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What we really need more of

December 7, 2016

I’m writing this one off the top of my head, no research, not a lot of links, etc., though I’ve written about the topic extensively in my book in progress.

A very young child appears on Idols or on YouTube and a talent is discovered. Take Jonathan, a three year old at the time the video of him was put online, ‘conducting’ a Beethoven symphony in the living room.  It was hysterical, but also so fresh, so open and completely uninhibited. Picking his nose (gratefully most of that was cut out), and at the end, losing his balance and giggling uncontrollably on his back on the carpet as only a 3 year old can.

Couple of years later- Jonathan at 5 in a tux  conducting a real orchestra, very serious.

First of all, a disclaimer here- in J’s case, I think there is a genuine desire to conduct, and the hunt for fame and money doesn’t seem to be the motivator. There is truly music singing in this kids veins. So please, if any of his relatives see this, don’t be offended. I’m sure he’s maintained a lot of his original purity.

I’m actually thinking less of him and more of the kids that appear on Idols, with their pushy parents, greedy for the recognition and money the kids talent can be used to gain.

What I’m trying to point out here is that important things get lost when what starts out as a gift gets turned into a commodity.

Having the ability to sing, conduct, dance, etc is a gift. It is connected to intimate internal values like life path and purpose. It needs time to develop and mature and become one’s own. Gifts are connected as well to the larger whole, our gifts are gifts to our community as well as for ourselves. In many non Western societies, the gift is how money and goods move around, and there are clear guidelines for how a gift is handled. Is it kept or passed on? Is it used up, is it used as a diplomatic gesture? There are myriad ways a gift travels and as many ways it influences what it comes in contact with. Gifts are powerful, they can awaken forces which contain the potential to incite or heal, to create or break connections, and more. They engage the imagination and call to unseen powers to participate in the giving and receiving.

In many folklore tales, hoarding a gift for one’s own enrichment is often the first step on a road to calamity. And we feel this-  we know why when something for the the good of the community is appropriated for personal use, it is wrong.

Lewis Hyde says that every artist labours with a gift. He names 3 ways an artist and gift interact: first is the gift of talent the artist has; the second gift aspect is developing the talent and engaging in the creative process, the artist moves to a new place; and third, the result or product of this process is also a gift. Hyde acknowledges that each artist needs at some point to find out how to keep the qualities of the gift amidst the inevitable pressure of interacting  with a purely commercial system.

When young Idols winners, or young, undeveloped art talents are pushed into the spotlight before the talent has matured, before the person himself is mature enough to understand the nature and application of their gift, then we all lose something precious. The artist and their work become links in the commodity chain, and the values change from giving, gifting, freedom of expression, taking risks, doing something for the love of it- to ‘What do I get for it?’ We all know what that looks like and there is really nothing new to learn from it. Same old same old buy and sell.

But next time you see a conductor lost in the spirit of the music, leading his orchestra to new heights, or an artist working on a project making urban wildlife habitats purely out of love for the animals, or anyone at all using their hands and skills for love and/or betterment of something, try to see what that does to you.

My experience every time is that it opens a place of generosity and inspiration in myself.

Isn’t that what we really need more of?

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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

Recent work

July 21, 2015

5 bottle still life, oils

5 bottle still life, oils

This might look familiar to some of you, I’ve been working on a series of Rende’s photos of bottles in front of some of my still life paintings. I did 2 versions of this one, and the second is still in progress. This one tries to be true to the photo which I loved because of the contrast between the rich darks and glowing oranges. I took it with very little light in my studio, so it is hand held and out of focus (see the signature) . The bottles are quite clean and sharp in the original painting. I was especially happy with the right edge of the bowl seen through the blue bottle.

And now for something entirely different. I fell in love yet again with another of Ivon Hitchens’ paintings.

Original September Bouquet, Ivon Hitchens

Original September Bouquet, Ivon Hitchens

So I spent some happy days copying it. My version is a bit livelier qua colour, I like them both. Also, my canvas was a different proportion so I had to fudge the layout a little.

Copy of HItchens September bouquet, oils

Copy of Hitchens September bouquet, oils

I just can’t imagine sitting in front of a vase, container (?) of flowers on a wood floor and producing something as gauzy and vague as this. It is a bouquet, yet there are hardly any greens except those nice two fresh strokes on the left.

What that shape is in the lower right corner, I have no idea. I can’t get inside this guys head in any way. If you see some of his other work, you’ll see that form isn’t the main thing with him. But I still love his nonchalance and in some of his other still lifes, the addition of scribbly outlines as well as decorative colour patches.

I’m getting up the nerve to do a painting of my own in his style; I’ve already done a preliminary watercolour study for it, but it is such an alien way of working for me. We’ll see.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Bottles and stillife, oil on canvas board

Bottles and still life, oil on canvas board

I’ve been concentrating on developing my oil painting for nearly 5 years now. Having a long career as a fine artist, graphic designer and calligrapher up until then, I already had a good foundation of drawing and composition. So I didn’t have to start from scratch, luckily. It has been mostly about learning the medium, and I’ve shared that process here fairly regularly. This is my first painting after a several months interlude of copying the work of some other artists. I learned a lot from that process, mostly about paint application and relaxing a little.

Basically I’m satisfied with this painting, it is another step along the way. What I am sure of, though, is that this isn’t my destination- ie perfecting realistic representation. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, this has a nice story behind it.

