I am excited by a whole new palette here. The colors all shot through with light, though not so on this cloudy day. As I begin my exploration the entry point seems to be through the sea and its changing atmosphere. I love to walk the beach in all weather. I am thinking about edges…those distinct and those lost. Edges of the internal as well as the external landscapes. I am looking at the lines lost as sea and sky dissolve into each other, those shapes defined by their shadows as our aliveness is shaped by the ever-present shadow of loss. I am looking at the dark shapes of the dunes given weight by the lightness of the sage- silver shimmer of beach grass ever-shifting. I look at and cradle in my hand transparent pearlescent shells, halfmoon slivers like the castoff scales of water gods, metallic black sand, weathered warm greys and more silver of driftwood, the volcanic looking charred remnants of beach fires.
All these edges, these studies in contrast, lead me naturally to the ultimate edge and its borderlands, the territory of life and death. Like the sides of a coin, we cannot separate life from death. Death is always in our midst. In the week since I have been working in this New Zealand studio, two souls within my extended family have left this world. Two funerals have been held. Though I have never met either of these men, their sudden leaving is deeply felt. The disturbance of death always asks of us the living, to examine and to re-order our life. It is through great loss and suffering we can find ourselves destroyed or through the struggle find a way to transform our heart into something wider, deeper, more full with empathy and compassion. To accept the pain of loss without rejection, to allow ourselves to become intimate with death is to give oneself the greatest possibility for intimacy and vitality in life.
I am the rest between two notes, which are somehow always in discord because Death’s note wants to climb over— but in the dark interval, reconciled, they stay there trembling. And the song goes on, beautiful.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Awe inspiring length of black sand stretching as far as the eye can see or the willing feet walk. Kite surfers, body surfers bathers and board surfers. Many walk and enjoy the endless roll of the surf. The sun heats the iron in the black sand, the warmth penetrates or burns the soles of your feet on the landward edge by the dunes.
So many greens! I was curious about my selection of paint before I left Vancouver, why I asked myself, was I bringing so many tubes of greens? Many I had never used before.
Road to essence-years of accumulated paint on the crossbar of my easel
When discouraged, and in need of strength and support to go on, I do as Lawrence Carroll has said, I” just look back over my shoulder at the example of Giorgio Morandi”. I am forever inspired by this extraordinary painter’s devotion to seeing, his persistence in painting ever deeper, as he has said: “into the essence of things”. To work every day, to bring everything one has to the task you have set yourself though one fails, again and again, this is the only wholehearted path. Morandi once said to a reporter, pointing to a thick, dried crust of waste pigment; “Here are most of my paintings”. In the recognition of the necessity of failure, I find the courage to continue to risk, to risk more. In risking failure, I acknowledge this accumulation of scrapes and scars, this misstep and stumble is the invaluable gained experience necessary to develop resilience, empathy, growth and eventual success. Again I quote Lawrence Carroll:
“One of the greatest gifts and lessons given us when we walk into (Morandi’s) world and look at the paintings he made is for the young artist to know that one does not need to abandon oneself. One does not need to follow fashion into the ditch and awaken with nothing one can hold and call his own. One simply needs to trust deeply what one has and to hold this closely and nurture it, whatever it may be. And to simply awaken each day and go on, and to not always question every move one makes and to not always look for answers in all you do, as the answers will come over time”.
Angelina Pwerle, “Bush Plum” (2013) (all images courtesy of Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, New Orleans, and the artists)
Visiting the Museum of Anthropology to see these remarkable paintings by some of the leading Aboriginal women artists of Australia, was a revelation. To be in the experience of these magical works gave me a feeling of aliveness and expansiveness, connecting me to a universe of truths far beyond my fragile concerns.
The paintings are composed of traditional abstract mark marking denoting nature, spirits, and a disappearing way of life lived in relation to the cosmos. Angelina Pwerle”s “Bush Plum”, captivated and enthralled me. I loved her precision and meditative repetition of marks, meticulous and singular, yet varied in size and color that are placed with an organic, flowing, intuitive gesture that vibrates with an incandescent energy opening like a portal into the infinite. Her inspiration is a tiny flower, the Bush Plum of the title, which blooms in the red sands of the desert. These infinitely subtle variations of dots constellate the canvas like a night sky, waves of the sea or the wave’s traces left in sands. This abstraction of the tiny white flower creates a canvas of great depth and power. I sat for a long time in front of Angelina Pwerle’s “Bush Plum”, as well as the other paintings she had in the show. I feel I have taken with me its presence of stillness and absorbed its sensation of continuous movement, the ongoingness of time and beauty. I am reminded of Agnes Martin: “When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life”.
