Thursday, May 16, 2013

GOLD NEWS


A number of people have told me that they miss my blog. I miss it too. I loved getting notes from my readers. It provided some balance to the solitude of the studio and helped me to feel I was part of something more real than my visions of paintings.

But it was not a mistake to stop that Friday morning dedication to words. The (almost) total attention of my old age energies on painting is yielding a fine return. There is an image in my mind’s eye that eludes me. Courage is required because every time the work morphs into something simpler I imagine my audience leaning away. I need that audience. I need  the sales and want the applause. But as I have heard said (somewhat altered here) “The artist is her own harshest critic” the work is never quite as strong as it could be. I can do better.

So now I have forty-two paintings in progress. They are, as usual, made of papers that I paint and then assemble into paintings. At this point they are pinned to boards and I am refining them by moving pieces around and substituting one element for another. The easiest and most enjoyable part of this process is the beginning: painting the paper. The hardest: the final mounting onto canvas. And what I am doing now falls somewhere in the middle. This is where the effort to make something that I will consider well resolved becomes the focus and when it happens, is hugely rewarding. 

So, the above is just to let you know that I am still above ground. What follows is a kind of newsletter that some of you might already have received via you ordinary email. No matter - I have read that repeating information makes good advertising.

News and announcements:
I will be hosting an open studio, along with many other Humboldt County artists on the first two weekends of June. Please mark it on your calendars and pay me a visit.
North Coast Open Studios
Two Weekends: June 1-2 and June 8-9, 2013
11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
2320 Albee Street
Eureka, CA
707-442-2479

If you send me an email address (for those not already on my email mailing list), I will send you a reminder when the date is closer.

More news:
I will be giving another workshop, this time it will be the first three Saturday mornings of September. It will be about using acrylics (“To Make Color Sing”) with some emphasis on mixed media. It went well last time, exhausted me but I enjoyed every minute of it. There was a great group of participants from people who had never held a paintbrush to accomplished artists. And somehow it worked. Therefore, worth doing again.

Here’s some old news: I was the happy recipient of the Victor Jacoby Grant in December of last year. And the year before, I received the Ingrid Nickelsen Award. This influx of cash has allowed me to put aside the urgency about marketing and to be able to work at whatever pace the work requires. I have been able to study and refine the paintings in progress now without having to judge anything finished before I believe it can get no better. This is luxury for which I am deeply grateful.

For the last piece of news, I have been juried in to have a show at Humboldt State University’s First Street Gallery for July - August of 2014, when I will be eighty years old. Who knew that old age could be so good? The last show I had with this gallery (in 2008) was a wonderful experience. The young people who intern in the space, students from the university’s Art Museum and Gallery Practices program, proved to be competent and delightful assistants and the show was arranged and hung and supported by their efforts better than I could have dreamed.

I once lived in the hills outside of Caracas in Venezuela; this was a long time ago. My isolation there was complete. I had no car, no phone and no neighbors near enough to see or talk to. My husband was gone all day and often was away for several days at a time. I remember that one day, as a treat, we left the kids with friends in Caracas and attended some kind of party. And, embarrassing to remember, I couldn’t shut up. Words just poured out of me. I am reminded of this now because after being deprived of my blog for so long, I could go on and on here. My  warmest regards to my readers. I miss you, too.

The image attached here is of one of the new pieces, still pinned to board and ready to be mounted on canvas.

Friday, August 17, 2012

About a Decision

I have decided to give up writing this blog for a while. It has become too difficult to give it my Friday mornings when I want to be in the studio.

There are a few other things I need to do that have been waiting for a long while. It remains to be seen whether I will get to them now. This current painting project has become all-consumimg. I imagine the fever will abate once it comes close to being finished but that also remains to be seen.

I will use the blog for announcements of shows and such and also to promote the June open studio event. And I might even write on a somewhat sporadic basis. I'm pretty sure that when this new work is more resolved I will want to put images on the blog. And maybe there will be something I want to say now and then. We'll see.

