Friday, November 18, 2011

About Gratitude

Today is one of those days when I need to search for a topic to write about. I have been racing to get some of the new work ready to frame for a Christmas group show at our local Piante gallery. I have to deliver right after Thanksgiving and will do my best to have it all ready before the family convenes and happy chaos reigns. There hasn’t been a lot of time to think.

Behold! I knew if I just started to write the topic would declare itself. What better than to focus on gratitude for this good life? When I am about to spend time with the family I think about the miracle it is to have raised four children who have become responsible adults. The world seems to me so full of threat, tragedy lurking around every corner, that the fact that all four have reached middle age free of major illnesses or accidents, or a life of crime or addiction, seems nothing short of wonderful.

I didn’t know I wanted children. It was the fifties and I took for granted that was how my life was to play out. And so they came and I’m glad now that I didn’t know I could make a decision about it. I might have opted to devote myself to painting and not give away all the time and energy a family requires. I could make a list of women artists who followed that path starting with Mary Cassat, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’ Keefe, and including writers Joyce Carol Oates, Gertrude Stein, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf and many others in all disciplines. Of course the list of famous artist mothers might be much longer but I can’t seem to find that list on the web. There is a good documentary about the artist/mother: Who Does She Think She Is ?, but none of these are household names. There are many in the movie business, but as in the film I just mentioned, the marriages are not often long-lived and there are endless accounts of neglected children.

To paraphrase writer Susan Rubein Suleiman, perhaps the greatest struggle for a woman artist who has or desires children is the struggle against herself. No amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other. I might have reached greater heights career-wise had I remained in New York after graduation and stayed with painting to the exclusion of most else. Who knows? I might even have become a better painter. Maybe our psychology (or biology) somehow protects us from regret; I have none. If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now (and modern means of contraception) I would again bring these four into the world. There’s nothing selfless about doing art or about procreating; both are selfish activities. The world certainly has enough paintings and more than enough lives. But no apologies for either indulgence. They are what make my life so good.

My children might argue now about where my priorities really are. But hear this, dearly beloved ingrates: the only reason I don’t turn off the telephone in my studio is that one of you might need me for something. Though very often that something is a recipe. A friend remarked that for this chapter of my life: “All you have to do is show up.” Not completely true as I am still in charge of turkey, stuffing and gravy. But no complaints. Cooking feels like time off for me now.
No blog post next week:  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

P.S. Now that moving is a sure thing, I am selling earlier work that I am not actively marketing at a 50% reduction in price. This includes some of my personal collection. Just call or email to set up a time to visit the studio or for any questions. 

The image above, Exposure, ©1996, is one of the paintings included in the moving sale. It is a mixed media collage on canvas, measuring 17” x 44”.

Friday, November 11, 2011

About Inspiration

I write the original draft of this blog essay on Thursday mornings, come rain or fog (not much shine where I live). Today I have an MD appointment (nothing critical) at 9:30 and hope to get something substantial written before I have to abandon the project for a while. Sometimes there is something I’m full of and I’m eager to write before the excitement wanes. And at other times, I have nothing in mind and am hoping to find inspiration in my own thought processes as I confront the blank face of my computer or else I look at notes made in the past about possible topics. Unless there is something that I find appealing, the outcome is of doubtful interest to my readers and unsatisfying to me. On most occasions, however, there is something that I can get into. As anyone who knows me can attest, I am rarely at a loss for words. Or opinions.

The question is: “Why do it at all?”. When I started this blog in October of 2009 (It’s been two years!), my intention was to use it for marketing my work. It soon morphed into me just talking as I am not fond of marketing but found the writing a pleasing self-indulgence. Not very different from painting. So why not just paint which I believe I do a better job of?

One of the several answers I came up with is about growing old, which can be scary. It’s not just about its being the last chapter. It’s about losing the person one was. We joke about the memory loss. It is funny, sometimes. But mostly it is an impoverishment. And the noticeable diminishing other strengths follow along, gradually if you are lucky. So the blog is like the exercise video, the careful choice of foods, the vitamins, and the MD check-ups.  Keeping a grip on the powers we still have. To stay vitally alive for this precious piece of life that remains. None of us really believes that we will come to our end. But at the same time as we refuse to lend it credence, we struggle against it and make an effort to hide the symptoms of our decline lest somebody believe that we really are old.

Wherefore I am about to design and renovate an almost 1000 square foot studio, a bit larger that the one I am in now. Me downsize? Why ever would I do that? Time marches on and so do I. Damn it.

After Thanksgiving I will start preparing the move. I think the first part will be to start tossing anything that I really don’t need. I have trouble getting rid of stuff so I will need to steel myself for that operation. Maybe I need to ask myself about the why of that.

From music critic Ernest Newman: Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand. They didn't waste time waiting for inspiration.  

The images above are more of the current mixed media project. These are the smallest, measuring 8” x 11” each, and still untitled and unfinished.

Friday, November 4, 2011

About Transitions

Summer is definitely gone. No doubt about that. People seem surprised that I still say that in November; I do have some difficulty with transitions. I rather like to keep what Is familiar and good and am not really comfortable about what is ahead. I’ve seen some of the forecast for our winter weather. Looks like lots of storms. So? I have experienced thirty winters in Humboldt County. Storms? What else is new? I still love this place.

It’s change that unsettles me. Feels for a while like walking on quicksand (even though I’ve never done that). When my children were small I thought I would like to keep them that way. They were mine then and one day they would be their own people. My father looked around at my family back then, and said: “Enjoy this now. It’s the best.” He was right. But they grew up; they got smart, and I still like them. And this is still the best. I read history; I read biographies and life still surprises me. People have been watching their kids grow up (if they’re lucky) since our beginnings, but life is new in every life.

And now the change and transition that I am heading into is keeping me awake at night. A new home, a new studio. I’ve been where I am now for sixteen years; it is home. My studio has grown in its contents and the work has evolved and it is still the place I want to be. The place I submerge into where time stops, the world doesn’t turn and I am totally in charge. The radio is silent except when I want some music, not often. I love silence. I jump when the phone rings but don’t turn the ringer off because too much isolation is scary. I know I can recreate this space. Even better. And I can make a home again. I have done it before. The change from Brooklyn to Caracas, from single to married to unmarried, from Venezuela to Humboldt County, California. Always these were the right moves. Or maybe I have just been a good adapter. Still I wish I could fast forward to being settled into my new digs. 

The work is going well. Probably in part because there was the “now or never” feeling about resolving this series before is got disrupted. It is resolved now. What remains to be done is to mount these paintings on sturdy surfaces (on some kind of lightweight board or on canvas) as they are each composed of several parts. After that they will need to be studied carefully for color to be adjusted, design element added (or not). There are sixty in process so it will be a long lasting and gratifying project. One that I am loathe to put aside but will be happy to get back to later.

I think about those to whom change comes in the form of great loss: catastrophes of weather, war, epidemics, fire. I imagine the aftermath of a tornado and surviving to see everything that was your home and community blown away. Somehow people deal with it. Nothing short of amazing.

William Ralph Inge, writer and priest said: “When our first parents were driven out of Paradise, Adam is believed to have remarked to Eve: "My dear, we live in an age of transition."”
The image above measures 23” x 17” and is still unfinished, unmounted and untitled.