Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mystery

I had a conversation with a friend last week about Mystery. I have thought about it for the last few days. As artists we can only create from a place where we allow the mystery to unfold but we never really understand it. Thus-- is stays a mystery.
I woke early today. It was 5:30 and here in the Northwest at this time of the year the sun only starts to bring some light around 7:30. It is a cold, clear morning. The moon is still strong and bright although waning. I took a cup of tea to the hot tub behind my house. It is the best time for me. I can sink into that time of slow transition. It is the time of resurrection. I sit in the steam and feel the morning start to stir. But is it subtle and slow and soft. The stars were so bright and I tried to remember the astronomy that I had learned when I was living in Arizona. Now that is a night sky! It has been years since I gazed into the depth of that mystery. But here, this morning I felt it again. Who can gaze into the night sky and not feel that sense of mystery and magic? It is in our DNA. The heather on my terraced gardens next to me, dark in the night were softly adorned with tiny diamond lights. The moon had cast her jewels on the landscape. Silent and glittering so softly that I could only imagine how our ancient ancestors gazed at the same sights in wonder.


In western culture we tend to believe that we are apart from the natural world. Technology and science have replaced the belief that our ancestors had in the the power and mystery of the natural world. We think we are advanced and superior to our ancient relatives. Believe me, I am grateful for antibiotics and electric lights and cars, my hot tub ----- etc.! That is another discussion. My thoughts this morning are just that the more primitive cultures were equally as creative and just as interested in the mysteries of life as we are. This morning I knew some tiny sense of the awe and wonder , sometimes fear that they must have felt, and still do in many places on our planet. I thought of a moon goddess as I lay in her glow next to the scattering of moon dust. The sun is slowly warming the eastern sky as I write this. It is warm, softly rose and the big firs are silhouetted in shapes and patterns of dark, still soft, still subtle and deep.







Today I feel Ra heading into the world bringing light, coming from the underworld on his boat. I feel the fairies laughing at me beneath the golden sprinkles of the moon. I thought I could hear the hoof beats of Epona, the horse goddess. She is a goddess of the moon and night and as the sun arrives you might hear her riding west to escape the rays of the sun! I wanted to hear her and to wish her well.







I love the mysteries of life. I don't want them all explained to me. I want to remember on a deep level how we came from ancient and amazing people who lived only with nature and were creators of great theories of how it all worked. The art, the stories, the reverence for the power and the struggle to understand enough about being human to survive.


When we make art we can only surrender to the mystery of where it all comes from. It isn't me who is making it. It comes through me some how and is as ancient as we are.  Wow, it is a very amazing place to visit--- this planet. I am so grateful. The days grow longer as a new cycle begins. Happy New Year, Happy New Day.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Last weekend my pastel painting "Garden Dance" won the Best of Show award at the Northwest Pastel Society Exhibition on Vashon Island WA. I didnt go to the opening because it is a long drive home on a dark and rainy night. I really had not considered that I would need to be there to accept an award.  I had no thought that I would win anything. I enter shows because it keeps me engaged with the art community "out there". I like seeing shows and how the juror chose the paintings and how the work looks hanging together in one place. I enjoy seeing my work combined in a show. Of course winning is great but I have learned not to think about that.

"Garden Dance"



Choosing paintings to enter in a juried show is an interesting process. I enter what I like, what I think is a successful painting. It is easy to get into trying to second guess what the juror will like and to send a painting based on that. I know people who paint for shows. That amazes me. I also don't believe in sending in a lot of images of painting hoping one will catch the jurors' eye. What matters most is what I think and feel about a piece.