I started the writing on October fifth, 2009. There have been one hundred and fifty-two posts (counting this one). I planned to stop in March of 2014 when I would reach my eightieth birthday, but alas, my best laid plans needed rethinking. The truth is that I seem to have run out of words for the moment. It might be that a few weeks off will restart the engine but at the moment I am full of painting and short on talk.

So my dear readers, I thank you all for the time and attention you have lent me. I have enjoyed hearing from you and loved feeling connected and making the friendships. I bid you a fond (and perhaps temporary) farewell.

Friday, August 10, 2012

About the Quest




”An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision."--. James MacNeill Whistler.
The value of this blog for me is that it compels me to use the lazier part of my brain. I have to become rational and clear-thinking before I can attempt to find the words that will make my thinking understandable to other brains. I don’t look forward to Friday mornings, my writing time, because I want to be in the studio and I have often considered giving up the blog. And I will, sometime early in 2014. But for now, I have to recognize how good it is for me to gain some understanding of the puzzles my life presents. I believe this writing is of more value to me than to my readers. After last week’s research and writing I had some of the best painting days of my life.
The unsettling question of this week is about how creativity, which with the help of John Cleese and a couple of other experts, I got clearer about last week, is not enough. Feeling free to explore and being inventive and productive is not going to make the Guernicas and the Mona Lisas happen. Something more and essential is needed. It is commonly called “the vision”. It is not the same as inspiration which is the provocation or impetus that the artist might begin with (or not). No, it is something she dearly desires which is (I am beginning to think) unattainable. And yet it surely does exist. I find it all over museums, at concerts, in books and many other elsewheres. I looked for a definition on the web, put “artistic vision” into Google Search, and came up with questions rather than answers. Which was fine. I didn’t really want some intelligent explanation of something so ephemeral.
On a more personal plane (as if the above were not so), I have some elaborate “pieces” of painting on paper which I will soon have to orchestrate into cohesive paintings meant to conform to a very simple format (which is as close as I get to describing the vision). The complexity and patterns and design elements in these pieces is what happens when I give free rein to my impulses. These diagrams are about how I want to put the pieces together:

My favorite museum exhibit of all time was “Byzantium” at the Metropolitan in NYC in 2004. Very ornate and deliciously opulent art and artifacts, a true feast for the eyes. My favorite painter of all time is Ellsworth Kelly; a bare and beautiful minimal vision. Some not minimal material is what I will  use to present a minimal (dictionary says: characterized by simplicity and lack of adornment or decoration”), vision. How to do it? Aye, there’s the rub. But the way to deal with the impossible, I have learned, is just to blunder on and make it happen. And that’s why, according to my lights, the vision is never attained. I suspect that Picasso never thought that any of his work ever totally fulfilled the hunger behind it. Which is probably why he lived so long and worked non-stop.

The images at the top are two unfinished pieces started last week.
A sample of Ellsworth Kelly:

And something from Byzantium:


And who but Don Quijote, the quintessential impossible dreamer, would inspire this:
To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ... 

This is my quest, to follow that star ... 
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ... 
To fight for the right, without question or pause ... 
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ... 

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest, 
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm, 
when I'm laid to my rest ... 
And the world will be better for this: 
That one man, scorned and covered with scars, 
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage, 
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

Friday, August 3, 2012

About the Required Courage


 
It’s sweet to find the words of an expert to support one’s own line of thinking. In this case the expert was the multi-talented John Cleese. There’s a great video of his talk on creativity. One of the conditions he mentions as being key is “Confidence to allow spontaneity and audacity. To get properly into the creative mode, you need to pull up the tiresome anchor of reason. There are no mistakes, and nothing that you think or do in your confident state can, for the time being anyway, be wrong.” He mentions also space, time, time, and humor. Time is cited twice because of its importance. 

I have struggled with all of these. The space was resolved long ago when I made workspace more important than living (home) space. Time is always a hard one but it’s more or less manageable. Humor is easy for me; I can make myself laugh in my dreams. The great challenge is the one he calls “confidence” that I planned to write about as “courage”. If you google “courage and creativity” you will find a huge mass of information. Rollo May dedicated an entire book to the subject (The Courage to Create) and there is much more.

