draw on a different set of evaluation criteria to review this kind of work: look at it for spontaneity, freshnesss, rhythm, whimsy. Work in series, let one image lead you to the next, and look at the whole body of work for signs of certain gestures and forms that you might want to repeat or expand upon.

I think you could do this to blast through blocks in any medium. He suggests starting out with notecards and making series of drawings (poems, writing ideas, dialogues, dance moves) on those. But if you want to work big like I did, you can still move from one to the next fairly quickly. Don’t correct or critique while you are working, just keep going and enjoy the process.

I don’t know where what I did this morning will lead, and I don’t care. It brought me straight back to my creative roots that was very moving. There was a sadness there for how I usually hem in my creativity to fit certain ideas I have about being an artist. Working this way was freeing, and I will revisit it and see where the process leads me.

McNiff’s ‘Trust the process’, is highly recommended for aspiring artists and certainly for art veterans like me, who can always use ways to loosen up, but also practical suggestions for further developing their work.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Barry Lopez (source of photo)

Barry Lopez (source of photo)

Barry Lopez is one of the writers who has ‘accompanied’ me on most of my adult journey as an artist. (See my post Barry Lopez, A literature of hope ). He is a nature writer, but that short description doesn’t do him justice. He is also a poet who feels the pain of the Earth deeply. And, he is an artist who understands and exemplifies what art is for, especially in these times.

I love these artists and role models,who have sustained their passion and honed their craft over the years. They are gradually turning into our present day Elders. Hearing Gary Snyder or Barry Lopez speak unfailingly reunites me with the best in myself.

This morning I looked at an almost completed draft of my book so far and couldn’t relate to it. I’d momentarily lost my sense of True North, and wondered how I would finish it with this late-stage failing of nerve. Unable to write, I decided to do some research for a later chapter on ‘art and wounded places’, and watched several of Lopez’s talks. And one of them showed the way out of of my impasse. It gave me a new lens for looking at my work and lifted me out of the familiar contradictions I usually get caught in when stuck.

He spoke about story telling. He’d had a conversation with a traditional man,( I sense he meant someone indigenous), and asked if this man’s people made a distinction between fiction and non-fiction like we do in Western society. The man answered, ‘For us, the difference isn’t between fiction and non-fiction, but between an authentic and inauthentic story.

Lopez asked him the difference and he said, ‘An authentic story is about us.’

‘Yes?’, Lopez asked.

‘And an inauthentic story is about you’, replied the man.

Lopez had a crucial insight as a result of this conversation. He realised that the story you tell as a story teller is not worth our listening to if it is just about you. He said,’We don’t need to know about you, we need to know about us’. I think what he is saying here, is that a writer needs to delve down beyond the purely personal until he strikes something universal in human experience which will illuminate all our lives. Also, adding my own note here, if an artist is working with rage or pain, she has a responsibility to transform it before it hits the page. We all know how bad life can be, we have the mass media to tell us all about that.

It is the artist alchemist’s task to harness that personal negativity and transcend it, and to use it as raw material to craft images of hope.

Lopez says that an authentic story needs to do two things; first of all it has to help. And secondly it has to be about ‘us’.

I want everything I write to end with this note:’Here is what I saw, what do you think?’. Instead of saying, ‘Here is what I saw and this is what you should believe’. -B.Lopez

The writers, artists and musicians I’ve respected most and who have inspired me in my life so far, are growing older along with me. Like Barry Lopez, time and experience distil their youthful passion to a focused potency. I feel enormous wisdom radiating from these people. But even more than the understanding they have gained through living and practising their calling, they embody compassion.

Lopez said,’

I want more than anything to see people do well. I want to see people thrive. And the system I see in place all over the world is killing people. I feel that as a physical pain, as grief every day when I get up in the morning. What drives me is – if you’re going to tell a story, tell a story that helps. If you’re going to collaborate with directors, filmmakers, artists et , make common cause with people whose desire is to help.

Not to direct the show or tell somebody else what to think, but to behave in a helpful manner for the benefit of everybody.

(See the 3 minute clip of this talk here )

 

Colourful corner

Colourful corner

My writing time has been going into my book. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy making things with my hands as well as my head. Above is my favourite corner in the studio right now. And below, the wall above my work table showing some abstract acrylic paintings I’ve been working on, and a collection of crocheted mandalas mostly done for their colour combinations.

Wall above worktable

Wall above worktable

The rag rug has a story directly related to my book in progress.

