One more week, I think/hope, of this building project. I’m finding it harder and harder to be around the house with people working on it. They start work and, with the first pounding on the walls, I feel like crying. It’s been tough. So every day I find something to do that takes me away from here. I spend a lot of time at garden shops (getting ready for June 25 when my garden will be on view as part of the Visual Arts Nova Scotia Artist’ Garden Tour), visiting friends, driving around doing anything that will keep us away from here. Today I took Lila to visit her friend Miccah. We played ball for a while, until Miccah, who is six years older than Lila, finally decided she was fun to play with and the two were rolling around the yard together.
Meanwhile my garden is blooming! The rhododendrons are more beautiful than ever. It is great to have to work on my garden. It distracts me from the stress of the house project. I think I am going to have a big celebration when this is over!
It’s been a hectic few days since returning home. Thursday aftrnoon I wanted to get away from the building project so Lila and I went to visit some friends: an artist friend for me and a dog friend for her. We both came home exhausted, her from puppy play and me from non-stop travel. Friday was school (I’m teaching a Foundation Drawing II class all summer) and more building stuff in the afternoon. As well, This Is Studio Rally Weekend Folks!!! So Please Come Visit!!! I spent a couple of hours yesterday with the building crew rearranging (several times) the furniture, putting back the rug (finally—I really missed having it, my beautiful oriental carpet that makes my living area so comfortable. I bought it at an auction at the airport. My friend Suzanne and I were going to go to a lake for a walk and a swim with our dogs—this was eleven years ago, before my house was built—and I was talking about wanting some oriental carpets to soften the concrete floor in the living room and she mentioned the auction, which was Persion carpets stopping in Halifax on their way home from the Tulip Festival in Ottawa—and I “got lucky”). Then I moved my computer desk a few times, rearranged the plants and books and still have more to do. And my studio is workable again. But I will have to undo everything to paint the walls soon.
Today several people came in the morning, which was nice. I live so far off the main road, I don’t expect a lot of traffic. This afternoon it’s been just Lila and me, catching up on correspondence and gardening. My studio is looking good—almost finished, almost ready for painting, both the walls and the canvases. Looking at my work which has been hidden away for the past couple of months, I feel eager to get back to it. It's usually good to take a break, let things percolate. But this has gone on long enough! I’ve only been able to work on the six inch square pieces (all twenty of them looking good now) in the time my house has been torn apart. So by next weekend, it will be production/productive time again!
It feels good/strange to be here. Just a week away and everything is different. My garden is blooming, bursting with flowers—the rhododendrons are more full than ever before, the asparagus have sprouted up, as have the weeds. The building project progresses, nears the end, but not over yet. I picked Lila up as soon as I could, went directly from the airport to her Doggie Resort. She had a wonderful time playing with other young dogs. Apparently she was a perfect guest, full of energy, very entertaining. I missed her a lot and am glad to be back together. She seems to have settled into our routine here again easily.
I did get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday. It was a warm sunny day and I sat on the steps (with many other tourists and native New Yorkers) for a while and called home (the builders). Such a luxury, cell phones! Inside the museum were many memories (as well as exhibits). One of my first jobs was selling Christmas cards (in October!) there. I spent a lot of my breaks looking at the art, roaming the halls. I would also hire a sitter and go there often when my children were young. This time I went directly to the Betty Woodman exhibit. She had spoken at the Art College graduation ceremony and I was eager to see what she had created instead of making beds and washing dishes. It was impressive. Large decoratively painted vessels, grouped together to form conversations. The wall pieces did not appeal to me as much. I overheard people talking about the interesting glazes she used but I know nothing about ceramics, so that was over my head. I personally prefer less decoration. The shapes themselves were enough for me.