It’s difficult to write of something one doesn’t entirely understand but I’ll do it in the same way as I paint — when I am painting well. That is to just put down whatever occurs to me  and let the devil beware. It’s not even about trusting the self. It’s just doing it. (As Nike most famously said.) As I believe those olympic athletes are doing now. As a painter, my experience is that I sort of fall into the operation and let my hands and eyes take charge. That can be hours in which the operation takes over. And then, usually the next day, I look at what I have done. Sometimes whatever I have produced requires additional layers of paint and the process is continued. Sometimes I am not sure of what I have and I put it aside and go to something else. But often, oh glory! I am delighted and I have a keeper.

But it’s me I have pleased. My trip into a color, a color combination, a series of lines, dots or soft shapes, or clear drawing of architectural or organic shapes, whatever was the impetus, is such a personal experience that I cannot but wonder about how that could possibly have anything to do with the very different  challenge that lies ahead. That is using this object of paint on paper or canvas as a means to making a living. It is an almost impossible bridge to cross and I just do it. But not without a lot of performance anxiety. The other side of that is some excitement about showing the work but please notice: it’s just a jumble of feelings, not a rational, orderly procedure at all. And somehow, it has worked. The marketing part is, of course rational and orderly, but it is the poorest part of what I do. Not done as well as it could be but it is has provided most of what has supported me all these years.

I should stop here but hang on — just one more thing. Last week I wrote of curiosity being what provokes new works and keeps older quests for answers from becoming completed paintings. Once the results are apparent, the curiosity is satisfied and the more difficult task of resolving that into a finished work remains. Often it is the answer that is the painting and I wonder if it is a painting. In the words of Jun Kaneko I found this: “I do things I am curious about. This creates new ideas and this brings more questions and more curiosity to the original idea. This is how creative energy expands rapidly.” Words from an expert.

Today’s images are “pieces” painted this week, that will eventually be integrated into the large collage paintings that are my current project. The orange one is complete. The blue one is waiting for a decision about whether those white dots are needed or if something else would be better.

Friday, July 27, 2012

About the Answers


Oh, dear! What about those starts? How do I justify this move into new when the old and unfinished awaits? I can't.
I said in two separate posts, recently, that I would mend my ways and go back to the old “starts” since I know now how to move on with them. This is not happening and I need to search my soul to understand why and to determine if it’s a good thing or not. A “good thing” would be that I am using my time well now and bringing to fruition new work superior to anything I’ve done before. That’s the whole point of this operation. Nothing like getting clear about how one is spending one’s life.

I wrote the words above last week as a beginning to this next post as I realized that I had changed course — again. I planned to title the post “About Betraying the Self”. Unbeknownst to me my mind went to work, and somewhere in its depths found the answer. The question is about why, when I am so disciplined about everything else in my life, is my studio process so devoid of order. The space is organized but the process is not. Other areas of my life run like clock-work: I exercise, brush my teeth, eat the vegetables, and make my bed with military constancy; I never forget to put the garbage out. I have missed writing this blog only once and that only after careful deliberation.

The difference lies in (this was the truth uncovered) curiosity. I am eager to get to work and totally delivered unto the operation when there is something I am looking for. Or something I want to test. Like: How about a sheer glaze of this red over that yellow? Or, suppose I paint on this wallpaper sample and let some of these silly little birds come through? Or, as I am doing now: Let’s see now if this dark grey with a black layer over it will give me the quality I want for the stripes. Oops, well, that didn’t work. But crayon might help. Or pencil. Okay, that’s more like it. Or “Wowie! Look at that!” And then I call my daughters and tell them that I must be some kind of genius. They don’t hear about the forays that look like I was trying to paint mud.

But the older starts are not the place to experiment. I have a planned vision for each and must move into them with confidence, not questions. Of course there will be hang-ups and mud along the way. But when I move ahead and test the new applications on new works (which will later become starts), then I can go back to the older unfinished work a little more prepared and better equipped to make the vision visible.

