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Back in the 80s, I was already feeling uneasy about my purpose as an artist; and authors like Suzi Gablik were beginning to articulate just where Modernism had gone wrong. At that time, there were few alternatives to the traditional art channels like galleries, museums, concert halls, theatres.

There were edgy art happenings popping up in the fringes; some centring on the damage we were doing to the environment, some focusing more on social causes. Then Gablik came out with ‘The Re Enchantment of Art’, once again, way before her time in sensing what was to come. This book documented artists working with ecological and social themes, and seriously questioning their purpose as artists.

‘Conversations at the End of time’ followed, in the 90s I believe. This was a very disturbing book about art having lost its purpose. There were a few light points, but generally the interviews with artists, critics, gallery and museum curators, documented where art was at the end of the 20th century- in a serious meaning crisis.

In these past 30 years, many artists including myself have been questioning how being in the studio making things is relevant in our times. In a past article, (I still can’t find the source, but the gist stayed with me), Gablik declares that artists can no longer make art in complete disregard for the planet.

And finally, this quietly posed question- once seeming irrelevant to so many in the art fields- is supremely relevant to everyone. With so much breaking down in the society, from the environment to the healthcare, educational, and financial systems, we are asking ourselves how we can use our art to contribute to solutions. Anyone who has worked honestly with their gift knows art’s healing and transformative power. And now, finally,  significant numbers of us are bringing these to bear on the broken world we find ourselves in.

All the small, previously invisible projects and initiatives, are starting to connect. Finally, finally! there is critical mass and something completely new is happening in the arts. All of us who have felt out of place in the commercially co-opted art world and have sensed that there is so much more we can be and do, are getting vindication. Not only that, there is a new sense of purpose in creating.

And the dreadful isolation is over, because in these new times, creating is connecting.

I’ve fallen, by grace,  into a community of like-minded people and will introduce you to them, their ideas and lives through this medium. But I have formed another blog to map these new meanderings and musings. For the moment artcalling is more focused on art process and certain questions about the role of the arts and artists now. And tendingtime is a more personal diary of the journey, meant to start and continue conversations with others in an in between place in their lives and art.

Paper houses

June 27, 2013

paper houses 1

paper houses          photo Rende Zoutewelle

I had the painting on the landing outside my studio, and when I cleaned up my drawing table, I put the little paper houses there temporarily for lack of a better place.

I kept passing this little composition enjoying how the painting and sculptures complemented each other, meaning to take a picture.

Evidently Rende had been thinking the same thing. I’m so glad he did it. His photo has all the poetry I’d imagined, and I doubt I would have been able to capture it as well as he has.

More about paper houses here.

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!

Lemons

February 20, 2012

White bowl

I was having a discussion with Kristina and sandi (from ‘sandi’s bottles’ fame)  about lemons in paintings. And how, for me, avocados and those dark purple plums hold the same appeal, especially when combined with that luminous lemon yellow.

The painting above was one of the first oil paintings I did after seeing the Elizabeth Blackadder show last August, and it was the first one I felt good about. The ones that came after didn’t have that same sponteneity. It is as if this one was given (it really was- first I made a tiny thumbnail of it in oil pastel and then cranked this out in one sitting) as a sort of beacon to paint toward. And everything that came after that for awhile fell short.  I never recovered that same certainty about where it wanted to go until recently.

 

Lemon and plums

This one is quite small and came much later. It was the first one where I started to see the potentials in leaving part of the acylic underpainting showing as in the bottles on the top left and the shadow of the lemon. And it led to the recent bottle series. (But bottles figure in a lot of my work, look at the top half of the top painting in this post for instance).

I can’t say that the composition was intentional, it just sort of grew.  I love the colors. They really do capture what I liked best about my oil pastels, the light airy blues against the rich aubergines and greens. And then that sunny lemon yellow shining. And all of it set off against a foil of burnt sienna.

So these two are more about where I want to go in my heart, rather than the super realistic last bottle one. These have the element of play that I want to enjoy while I’m painting.

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All photos by Rende Zoutewelle

Well, it is an all-consuming project. I do have a life….I think. But I basically wake up and go to sleep thinking about which flowers fit where, color balance, leaf size contrasts etc.

Rende’s photos have captured some of  the atmosphere of the étalage (aka shop or oil painting studio) where I’m working on the instrument. It is a small space – not even enough to walk completely around the case. A new instrument like this needs to be kept at an even temperature and humidity to prevent drying out, so it is on the chilly side – about 15 degrees centigrade. I wrap up well before I go to ‘work’.

Despite that inconvenience, I do like having it all concentrated down here, the previous ones took over my entire attic studio. That meant I really couldn’t do anything else.

Johan said that with the sound board being painted, the instrument is starting to come alive.