From there I went to the modern art section. It was a feast of interesting paintings: some Guston, Stella, Kline, Klee, Twombly, de Kooning, Rothko. It made me feel good to be painting, to be part of that history of expression. Tamar and I had gone together to the Hirshorn Museum in Washington on Sunday (while Dan and Damian went to the Air and Science Museum). We stopped at each piece of art and told each other how we felt about it. Mostly we agreed, which was interesting to me. The ones we didn’t feel the same about were the more refined, meditative pieces of Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly. I always wonder if my education, coming to these paintings with a sense of history, affects the way I see them or is it just a difference in perspective. I feel the same way about Ellsworth Kelly. I love his work, but I know that if I were to see some of it (like the plain color panels) today without having seen what preceded them (or having seen them together in large installations) I’m not sure how I would feel. Sometimes, it seems, the history comes along with the artwork. I would hope that a painting could stand on its own, like a Rembrandt or Vermeer, forever. But in those paintings, there is a familiar subject matter that acts as a reference to daily reality. To take that leap into the visual unknown of abstract art, let go of logical reference, step off that cliff of the known into a ocean of feeling response . . .
On Saturday we went to a May Fair at Damian’s school. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, lots of games for the kids, food and friendly people.
The children made quilts that were hung on the fence. Each class had a different theme. Damian’s class theme was about New Jersey.
There’s a sign over a doorway to the auditorium at Damian’s school that reads: “Youth is experimental.” Maybe they meant experiential. Maybe youth is an experiment. To those who are experiencing it, it often feels endless. Confusing, exhilarating, powerful, limiting. A state of being that transcends the reality of aging. A feeling of power that possibly covers up the insecurity of being small in a big world. In a world where the not-youth rule.
We went to a performance of the creative arts classes of first and second graders yesterday. They tooled the activities around a dramatization of Peter Pan. So there was acting, dancing, singing, violin playing, and a rhythm band (Damian’s group). The singing was excellent, very expressive, the best group performance yesterday. The other groups were very good, more “experimental.” Which in this case, I think means for us, as parents, friends, to be gentle in our judgments and generous in our guidance through the crests and dips of youth.
Manhattan is still alive a well. My visit yesterday was full, but I could not do all that I wanted. Maybe next Tuesday. I did visit my 101 year old aunt, who is weakening but still very beautiful. My nephew Rob joined me there for lunch. Then I went to visit my ex-husband, who is now in a rehab center. I haven’t seen him in about eight years. My feelings are very blank around him now. Not angry, not bitter, just glad not to be with him. Even though much of our relationship was not good, we always had an interesting dialogue about cultural events—movies, books, plays, art. We separated thirty-three years ago. A long time and many changes. Yesterday he seemed very interested in my life now. The past has floated away.
From there I went to Dance Manhattan for a Tango lesson with the wonderful Rebecca Shulman. It was very helpful and lots of fun. She’s a great teacher. We talked a lot and danced a lot. She commented on how vulnerable dancing tango can make a person: tender egos are exposed. It’s a very intimate dance. It seems here in NYC there are so many people studying tango and classes have more fluidity; the personnel changes frequently. This way there is less attachment to a group—a problem I feel in Halifax, where the community is small and can grow a crust around itself. So I said I guess I have to move back to New York. Nice idea for dance, for being with family, for the easy access to culture, but otherwise—I don’t think so. I love my home in Nova Scotia (especially when it is not being torn apart by reconstruction!).
I’ve been so busy lately I hardly had time to realize that I was traveling south this morning for a week with Tamar and Company. Now I am here and it all seems slightly unreal—and very relaxing. It was hard to leave Lila but apparently she’s adapting well, enjoying her temporary home. But I miss her. Just before leaving home, as I was packing, I heard her off in the corner chomping away on what I thought was her big knuckle bone. When I turned around to look, she had chewed a hole through the internet cable! Fortunately, she hadn’t cut the wire. Yet. So Eastlink is coming tomorrow to fix it. While I am traipsing around Manhattan.