Garden Dance is a special piece to me. It was one of the first abstract paintings that I did here. I painted it last spring after doing a little oil study of my back yard. I loved the winter colors and the oil study was just a lot of brush strokes and color. I used that as a study for Garden Dance. I liked it. I entered it in the big annual juried show here my little town. It is a regional show and there were a zillion entries. Garden Dance was rejected. I actually remember laughing and reminding myself that for me showing "locally" is much more difficult than showing nationally. I didnt take it personally because I have done this for so many years. It is challenging not to feel disappointed but it is just one persons' opinion of an image on a computer screen.

oil study for "Garden Dance"


Competitions become all about a lot of judgement. We love to make judgements about who won, who didnt win and who should have won. Art Receptions are full of it. There are a lot of people who just love to see the paintings and to learn from seeing a show and to think about why certain pieces got awards. A good juror will often explain her choices and thoughts on why she chose as she did. But the bottom line is that it is all subjective. Shows inspire people to make art or buy art or just to appreciate art.  The juror has an aesthetic like all of us. She likes certain colors and shapes and subject and styles. Who wins is actually one person's opinion on one day. I am so grateful for my award. In my mind the piece deserved recognition mainly because it felt authentic to me. I liked it and am pleased that other people can see what I wanted to say in the painting. But I also realize that I was fortunate. Does it make the painting a better painting because it won the top award? No, of course not. I had a good day. That is the truth. It was my day to win. And, yes, it feels really good! I am thrilled. The painting also was sold. Lets not forget how wonderful that is! No matter how many paintings I have sold in my life I remember that someone actually paid money to buy a piece to live with and to look at every day. That is very cool and makes me happy that I am sharing a piece of who I am.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Ancient Marks

I love color. But I really love lines. Lines and marks are as exciting to me as color ever can be. This summer I chose to let color go for a while because I needed to get back to a simple expression. In this new personal  exploration of making marks without color I have thought a lot about the artists that I have always been drawn to.  I have always been fascinated with the paintings in the caves in France. I have looked at every image that I could find of the caves at Lascaux and Chauvet. These are drawings of such power and beauty that you can't believe they were created 32,000 years ago. What I see each time I look at them is the quality of those lines. They are sophisticated and raw all at the same time. They are so contemporary and powerful but most of all they are so beautiful!




When we draw we come from some ancient place of our humanness. As children we draw. Drawings are often prefaced with the word "just". I have heard it many times. "It is just a drawing" or "It is just a sketch". No, it is the human voice. It is in our DNA.




In deciding to draw again I have chosen to explore different surfaces and drawing mediums. It is an interesting search for what is really strong and feels good to me now. As I have been drawing I have followed the lead of the drawings. I have been allowing the drawing to tell me where we are going. I see what mark feels good and I will often find an area that I really like.When I do find that wonderful area or even one mark that makes me excited it is time to sit and look at the drawing and ask myself why I like the part that I do. I am seeing those raw areas as being important now. There is a rawness in this process of finding my voice at this point . In not judging what is happening in the studio I am finding unexpected surprises. In this way I am learning more about who I am as a painter. It is the raw beauty of the cave paintings that I think about. It is our humanness that connects us to them. Those voices echo through those caves and we can understand them even now. We are moved in such a deep way by their power. I love this journey from the literal to the internal. I see new parts of me that I didnt know were there.



"Against the Tide", Oil stick, 2015






Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Authenticity




Authenticity is a word that artists use a lot.  It really is what we strive for. We strive to find our authentic voice. We want our work to be "real", to speak about who we are.


We can't be real in our art if we aren't real in our lives. My struggle of the last year has been an opportunity for me. Things had changed.  I couldn't do the work that I had done before. It just wasnt happening no matter how hard I tried. Now that I was starting to heal from the past I was on my way to a new way of seeing and a new way of being with myself and my art.  If I could say any one thing to someone going into a dark and painful place it is that you will come out. It doesnt seem that way but you will. My head was telling me it would never end, that this WAS the end. Now I know it was a breaking apart so that a new life would emerge. It is a life of new understanding. But here is the catch---You have to look deeply into yourself and see all the things that you really want to ignore. You have to be honest. That is the challenge.