The Canadian writer Shawna Lemay, in her blog (which is of great inspiration to me), quotes Glen Gould in a post she writes about poetry, though equally applies to the art of these paintings: “The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline, but a gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”
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Beginning is difficult. Making your mark on the white page, the blank canvas, taking the first step in the sand swept clean from your life’s last storm, each time we leave the known to embrace the unknown we are acting from the heart of courage.
Why blog I ask myself? Why now? Why go public with inner musings, why bring conversations left unsaid or expose revelations buried in the pages of my artist’s notebooks? Why does a painter choose words?
Curiosity. Fumbling with words like small consolations in my desire to understand; your curiosity and mine. Two of the most commonly asked questions I receive are, “How long did it take you to paint that?” and “Is there a story?” There is always a story, people hunger for story. It’s my intention in this blog to share with you some of the inspirations and challenges, some of the stories that connect unraveled threads in relation to my own rabbit holes, my reading, my studio practice, painting, poetry and the study of the dharma. Oh, and sometimes bees. I am intrigued with the alchemy of the hive and the creative power of bees. Why? Because passion is necessary and I am as passionate about bees as beauty, the beauty of language and paint and how we create, all of us. We are all creators, every day making our lives.
Which leads me to a story about a Hare, and how my blog comes to be using the tagline “How to Explain Pictures”.
A very long time ago…I was a young naïve student adrift in the art department of a university far from home, a bit like Dorothy, clearly lost and out of context, juggling an athletic scholarship with courses spoken in what was to me a foreign language, filled with words sounding more like speaking in tongues than a language meant to help me discern meaning in any given text, literary or visual. But there was one intriguing, shaman like figure that appeared and reappeared and continues to appear throughout my education and investigations beyond that faraway school. Joseph Beuys. I never understood a word at the time. Nothing the artist made of felt and fat, iron and beeswax made any sense to me at all, but I felt something. Something I knew I needed to keep my curiosity open, my senses alive to the mystery encoded in his performance, “How to explain pictures to a dead hare”.
The artist in his solo performance, (unless you count the hare) was being filmed and photographed as he moved through the space of the Schmela Gallery. On his right foot, attached to the sole, was a great clanging piece of iron, on his left foot, a felt sole. But why had Beuys covered his head with honey and gold leaf? Why was he cradling in his arms a dead hare with all the tenderness I had come to associate with slide after slide of gorgeous renaissance pietas punctuating the darkness of art history class? And what was he whispering to the dead hare. Who was listening?
For years, I have been listening to this mysterious piece from the echo it has formed in my own consciousness. It has offered me much. I am grateful to the artist Joseph Beuys who has challenged me and expanded my awareness. I am grateful to all those who are courageous enough to share a piece of their own journey.
Joseph Beuys was asking something of me and therefore of all of us, as well as giving back to us the knowledge of our innate inheritance as beings of spirit. Beuys was asking us to bring all of our senses of perception to an artwork, not just the organs of our sight, scent and touch, but also the inner organs of perception, our intuition, imagination, inspiration and above all, our heart. He was a person in tune with the unseen realms, in tune with the wild in nature and in us. He believed the task of art was to further develop the creative potential of all people, not just “artists”. He felt works of art could bring us closer to our feeling body and to our emotional intelligence. Beuys believed in the power of this kind of embodied intelligence to create a new future for humanity unbound from more rigid, linear and analytical thinking. Though his action, “How to explain pictures to a dead hare” was first performed in 1965, it remains relevant, evidenced by artists continuing to perform cover versions in our time.
So, it is begun. Like any work of art, the greatest of these being your own life, artistic expressions find their final form only after a great series of destructions. This blog will find its way failure by failure, arriving somewhere as yet unknown to me, only as I create over and over again.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Beuys: “Art enters into the person and the person enters into the work of art”.
As for the other question, “How long did it take you to paint that?” I leave it like Degas’ dancers, waiting in the wings.
I sincerely hope that you the reader, rich with your own stories, will find something here that holds meaning for you. You are part of a community including friends, family, artists, curators, collectors, educators, and various other creative, curious creatures. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please feel free to comment, repost, tweet, pin or email me with questions
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