Friday, November 26, 2010

About Choices

Last week I mentioned Nicole Krausse, author of Great House. In an interview on NPR, she speaks of the willful uncertainty she struggles to maintain as she writes, and which she instills in her characters. “I think the characters in this book are struggling,” she says — “and yet, it is their efforts to escape their solitude that makes them most alive.”

M. Scott Peck declares “life is difficult” in The Road Less Traveled. Why then choose a life in the arts? We already know that only a small percentage of those who do actually rise above poverty level with their art. Most have to surrender to a day job, teaching if they’re prepared for it and lucky, or something totally unrelated to their natural inclinations. My own experience of that evolved into feelings of self-betrayal. That sounds rather dramatic, even to me as I write, but I’ll stay with it. I was living a life that wasn’t mine. More drama there, I know. Krause says of her characters: "All of them are dissatisfied with that alienation or that isolation that they feel. They all quite desperately would like to be known, would like to be seen and understood, would like to communicate themselves. I feel the litheness and exhilaration of their effort. The effort to be known and go beyond solitude."

She’s even more dramatic than I am. I don’t think so much of “being known” but more about being who one is, comfortable in the self. I walked out of the life that I was living and took with me only my children. I left the country I had lived in for twenty-four years, an equally long marriage, a good job (I was offered chairmanship of the department when I tendered my resignation), and came back to this country in mid-life, full of fantasies and fears about the choice I was making. There is still some sadness about the comforts abandoned and (hard to admit this) the things I owned. But never anything even remotely like regret. This life I have is replete with uncertainty and struggle. And overflowing with the “litheness and exhilaration” Krausse speaks of.

I try not to get this personal here; I start writing without intending to spiral inward in this way. I wish I were writing fiction because then I would speak of a character that I could design to my specifications. About painting, I wonder: “Does anyone see what I see?” And about the roads we take, “What reasons are there for choosing the more arduous one?”

The image above is Pulse, ©2008, Acrylic and Mixed Media Collage on Museum Board. For those who missed my open studio, remember that it is easy to purchase a fine print at my Etsy site, or if you are in the area, call to make an appointment for a studio visit.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

About Aging

Growing old is never far from my thoughts. I touched on the subject before in About the Aging Artist.  I continue to observe the process with curiosity, some grief and very little resignation.

Aging is about losing the person one was, trying to rise above it and at the same time conceal it. Concealing it is necessary because we don’t want to be treated as less than before. As a female, and now an elderly one in this culture, I find I have to make an effort to stand taller and speak louder to be sure that my presence is noted. Aging with dignity is the goal. And keeping as much of oneself as can be preserved without too much effort. There’s a lot of instruction available for the upkeep of brain and body. I have never been fond of crossword puzzles and I abhor exercise. Always have. The half hour exercise video that I force myself to do is like taking the cod liver oil that was popular in my childhood.

I am grateful beyond measure that the part of me that paints doesn’t deteriorate. It flourishes and brings me more joy and solace than ever. Would that my memory were surviving in similar fashion. I’ve never been good with numbers and now I bless my little calculator, for without it my checkbook would be a hellish mess. I don’t even want to think about enduring only to experience a loss of independence. I scrutinize with great interest the lifestyles of those who grow old with grace and with their faculties intact. The trouble with that is that everyone does it differently which brings in the question of genetic heritage. Well, we do the best we can. Golden age, my foot.

I think my reason for examining this chapter of life so closely is that it provides some vague sense of control. That’s all, just a vague sense. Time marches on, do what we will. I still remember seeing Lost Horizons, the Ronald Colman version, made in 1937. When he takes the woman he loves away from Shangri La, where nobody grows old, she fades away in an instant. Very sad.

The Image above, Sunlight Factored, is one of a series made and sold in 1992.  Mixed Media on Paper Mounted on Board, 54” x 38”. For inquiries or to purchase a painting shown on this site, please email Joan. Remember you can also purchase a print at my Etsy site with ease.

Friday, November 12, 2010

About Abstraction Again

"To abstract is to trade a loss of reality for a gain in control."

James Moffett
, The author of the quote, a teacher and scholar, is speaking of abstraction as less than real. My dictionary defines abstraction thusly: “existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence”. That led me to thinking that abstraction in visual art is in fact real, not an abstraction at all. It is usually made of solid materials that can be seen, photographed, touched  (not in a museum of course; my daughter once caused alarms to go off at the Metropolitan). Abstract thought is a horse of a different color. But, of course, it can usually be written. Along with most other kinds of thought.

The kind of work I do, abstract, minimal, color-field — call it what you will, has far fewer fans than landscape, still life or other forms of representational art. It is for that reason that I write about it. I believe that we, myself included, form an idea early on, of what a painting looks like. It was difficult for me to break away from those confines. The later learning about “foreground and background” and “negative space” were obstacles in the path I needed to take to be able to make a painting about — here I have to stop and think. A painting about what?  My paintings or those of other artists whose work I love, what are they about? Shape, color, paint, texture: not particularly interesting. Put them together to realize some intention of the mind’s eye and, voila! an object that can move us to tears of joy or sadness, or delight our senses. How does that happen? Damned if I know. But it is the artist that we meet when we hear or read or see the results of his/her labors.

I am reading Great House now by Nicole Krauss. There’s a monologue of an aging father imagining himself speaking to his alienated middle-aged son; it puts emotional pain into words that can be felt intensely. When my children were small, we had on the dining room wall Little Girl in Blue, a sad-faced child by painter  Amadeo Modigliani . When I was away for a teachers’ conference Barbara was heard to say, wistfully: “Her mother is in MIami.” I don't know why we choose to feel all that. Maybe because feeling anything is how we know that we are alive.

Well, there, I did it again. Just got carried away. I apologize to those who prefer shorter readings. I will mend my ways. In the meantime feel free to stop anywhere. And to those of you who stay with me, much obliged. I enjoy the company.

To close, here’s Garrison Keillor: “I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.”

The image above is History 001, 2010, giclée print, size varies. To read about the giclée process and this series, or to purchase an original giclée print, CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 5, 2010

About the Materials of Art

Last week a reader left this question for me: "If you create a work like this on paper, why do you then mount it on canvas (rather than some kind of board)? Or: if you mount paper on canvas and then create the artwork, why do you bother with the paper?"

The answer is that I like to work with paper and do not like canvas. Paper is responsive, it lends its character to the mediums applied to it. I find canvas inert and devoid of personality. But adhering the finished work on paper to canvas makes the final version more durable and gives the flimsy papers I prefer to use a certain dignity and presence. I work mostly in collage fashion and need a support on which I can assemble the separate elements. For small works I use some non-flexible paper boards or masonite type surfaces. But larger works are best rolled for shipping to galleries or to the consultants who sell for me. They can then be stretched and framed without glass or plexiglass as the finished work has a strong acrylic surface that does not need cover. In short, the reasons are both aesthetic and practical.

Once, at a gallery reception, the director called me over to meet a couple who had just purchased a large painting. As we chatted, the lady who was staring at the painting, gasped and asked: “What’s that?” In the seconds that it took for me to locate the source of her horror, I had nightmarish visions of the many ways a painting could self-destruct. What I saw was a hair from a paintbrush embedded in the paint, which I quickly explained and the lady was greatly relieved. Let me tell you, I do everything in my power to avoid the embarrassment of learning that a work of mine has failed to pass the test of time. I would have betrayed the gallery that sold it, the collector who bought it, and most of all, myself.

The image above was made from the same group of works made in the seventies using inks of fugitive color described in About Memory. It is History-019, ©1976-2010 giclée print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.