There is still work being done on my house while I am away. But it is progressing, getting near the end. Last evening when Lila and I got home from errands in Halifax, we found the wall of plastic was down. Finally. Even though the floor still needed washing, the layer of dust was still visible and the furniture was not back in place yet, it was so peaceful. As it is to be here now, in a clean, orderly home, with Tamar and family (but missing one dog). And tomorrow I go into Manhattan to check it out. See what’s happening there. But right now, some much needed sleep. Good night!
We’ve had a few beautiful days, perfect for gardening. I love to poke around in the dirt, plant seeds, tend to the plants. Lila seems to like it too. She’s been helping me garden. But her idea of gardening is different from mine. She also likes to dig, but she digs where I’ve already planted. She prefers to eat the flowers, not look at them. She thinks watering the plants is a great game, perfect for trying to eat the sprinkler as the water comes out.
My garden wasn’t designed for a puppy. I moved in here ten years ago with an eleven year old dog. Katie loved it here. For five years. She’d sit on the big rock by my entry stairs and bark all day. That is, until she went deaf. Then she stopped barking. Lila, on the other hand, is only six months old and thinks the world is her playpen. There are meandering paths through my garden areas. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep her away from the plants. (I gave Lila a big knuckle bone and that helps somewhat.) It seemed impossible to fence off the vegetable garden. But I found some small, portable wire fencing at Canadian Tire that works well. Lila respects these borders as long as a flower doesn’t extend over the fence, especially if it is a daffodil. This will take some work. But I think it can happen. I’m scheduled to be on an artists’ garden tour June 25. That’s good inspiration to make it work.
We can hardly see it from the house. The lake end is still covered in blue plastic. But Lila and I like to be there in the early morning to see the sunrise. It was especially beautiful today.
A friend of a friend saw a painting of mine in my friend’s house. His first comment was, “Oh, wow!” Then it was, “Hmm, interesting.” And then, “Hmm, it’s like a wasteland in the middle.” And he didn’t “understand” that. He was attracted to the color, he liked that, but he felt the middle was empty, wasted space (my interpretation of his comments). It seems he didn’t see what I saw. To me that space in the middle is very full. That’s the major part of the painting, where “nothing” happens but where it is full with possibilities.
But I don’t want to tell you what to see. A painting that “wears well,” has longevity, is a continuous exploration, a continuous revelation, never stops telling you it’s secrets. The “ideal” painting gives you new insights into itself, over and over, year after year. It is never tired, never rests, but gives qualities, impressions, experiences that only belong to that particular painting.
I frequently hear people say they don’t know anything about abstract art and therefore they don’t understand it. What they mean, usually, is that when they see something unknown, they freeze. The first thought may be “Wow,” but the second thought may involve trying to put one’s own version, one’s own knowledge and concepts onto phenomenon (in this case, a painting). It can be hard to stay with pure perception, that first impression. I prefer to make art that is not based on a concept, is not logical in the mundane sense, not created by prescribed rules but opens up space, time and the unknown for the perceiver. A good painting, to me, is timeless and continually giving birth.
School started yesterday. I’m teaching one day a week for the whole summer. Foundation Drawing II. There are sixteen enrolled. A good number: not too many, not too small. But it’s Friday mornings at 8:30 am. Actually any morning class is a good excuse for an excuse. And Friday is a good excuse. As is Monday. And I suppose you could add in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, if you like. So my job is, mainly, inspiration. Especially when it is a required course. Summer helps. It’s more relaxed. Students are usually taking a lighter load. But most of them have part- or even full-time jobs. There’s a lot of pressure on them.
But I still wonder all the time what drives someone to go to art school. There certainly isn’t much job security waiting for them. It seems a lot of the students come to the Art College because they think it is going to be easy, fun. And maybe it is for some. Maybe they don’t know what else to do after high school. But for a lot of them, it’s a shock that making art is work. For me, it’s my job. A possibly stressful job. A job with a lot of uncertainty. A job I love, certainly.
