Friday, April 29, 2011

About Missing Everything

When I think about exiting this life, I think about the losses. There are the great ones, like all the people I love and can’t imagine parting from, and the beautiful and terrible world itself. Then there is everything I haven’t experienced: the countries not visited, the books not read, movies not seen; I could go on to an ever-expanding list. How wonderful and amazing that there is far more to do and see and learn than we can encompass in a lifetime. And how sad. I particularly regret the paintings I won’t get to make. I have more unfinished work and collage materials than I could get to in two lifetimes. I like having all that waiting in patient silence for me. I lament that I won’t ever get to feel that it is done. To feel that my work here on this earth has come to an end and I am ready to lay down my brushes. No, I can hear myself screaming: Wait! Wait! Not ready to go! Food I haven’t tasted! Streets I haven’t walked on! Flowering trees that will bloom! Oh, dear, I am going to miss all that?  

Time marches on and I continue to grow in the power and knowledge I need in order to paint the vision. I think about how nice it would be to go on like Methuselah. Imagine what paintings I could make after another hundred years or so of experience and learning. I would produce miracles. I take more pleasure in my days now and appreciate my world more and more. Nope, not prepared to give up any of it.

The awful reality is that I will soon have to think of reducing my operation. My memory used to be better, but except for that I am still a fully functioning human being. Yet I am thinking ahead to the curtailed abilities that will perforce present within the next years. It behooves me to accept the truth of diminished capacity and to assume a simpler and reduced workload. How hard it is to accept these facts.  And the facts are that I need to stop working to pay the high rent I pay now and to move to a smaller living space and a necessarily smaller studio. Damn, damn.

If there is a life after this one, I am putting in some requests right now. I want to be drop-dead gorgeous, brilliantly intelligent, enormously talented and filthy rich. And to be able to add to that list as the whim takes me. Some superficiality there, you say? Well, that would depend on what I do with those gifts, I say. 

The Image above is Multiple Blue ©1993, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 48” x 38”.

Friday, April 22, 2011

About Being Personal

I have posted a new video interview which you can see by clicking on the photo to your right (if you are at my blog site) or right here if you are reading an emailed version of this post.

This interview is more personal than the first (also on my blog page, lower down on the right) and there is more biography. I was hesitant about making it public as it seems that the more one allows oneself to be visible, the more vulnerable one becomes. The feeling is not much different from making paintings available for public scrutiny. And what, I ask myself is this reluctance to be visible about? What is the risk? My brain answers loudly: judgement! And so what? I have committed no crime. Wherein lies  the peril in facing the opinion of others? Are we made of such fragile stuff that criticism can cause us damage? Can it distort or disturb the perception we have formed of ourselves? It certainly could that to me when I was a teenager.

I fell in love when I was seventeen years old and was dating the object of my affections. After a few dates and seeing each other every day during breaks at school, he ended our short lived relationship. He told me he was bored because I barely spoke to him. Well, not only was I devastated, heartbroken and mega-miserable, but I took his comments to be an accurate description of who I was. I had not yet grown into myself; I did not understand that I was painfully shy and new to romantic adventure. God help me, I was boring! It took a while to heal from that blow. Coming to terms with who I am has taken a lifetime.

I have also taken rejection as a painter. Early on in my career some paintings I had consigned to a gallery in San Diego were returned to me with a note: “No luck with these, please send new work”. I could not find the strength to send anything to them or anybody else for a while after that. I have a history of sending images to galleries and being ignored or receiving a “no thanks” letter. Success isn’t easy either. After a couple of sell-out shows, a gallery director told me that there was a waiting list for the paintings that I had not even imagined yet. That caused immediate paralysis that required therapy to remedy. And after all these years the vulnerability remains and I still don’t really know what the fear is about.

I have said here before that I relish praise for my work. I see artists as performers of sorts in need of audience approval. Some form of applause is desired. Several artists I know have tougher skins. They can plough on in spite of being spurned repeatedly. Maybe they’re just faking it. A few blessed souls can work in total isolation. I envy them. 

The image above is one of the new mixed media paintings in the Structures series: Chroma-2, ©1989-2011, 26” x 20”

Friday, April 15, 2011

About Happy Endings

Last night I watched the last episode of a TV series that ended with the guy not getting the girl. I’ve been feeling a vague dissatisfaction, a kind of disquiet since. Happy endings don’t happen in our lives. When the guy gets the girl (or she gets him) their lives don’t finalize with that onscreen kiss. It goes on to whatever lies ahead for them. In real life it happens that serial killers reenact their crimes many time over before they are apprehended, if ever. And, sorry to say, good guys go to prison for crimes they haven’t committed.

So in fiction, at least, I want justice for all, bad guys and gals to get their just deserts and for Clint Eastwood to disappear over the horizon in a glowing sunset to continue to pursue horse thieves until he dies a geezer.

Now especially, after the natural and unnatural disasters that seem abundant lately, I want a place of refuge to rest my psyche and my heart. Give me stories that are real enough for me to sink into as I watch or read, and fictional enough to provide me with diversion. I want music that captures me and visual art that brightens my days. 