 I have spent a lot of time in the last year reliving my life and regretting many things and seeing only the failures and pain and bad choices in my life. It all looked bleak. I blamed myself and mourned for what might have been had I made different choices. I saw how I had lied to myself and other people because I was afraid. I wanted to be loved and accepted so I lied. This was my breakdown. But, it was in the reliving of my life that I started to know myself. I couldn't help what was happening. My mind and thoughts were out of my control. I remembered so many things. I saw my judgement of all of it. I made myself a villain and a victim all at one time. This was the thought that stuck in my head. I saw myself as a victim. Bingo!  I saw myself as a villain! Bingo!. I was judging every thing I had ever done and who I was. I was worried about everything. I knew that if I continued to see my life this way I would live a sad and meaningless life.


 My dear friend Randy sent this to me when he knew I was writing this blog. Perfect!


From then until now much has changed but what I now see is that I had decided to become real. I had decided to be authentic. In becoming real you must own it all. I had to own the pain, the disappointment and loss but I also had to own the joy and wonder and power of my life. I have lived on this planet for 64 years and my life has been rich in amazing experiences. I have lived and loved and laughed and seen amazing things. It all matters. I also had been petty and mean and had lied and had done stupid things. What I had to focus on first was acceptance.  Here I was, my life had been what it was. It sounds very simple doesnt it? I knew that I had to accept and forgive myself not just for things in the past but for what I was doing to myself now which was tearing myself apart with guilt and remorse and fear.  I needed to accept that I could not change the past.  I believe I always did the best that I could do. I see that who I am is not just the sum of the good parts. It is all the parts, all the imperfect parts. I made a choice to be kinder to myself and to focus on healing. I knew it would take some time. This is not easy but once you can step out of the past things change. Then it becomes easier.

After the small drawings in the studio I felt more confident and bought a big roll of paper and tore off a large piece and tacked it to the wall. I did several big drawings with oil sticks. I drew lines. I drew big, dark strong lines. I explored line and tone in a raw sort of way. Wow! It was great. It was so freeing, so much fun. And, lo and behold--- I didnt give a fig what anyone would say. Now that was freeing. That was exciting! This was about being in the moment. It was about being real.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lifting the Veil


After spending the summer painting with nothing to show for my effort I was wondering if moving to the Northwest had been a good idea. In July I had been here a year. I had moved 2000 miles away from Sedona, a place that had been a home to me for so many years. My people, who are like family to me, are there. There is a beauty and majesty to the landscape that is unparalleled. There is no place like it. The air is clear and dry and the light and the color clears your head and helps you to see more brightly on many levels. But it seems that some inner prompting steered me here. I had to leave Sedona. I found myself in a world surrounded by water and moisture and green everywhere. It is beautiful here but soft in many ways I am so unaccustomed to. It was difficult for me to find my center.  I created a schedule for myself. I made life a series of rituals so I wouldn't have to decide anything. But, it started with things that I knew were good for me and that I could do. The most important ritual was, and still is, my walk on the beach. Each morning, no matter how I felt or what the weather was ---- I walked on the beach. Rain or wind or sun or fog. I walked. I walked without shoes. The one thing I knew was that I needed to be grounded and that was the best way to do it. The beach near my house is beautiful and soft and Puget Sound is the gentle world of the sea. It is clear and cold but calm. The tides come and go but it is quiet. Yet it moves with a wild sea energy. Even in a storm there is no rage in its changes. But there is power and that is sublime. There are trees and bushes and a lagoon and birds and drift wood and old logs as large as cows. There was an eagle who is I spoke to every day. AND-- it was grey. Grey. I was painting with color in a grey world. Perhaps it was time to let color go for a while.