I have explained the disorder. I will keep it.

The images above are partial views of the studio as it stands now. The pieces tacked to boards, on lightweight paper, will be mounted in groups of four on canvas. Those on the wall (the older “starts”) will remain as works on (heavy) paper but are also meant to be hung as groups.

Friday, July 20, 2012

About Dots and Stripes




The world turns in its crazy loop and I am thinking of dots and stripes.

I have painted dots and stripes many times in the past but this is new. The paintings pictured above, Hydrangea and Nocturne, are from the nineties. I am inspired now by the sets designed by ceramicist Jun Kaneko for  Madame Butterrfly. He uses stark whites and unrelenting blacks and clean color to dress the performers. So I am making black grounds and white grounds for my dots and stripes, and panels of from-the-spectrum hues for the color panels. The stripes I make now are softer and the effect less structured than before. As the painter changes, so does the painting.



The whites are not difficult. So far. But the blacks are a true challenge. I can get them right on the larger panels by layering and reworking until they glow. But black stripes on white tend to die. The stripes just lie there like corpses. So I go back into them with greys and overlay with transparent glazes and sometimes get some help from an intensely black pencil. It’s working but I thought it would be easier. The nice thing though, is when it’s finished, the labor is not apparent. You don’t want your viewers to suffer the travails but rather to enjoy the part where you finally get it right. If that happens.

Right now I have faith. The beginnings, as documented below in the first tentative joining of some panels, look good to me. This process, of first painting on paper and then composing the panels into groups and mounting them on canvas, leaves a lot of room for mind-changing. It is a system of trial with much error that works well for me. Nothing gets committed until it passes muster. So mistakes happen but are whisked away unwitnessed except by the perp. 

I wonder sometimes just how interested my readers are in this painting soap opera. I also wonder how it can obsess me as it does while the world warms and massacres happen. Or maybe it is because of that.

Below are the costume designs by Kaneko:



Friday, July 13, 2012

About the Gains





Yesterday I pulled out an old drawing pad, one that I started in 1985, to make some plans for the work I am inventing now. I make diagrams which sometimes amount to drawings, often in color, which are meant to determine the format of the work I need to clarify. These are like mini-maps. Not sketches. I don’t like the word; it sounds like something indecisive. I want clarity.

I begrudge the losses incurred as aging progresses. The memory, the physical energy, and the rest of it. But I saw clearly demonstrated as I browsed through the drawings that in the twenty-seven year trajectory, plainly visible there, I had come a long way towards strengthening the vision and at the same time being constant. How nice! A gain! I do what I do better now. Well, I did know that. My painting is now far closer to the vision. It only required developing the sureness and the abilities to make it visible. Okay, wait a minute. I’m not there yet. When I look around my studio at the work waiting to be resolved I think: “Another twenty years might do it”.



I Googled losses and gains of aging and learned a bit more. I’ll put some of it here to encourage my younger readers to move fearlessly onward and to, I hope, comfort the older ones for the losses. Here’s a direct quote: “at any given point in the life span, some abilities are increasing, and others are decreasing. Moreover, the life-span perspective does not posit a specific goal for development, other than successful adaptation to the environment in which a person lives.”So what else is new? Here’s one I didn’t much like: “Fluid intelligence, or problem solving skill, declines in old age.” So we are losing that when we really need it. “Crystallized intelligence, which includes knowledge that has been acquired, such as vocabulary and general information, continues to improve across the life span.” I can vouch for that one. I surprise myself with the words at my disposal as I write. On the other hand, I am often at a loss for the names of things as I speak. Go figure. And I used to be a good speller. Word processor to the rescue.

So it is not a uniformly negative loss-ridden time of life. Personally, I notice a gain in emotional stability and a sureness in the decisions I make that are pleasant improvements. And I am a better painter and much aware of how I continue to learn. Very grateful for that.

Still, while there might be a gain or two, golden it is not. From Mark Twain: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. 

The images above are pages from my drawing pad done twenty-one years ago.