Awhile back, I took a photo of a bowl of nectarines at my mother in law’s home and did a few paintings from it.

Tanny's bowl

It eventually landed downstairs near where Rende’s computer is. We moved my bottle collection out of our show window and they ended up in front of this still life. (You may recognise some of my first paintings of this collection from several years ago.)

So the bottles against the still life caught Rende’s magic eye, and he made several photos, they were so rich and juicy and deep, they nudged me out of my uninspired period- I had to paint them.

Painting something that is already beautiful is a major challenge! The question is, what can you add? The painting all the way at the top is a response to the richness of Rende’s photo, but it is also about mastering technique to capture what moved me. I liked the sharp clarity of the glass against the fuzzy background; a special challenge was muting the fruit still life behind the glass to make it look out of focus as it was in the photo.

But technique is never the end goal, it is simply a tool. My journey in paint is away from rendering to suggesting. But I don’t know how to do that, so I have to keep doing one piece at a time and let the work teach me. I don’t know if anyone can see the steps made since the first glass paintings, but I am moving closer to painting the way I feel.

Also important to me, not quite achieved in this last painting is letting go of form to the extent that the canvas surface becomes interesting in itself. The rhythm of the brush strokes, the layers of paint, the texture of thick and thinly applied colours all are more interesting to me than depicting a real object perfectly.

I want to paint that way NOW. But take it from me, this process of discovering your own vocabulary of marks can’t be rushed or forced. In ‘Art and Fear’, by Bayles and Orland, (super book by the way), I remember something about how important it is to develop pleasurable working habits, and that these somehow also help you to find your work.  I think even the set up of your palette could influence how you use colour, for example. One person might place the cadmium yellow closer and another  might place it at a far end, so it is less easy to reach- so you just end up using the colour closest to you.

I watched a video of David Hockney painting one of his landscapes from his show ‘a Bigger Picture’. All his years of daily work just flowed out of his brush like a guided dream.  He did one complete painting a day, and it looks so easy! But watching him taught me about working from back to front (sky first, then branches) in a landscape. It completely changed my thinking, so this is the set up for the next painting, same subject slightly different crop. I’ve sketched in the masses in the background and foreground, and am aiming to suggest more and work even more loosely.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting

 

Nature art

March 24, 2015

Starting at the end of January, we’ve had a continual oasis of blooming spring bulbs on the dining room table. As one pot reaches its peak and fades, we replace it with a fresh new one.

winter bulb garden and micro greens

winter bulb garden and micro greens

Rende got fascinated with the dried up mini daffodils (in background), and made some great photos of them awhile back.

I was idly sitting at the table a few nights ago and picked some of the dried out flowers and stems and started playing with them. The results are below. They eventually inspired a mobile, which I’ll post soon.

 

Oh just go ahead and copy!

February 8, 2015

Hitchens stillife, first sketch in watercolour crayon

Hitchens stillife, first sketch in watercolour crayon

What gets me painting is a tingling sensation, a momentary lifting of the heart when struck by something visual- a slant of light, two colours juxtaposed, the beautiful rounded form of fruit nestled in a bowl.
Though there has certainly been enough visual inspiration around, the drive to paint it has gone underground.

So I keep alert for that pinging, when my souls’ sounding has hit on treasure. Recently that has been happening with the work of other artists, so I follow where it leads.

First it was to the Isaac Israels portrait I did a few months ago. I just wanted to have the painting, not having 115,000 euros to buy it, I copied it and learned a lot by doing so.

Now I’m fired up by the more realistic work of Ivon Hitchens who worked in the middle of the last century. His abstracts are interesting, but it is the still lifes I gravitated towards. I saw my first one in ‘Flow’ magazine here in Holland (see below)  and have had it up in the studio for awhile.

Flowers, oil on canvas, Ivon Hitchens

Flowers, oil on canvas, Ivon Hitchens

I’m attracted to artists who somehow capture and release form simultaneously. I feel myself moving in that direction, and have been working that way in oil pastels for ages, but as soon as I pick up a brush things start having to be ‘right’. It is fine as a learning stage for these past 4 1/2 years of concentrated work on my painting, but slowly, I’m pulling out of that restriction and trying to find my own vocabulary.

So I really liked one of Hitchens’ still lifes, and made a spontaneous sketch of it with watercolour sticks (see opening image on this post). I bought some Caran d’ache ones in France and they are luscious.

Photo source

 

 

 

 

You draw with them and then go over your strokes with a brush and they dissolve into watercolour washes. I chose this medium because it was inexact and sketchy and would help me approach the feel of the original Hitchens painting below.

Still life by Ivon Hitchens

Still life by Ivon Hitchens

Then, after that preparatory watercolour crayon work, I did my own oil version below.

My copy of the Hitchens in oils

My copy of the Hitchens in oils

I love his greys, his greyed down greens, and the lovely warm orange pot. I also was charmed by the wonderful blue grey shadow shape running along the bottoms of those 3 white cups and the lighter grey negative shape it makes.

It was so nice to do, such a change from my usual way of working. So free and sketchy and painterly.

My next painting is also a copy. Giving myself permission to copy my favourite paintings is an unexpected gift. It gives me a chance to immerse myself in the world of some of my favourite artists, and to paint as if I were they. It takes away that yearning when I see a painting I wish I’d done, just to do it even though it is someone else’s style and discovery!! I know this is an important phase for me, opening possibilities in technique and content, so I’m going with it. It is also a lot of fun.