My Sanctuary



When I put away the color it was just to find some enjoyment in working. If we aren't enjoying our art on some level there is a problem. I was out of alignment with the most important element of staying centered, enjoying the process. I decided to do at least 4 drawings a day. The process was predicated on  non judgement. That was the most important thing- and the most challenging. I was not to judge it. The drawings would be non representational.  I used pencil and charcoal. I started. That was the most difficult part. Starting. Crazy. It felt crazy. I felt myself being afraid that this proved that I was indeed insane. That little voice chattered away while I worked. I just made lines. The lines turned into shapes and then areas of tone and I watched and felt my hand move. My hand loved it. My hand loves to draw. I could see that. But as soon as my head stepped in I felt afraid and rather stupid. But--- no---- I vowed not to judge this. I did my first four drawings, pinned them to the wall and went home. The next day I did the same thing. I noticed that I like certain lines. I like certain shapes. It went on. I did this for a week. I had a wall of drawings. They were crazy drawings. But, at the end of the week as I looked at the whole wall I saw that they were real drawings. They had life to them.  I have judged myself harshly forever. My best friend calls it "your mother's voice". She keeps me straight when I say things about myself that aren't kind.


A wall of "crazy" drawings.




"I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down."  Georgia O'Keeffe
                                          


Georgia O'Keefe. I kept thinking of Georgia O'Keefe. I remembered what she had said about shapes. I had read in her book "Some memories of Drawings" that she put away color until she felt like she needed it again. I was doing that too. And, yes, here on this wall were shapes and lines that I knew, that were so near to me. They were familiar. They came from my hand and ----- the big surprise was---- I liked them! I started to go home happy. It didnt matter if anyone saw these. It didnt matter that they wouldn't go to galleries. All that mattered was that I saw some authentic part of myself in them and that was my goal. I felt a little bit of excitement for the first time in months. This was going to be interesting! I am not insane. At the end of the week a little voice of judgement did make its way into my head as I glanced back on my out of the studio. I heard that little voice say- "These are damn good drawings!". I laughed and felt a little bit of confidence dribble in.  That week was the week that I started to move out of the past. The veil was lifting. Something really great was starting to happen. Thank you Georgia! She is one of my tribe and I am so grateful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding the Tribe

Artists are a different breed. It is true. Sometimes that reality is exciting and rich. Sometimes it alienates us and seems like a curse. Without some support and understanding I don't think we can really reach our true potential as artists. We communicate with our work and we need to be acknowledged. When I look back on my life I can name a handful of those people who appeared in my life and understood. They were artists. The first was when I was ten. A ninety year old woman who had been a sculptor.  I still have her tools and count them as among some of my most precious things. She gave me clay and actually praised the results. No one had ever done that. She made me believe that I could do it. She changed the course of my life. This photo of her hangs on my office wall. She was the first and there have been others since then. These people have appeared in my life when I least suspected it would happen. Some are mentors, some where teachers, some came from the pages of books and the walls of museums. Some become life long friends. It doesnt matter what role they take. I have known when I met them that there was a spark, there was something important there. There was a connection. And, I have to say that in my life they were all serious working artists whose work was very far ahead of where I was. In short, these people raised the bar. Just knowing them made me aspire to being better! They helped me to feel that I could! Having those people around me has been one of the most important elements along my journey of making art.


 
Julia Weder 

When I moved to Port Townsend I met one of these people. I met someone whose work knocked me off my feet. I couldn't believe it. I had never seen work like this. It isn't that I wanted to paint that way but seeing that work I knew I could reach deeper. Along with it was fear. Part of me despaired that I could never be that good, that powerful and free in my work. Her work is so authentic, so unique. What I did come to really understand at a deeper level is that we have our own individual voices. No one can paint like you or like me. We are who we are and that is where we can really find our power as artists. This person has become a very dear friend and of course all we talk about it art and life. They are the same.