And what about sadness? I appreciate music and movies and stories that awaken feelings of sorrow. Women (and many of the men I have known) will voluntarily choose to experience gloom in a book, movie or whatever. What is that about? My guess is that we all carry some of that within us and keep it at bay. Letting it surface sometimes in certain situations provides the comfort that weeping can bring. In the ancient plays I read at school there were choruses of mourners to accompany the tragedies on stage. They cried for us or with us. 

So sad or glad, I want the unreal. I have a hard time dealing with every day’s news. There was a time that I gave up newspapers and newscasts but after a while that seemed irresponsible. One does need to be part of the big picture, to take it all in and deal with it because otherwise you get too disconnected from what everyone else is thinking and talking about. But we need time out; art, be it the written word, color on canvas, or the lovely form of a bowl can provide the respite, if only for a moment.

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.  ~Twyla Tharp, American dancer

The is image above is Fare Thee Well, ©1996, Acrylic paint on paper mounted on canvas, 44” x 17”.

Friday, April 8, 2011

About the Similarities

After my slide show and talk on Tuesday, Amy, our facilitator, tackled the subject of my last blog About the Differences. Except that, being Amy, who is a totally positive thinker, she turned it around and asked the crowd to describe some of the ways that artists are similar to each other. I thought of a few qualities we might conceivably have in common that would have gotten me booed off the stage, but this audience was more respectful.

Amongst the characteristics mentioned were that we make magic. Like stone soup, give us the materials and we will give you a painting, a book, a song. There was a comment about commitment. I don’t know that we have cornered the market on that, but I know that without it, we wouldn’t go very far. There was discipline also. I sometimes think I’d like to lose some of that. I am a very demanding self-supervisor and have difficulty in taking time off. Too much of a good thing, maybe. Peggy, our fine potter, spoke of how we hone our skills. People in other professions must do that too, but we can make it visible (or audible). Especially when we are doing a retrospective slide show. Becky said we are curious. Now there’s a trait that we might have a corner on except that we share it with children. This might be one of the few ways of life in which it serves us well to use all the child there is within ourselves as we give ourselves over to our task. Someone said we learn from each other. We have that in common with every one on this planet and with the animals too. I used to return to my studio after seeing a new painting by my friend Richard, eager to use what I had learned while looking closely at his work. He did the same to me and we thought we were very clever as we ripped each other off. 

Somebody mentioned our being supportive of each other. I thought at first that was about this small pond we call home. And then I remembered something I wrote of recently. I had emailed a number of artists I had never met to ask what their experience had been with a certain online gallery I was considering. Every one responded with a thoughtful, caring and warm note. That might well happen within other groups but it was, for me a unique experience of the kindness of strangers.

There were other adjectives applied to us: compulsive, obsessive, honest. I don’t think we have a monopoly on any of those but we might just have those qualities in strange proportions. My personal opinion (I use my self-given right to express it here) is that we crave an audience: viewers, readers, listeners — tasters if you are a cook. And we come in all sizes and shapes and colors. The drive and the need to work are crazy-making and helpful. And we don’t retire.

The image above is Blue on Yellow, ©1998. This piece is long gone but I have found a photo of it and plan to make a print for our June, 2011 open studio event here in Humboldt County.

Friday, April 1, 2011

About the Differences

I mentioned last week that I am taking part in a series in which six artists show slides and talk about their work. Next week I will be the last of them. What has impressed me most about these presentations is how different we are. 

When I was at school, during a class called “History of Aesthetics”, I asked how we could be shown examples of a work from an era in history as representative of its time. Isn’t there a great variety in the look of work by different artists who live at the same time in the same place? Well, no, was the answer. There are many more similarities than differences. The art historian can identify the time and place that a sculpture or painting was produced. 

I had a very dear Venezuelan friend during the years I lived in her country. We were contemporaries and we loved each other and we held in common most of the values of the western world of our time. But there were some disparities.  She was born and raised in the Andes and partly schooled in Switzerland. Her family was well off. I grew up in Brooklyn, daughter of a cop and a bookkeeper. She was used to a home kept in order by several live-in maids. I employed maids while I lived in Maracaibo and Caracas but was always uncomfortable with being part of the system that I considered inequitable. I suffered guilt for it but was glad to be able to have a job while my children were small. Carmen did not understand my discomfort. And I was amazed that she, who was one of the most decent and honest of women, would encourage her children and mine to copy from their neighbors when they didn’t know an answer on an exam. In Venezuela, cheating on tests was okay, getting caught was not. These disparities of value systems are minor compared to what they can be when you consider greater geographical distances and all the possible variations in cultures and histories.

But what about us? We are six more or less contemporaries; all born and raised in the same country, whose thinking and approach to art is totally different. Are we more alike than I can discern? Or is it that we live at a time when the influences on us come from many more sources? I will continue to puzzle over this until an answer appears or another question replaces it as my current obsession.

The image above is of two of the new mixed media pieces from the Exposure series, 26” x 20” each, on etching paper.