As soon as it was brought here, I felt it already had a soul from the amazing amount of love and care that the builder, Matthias, had put into it, and from all the thought that had gone into it even before the case was built. Now that I’m adding my part, there is such a strong visual emphasis, it is hard to remember that

the real soul of this instrument lies in the sound it will make.

Anyway, it is a really cool project to be involved in. I have to slow down to paint each plant and animal portrait as if it were the only one. And one by one they are forming a whole painted songboard.

woodpecker attacks songboard

Definitely connected to the long tradition of songboard painting, and yet also belonging to the 21st century in the choices we’ve made, both visually and in content.  For example, Johan had requests for various flowers and other elements to be included which are personal symbols connected to his own life. For a few people, beside the aesthetic quality, there will be added layers of meaning to the things painted on the instrument.

When it goes back to Germany at the end of the month, Matthias will make the keyboards (there are two) and attach the strings. And then it will be able to sing.

Ingrid and Stuart outside of Bon Papillon Gallery,Café, Framers, & Shop

I was lucky enough to stumble on Bon Papillon last summer when in Edinburgh. I’d just visited the wool shop nearby and needed a cup of tea and a place to just chill for awhile.  It was festival time, and my search for knitting wools had brought me onto a side street off busy Prince’s street, a good way down the hill. It was a relief to get away from the intense bustle and crowds, and when I saw the little terrace and art gallery offering cake and coffee, I couldn’t resist.

Bon Papillon had just opened a few months earlier. Once inside I sat down at a wooden table in a lovely, warm and intriguing interior and had the best cake and coffee I can remember having in a long time. And the prices were as friendly as the owners. I chatted a bit with Ingrid Nilsson about her art and this new venture she was embarking on with her partner Stuart Allan. It turns out Ingrid is an exhibiting artist, and Stuart has 20 years experience in catering. Judging from the deliciousness factor of the food there (11 on a scale from 1-10), that’s not hard to believe.

How can you choose????

Stuart's Beet & Ginger cake with lemon frosting

I have mixed feelings about sharing this here, because part of the pleasure, of course, is the surprise in discovering a gem like this. I’d hate to see it overrun and the owners start to consider expanding; the appeal is in the intimacy of a small 2 person place with so much attention to detail. For me the charm lies in the combination of amazing, food made with  pure, natural ingredients, the friendly ambiance which leads to conversation between tables should you wish (people bring their knitting and sketchbooks), the reasonable prices, and the great selection of art. I should add that Stuart has started a framing shop in the back, and it looks like this too is done with the same care and high standard as his cooking. Even though it is not edible!

Café interior

Stuart framing

So, when you are in Edinburgh, do go to this little haven on Howe street, say hi to Ingrid and Stuart,and eat some cake for me.

Oh almost forgot to say, they carry my felt brooches.
Tip- they’ve got some wonderful art shows coming up, see their blog .

Nicholas Roerich

This is the 3rd post based on Lewis Hyde’s book, ‘The Gift’.

Another insight brought by reading Hyde’s ‘The Gift’ is that we artists, by identifying solely with the market limit the circulation of the gift. I mean, that by painting with the idea of selling that painting solely in order to make an income we are limiting the nourishment and gifts that painting could bring us.

In Hyde’s discussion of gift exchange in tribal societies, there is always a greater force involved in the cycle of giving and receiving of gifts, it might be the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of the forest or rivers,  or the greater community.

He then makes the connection to an artist ‘labouring ‘with a gift. When we are deeply into our work, something happens- time evaporates, problems recede, all that exists is this sense of being at one with the work and with the world. This state is known in modern times as ‘flow’. At those times art reaches beyond the personal ego and touches something universal which is then embodied in the artwork.

For anyone who has experienced this, there seems to be a magic to it, as if ‘it wasn’t me who did the work’. The feeling is as if we have opened and received a gift.

What Hyde has made me think about is this: if, through my art making I have been blessed to touch on such a gift, then there is something bigger than me at work here. That means that if I work consciously with this gift element and am grateful and humble in its presence, I let this all expand beyond my own personal ego boundaries. It isn’t mine alone, and it doesn’t need to nourish me any more beyond the experience of the making.

If I don’t demand from my creative gift work that it also earn my living, I am not limiting it to being a mere product.I release it into the larger domain, and from that domain I will in turn be nourished.

I have experienced this countless times, when working on non remunerative art, suddenly a windfall will appear from an entirely unrelated area.  As if by putting clear and true energy out there in one form it almost always comes back in another.

Russian artists Nicholas Roerich said something to the effect of , ‘Create, create, create, and don’t worry about the bread for the morrow, in creating you will nourish and be nourished’.

I’m not saying it is easy or instant. It is never easy. But by using this philosophy as a point of departure for making art, I come into a state of trust rather than one of worry, stress, scarcity and competition.