My days go so much faster than they ever did. Now getting to the studio is what matters most. I have simplified my life and have found myself spending less time with acquaintances. This sounds a bit arrogant but time is limited now and I have so much work to do. When I am not in the studio I am still in that place of my art. It rolls around in me all the time and needs space and focus. My artist friends know that and we can share that with each other. Now I cherish my artist friends more than ever. We go through similar challenges in our lives. We understand! My mentor, Adele Earnshaw taught me much about being a professional artist. We met in 1986. She was my first watercolor teacher. She is a world renowned painter. I respect her immensely. She has worked for years in the arena of wildlife art, in a man's world, and not only held her own but excelled. We have been are very close friends for almost 30 years. I count her as family. I learned a lot from her in those early days and I still do. One thing that she told me was to keep a list by my phone of excuses when someone ( non artist) calls and wants to go to lunch. "You don't have time for that! " Adele would say, "You have to paint!". She would call me and say, "Are you painting?". I learned the ropes of galleries, framing, marketing and discipline. Most of all she loved to say "Paint, Paint, Paint!!". I in turn have told that to my students for the last 30 years too!  I have told her often and I know it is true that I would not be where I am without her support. Then there are those great artists whose work we love but never meet. I have been to museums all over the world. I have seen the work of those great dead painters and those great ones who still grace this planet with beauty and power in their images. I need to see that work. I need to know that I have a tribe. We need each other, no matter how that plays out. It raises the bar. It also keeps us humble.

I am so grateful to all the artists who have shared so much and made such amazing work and who have stayed true to themselves. I am grateful to have a tribe!



"The Last Roses", 2008



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cracking Open

I have made art from the time I could walk. I am not sure why I drew so much but it could be because I didnt have paint. I had pencils and paper. Mostly I drew horses. They were very exact and careful. My father gave me these plastic bird model kits. I don't know if they are still around but they were great. You put the plastic pieces together and then painted the bird. Wow. I loved those. There were also paint by number kits of course. Oh, and I also had these mosaic kits where you glue glass chips on a board to create an image. I spent every night watching TV with my parents and doing craft kits. My Father's store was next to a craft shop and to me that was better than having him next to a candy store. Homework wasnt important in my house so I got to "make art". I know, it wasnt exactly art but in my mind it was art. I have never been without "making" since then. The older I get the more grateful I am for that. I started my art career after college as a production potter and sculpted. I have done weaving, embroidery, printmaking, and painting in every medium. I still am a silversmith and love working with a torch. It is in my DNA. It isn't talent and I cringe when people say that I have talent. I see that I have just always chosen to make art. It is so much of who I am. Perhaps I was fortunate that I had a life that allowed me to do that. I chose not to have children and I think that decision was the trade off in my life.  I have no family and loneliness is a frequent visitor. But, the richness in my life lies deep in some inner place of all the making of all the objects and images. An astrologer once told me that my art was my spiritual practice.  When he said that I knew he was right.
As I struggled with painting last summer I knew that if I didnt do my practice I wouldn't make it. So my decision to just draw was a way to drop the struggle of needing to make "good paintings" that would go to a gallery and that people would like-- blah, blah, blah. It is such pressure and when you are barely able to deal with making your bed it is too much. I was getting to the point where I was tired of Me. I was tired of getting up each day feeling anxious and depressed and confused. It was turning into an old song that goes around and around in your head. This was the time. This was the place was a turning point.  I had to dive into someplace new. Struggle had become a way of life and it was time to stop. I made a commitment to spend the end of the summer, the fall and winter just drawing. Not only that, but I made a commitment to make no judgements, to sell no work and to use no color. Making no judgement was and is the most difficult. The first drawings I did were charcoal on newsprint. I made just lines. I felt nervous. There was nothing to hold onto, no image to create. I went forward from the little ink line drawings that I did everyday into larger work.



This was the first one. I am not sure what happened but it spoke to me. I liked it! I saw pieces of it that were familiar on some deep level. It felt like me and yet was apart from me as if it had its own life and energy. There were all these egg shapes and then I got it. The words that immediately came to my mind were " Cracking open". This drawing was the one that seeded all the work since then.