I met a fellow instructor in the slide library last week. She was returning to teaching after adopting a seven year old girl from Columbia (she already has a seven year old boy with her Columbian husband). She had been on maternity leave and decided to go back to teaching this summer because she was experiencing post-partum depression. The heavy load of the reality of taking care of a new child in the family, even though she was adapting well, and the lack of studio time for herself, was contributing to her feeling low. But she feels fine now, so she was wondering why she didn’t continue on maternity leave as long as she could. I suggested just the decision to get back to work helped her overcome her depression.
Work can do that. Especially work you love. Although I can still do a little (very little) work in my studio when the builders aren’t here, I’m looking forward to having my entire studio back soon. When my children were young and I was irritable, they used to tell me to “go paint.” They knew.
My building project goes on and on and on and on. Both Lila and I are worn down. She enjoys the workers but doesn’t enjoy that our home is still torn apart. Last night I moved back into my bedroom. I was tired of sleeping on the floor in my shrine room. The blue tarp is still covering the end wall where my bedroom is; the wind blows hard at night and the tarp responds. But I just didn’t care any more. I needed my bed and was able to shut out the noise fairly well. At least that outside wall is repaired and now we are waiting to decide how to finish it. Originally it was stucco but that seems to be too expensive now. I’m looking for an inexpensive alternative. With building prices so high these days, that’s hard. I’m tired of the whole thing, look forward to the end.
Next week I’m going to visit Tamar and Company. At first I was hesitant about leaving Lila. She’s just six months now. But she will be staying with a wonderful woman who completely understands how stressful this domestic upheaval can be for a sensitive puppy and will give her a good home for the week. This will also give Lila a chance to forget about it. (At least she doesn’t have to pay the bills!) And when I get back, our house should be back together and we can resume our usual routines.
Thanks everyone for the title suggestions. It really helps me to see what you see. Your offerings are percolating in my thoughts and I will let them brew for a while, until I have to make that inevitable decision. Titles are very important. They lay a claim to the work.
I wrote an entry a while back (January 2, 2004) titled What’s in a name. . . . A lot! At this point, I like titles that are imaginative and not specific, not a literal reference to the painting but more a suggestion of possibilities. Since I am very prolific with my work, I've been giving paintings titles in series, usually by the size. I doubt I could think of twenty titles for the 6” x 6” pieces that will be in this upcoming exhibit. But I am sure some of you could!
Meanwhile, here are photos of the three diptychs that will be in my June exhibit. These pieces are each about five feet square. (Hint: I need titles for these as well!!!):
Last week I had some photos taken of a few of the pieces that will be in my exhibit in June. Then I took them to the Anna Leonowens Gallery and Tonia, the exhibition coordinator, designed the invitations. I should have them next week. Because she is putting four cards on a page for the printer, we used four different images. Very cool!
Here are three images of 6” x 6” paintings. Now I have to think of titles (not my favorite activity!).
I was able to get into my studio this weekend (move the builders’ supplies aside and take the plastic protective covering off my paintings) and work on the sixteen little (6” x 6”) paintings I started a few weeks ago. I’m finding myself simplifying, sometimes more than I expected, and then maybe going back and adding. The imagery is not the same as on larger paintings. It can’t be. There isn’t enough space, obviously. The arm movement is different so the imagery has to be different. But you can still tell I did them. They have my handwriting on them. I’m always surprised when they work, when all the pieces fall in place. Mainly because of the small size, not being used to working in this format. It’s a challenge and I like a challenge, for sure.
There seem to be some things I just don’t question. I accept as fact that painting is a necessity, that astrology and feng shui work, that reincarnation happens. I don’t even know why I don’t question. I do know that all these “things” are open to misinterpretation. That astrology can be a crutch or even used as a weapon. As can a lot of alternative therapies and pacifist ideology. Just about anything can be twisted, if used inappropriately.
Painting feels right. And it would be hard to continue painting if it didn’t. It’s a solitary occupation with no job security or built-in benefits other than the reward of doing it. I keep saying it’s not therapy, it’s not about me. But it is, up to a point. Then it goes beyond that, transforms that, takes the personal and makes it universal. Otherwise it isn’t worth it.