The book is about the changes I’ve experienced and observed in the arts in the 40 years of my visual arts career. One thread is about my personal journey away from the life of an exhibiting artist and graphic designer towards a more socially engaged art. The second thread is about the role of the arts in times of transition and how the arts are changing to meet the needs of society now.

In the course of the writing and research, I’ve stumbled upon several wonderful examples of artists practising the new arts. Some are old heroes like Lily Yeh, but others are new to me and have in their own ways, ignited my imagination.

One of these people is Fritz Haeg whose work I came across when researching new art trainings and landed at the Mildred’s Lane site. Haeg trained as an architect but early on became deeply involved in questions of how we live, and how we create ‘home’ with what is around us.

This is short video is a good intro to his work. I was inspired by his huge rugs, finger crocheted from used clothes and textiles. They are 30m across, tour some of the major museums, and have been added to by people at each location. These warm objects invite sitting, reclining and meeting in an often otherwise sterile modern museum environment. People are invited to bring other home crafts related to food and gardening- what is growing in the garden that day, flowers found outside, preserved fruits, dried herbs. All are displayed on the rug, forming an intimate environment and what Haeg calls a ceremony in domestic living.

His other projects are as compelling- Edible estates was about turning unproductive suburban lawns into edible gardens and community meeting places. That is for another post.

Haeg says that his art is about creating at least part of an ideal life he doesn’t have (and which doesn’t exist in our society) yet. For me, and I think for him, too, that has to do with more nature in our daily lives, being closer to our food sources, and belonging to a close knit community.

I identify with this, and must say that by making a smaller version of his rag rugs myself, I feel like that ideal life is just a bit closer. Sitting on the floor of my studio, ripping strips of cloth to weave into my rag rug, I feel connected to his work in active way. And of course my friends and acquaintances are exposed to this as well so the inspiration keeps rippling outward.

Close up of cotton yarns and rag rug

Close up of cotton yarns and rag rug

Lucie, our fox terrier went immediately to my smaller crocheted rag rug in progress.

Lucie on rag rug in progress

Lucie on rag rug in progress

She looks innocent doesn’t she, but she occasionally has continence problems and when she got up, the rug was soaked through. Luckily it survived machine washing and drying. So now we know that.

And she’s not allowed on them any more.

Here is a detail of the crocheted one a few steps further along. They are so much fun to do. See Fritz’s tutorial to make your own. (The one shown below is not in the tutorial, but is just a simple crocheted spiral using narrow strips of cloth instead of yarn. It is really easy.)

Small crocheted rag rug

Small crocheted rag rug

megabubbles in evening light

megabubbles in evening light

Photo Rende Zoutewelle

This is me playing. It could turn into my new art form – it requires only soap, water, air and light. One has no control over the colours or forms, and it is extremely ephemeral.

You can’t interpret it, you can’t put a price tag on it, you can’t sell it, and you can’t market anything but the equipment used to make it, (which I happily leave to others), or I suppose you could charge for being a performing bubble artist.

As I practice it more, I’m discovering that it really is a skill. You have to be aware of the humidity, and be alert to every nuance of breeze and wind.You can regulate the forms somewhat by opening and closing the loop at different intervals, and can do virtuoso bubble blowing by trying to blow one bubble inside another. When I do it on the street, it makes most motorists slow down and smile – equally important on our road where people constantly abuse the 30km speed limit.

I’ve also been up to some yarn bombing. It was a good way to give some love to a dead tree at the end of our front garden, and once more, bring a smile to the faces of passers by going slowly enough to see it. The first crocheted mandalas started to curl,

how things looked in May

how things looked in May

so I took them all down and treated them with a fabric stiffener (Modgepodge), and now they hold their shape. I’ve sewn the felt leaves by hand, and our neighbour children helped me place some of them.

In order to try to slow down some of the traffic coming through our village, the province placed some  cement obstacles up and down the road. One is so close to our garden, I decided to extend our garden onto it and make it an edible green spot. Unfortunately, despite careful care and watering, the plants (nasturtium, strawberry, lettuce, violas) pined away there, they didn’t like the traffic, the direct sun, the fumes? Who knows? So now I’ve got some hardy geraniums on there to see how they do.

201429mei_1530

Painting has ground to a halt for now. I’m writing, though,  not sure if there will be an end product.But with luck it could consolidate into a book on many of the themes touched on here and on tendingtime, my other wordpress blog.