Over the past couple of weeks, with no new paintings started and an exhibit up, I’ve stretched and primed ten canvases. Tomorrow I begin putting the collage onto them. Then I can start the painting process. It’s been a long time since I started a fresh canvas. Faced a blank one. The usual post-show ungrounded feeling has kept me feeling keen to begin painting again. The builders have been back again this week, to finish up some trim. They won’t be here for the long weekend so I have some solitude and time to get back into my studio.
It was interesting how obsessed a few people were (when I was talking in the gallery on the 21st) with what I write on the canvases. I’ll never tell. It’s only for me. One person asked if it was like Method Acting, getting myself charged up to paint. I don’t think so. I am always charged up. It’s only a very personal approach to beginning painting. It’s my response. For me. Ultimately, it’s taking a very personal relationship to the artwork and making it universal. The end, the final painting, is not about me.
Another person asked if I ever feel fear when facing a blank canvas. No. Never. I am so eager to paint. And I’ve been doing this a long time, over forty-five years. At the beginning I did feel fear and in those years I was able to achieve very few satisfying paintings. Over time it’s become a very natural thing to do. Like breathing. Usually the expectation of possibilities is a prime motivator to get something, anything, down quickly so I can discover what is going to happen. So, I’m looking forward to the weekend.
Fifty-five people came through my garden this afternoon! Even though it was rainng hard most of the morning and some of the early afternoon. All in all, a very successful event. And I am very tired (happy and relaxed) now!
It’s raining. Again. And hard. I’m not asking for sun tomorrow. Just no rain! Please!
Tomorrow is the VANS (Visual Arts Nova Scotia) Bloomin’ Artists’ Garden Tour. Rain or shine. My garden is one of six on the tour. The blub I put on the invitation reads:
Ten years ago I moved into this house with my eleven year old dog. The house was new, built in a rocky and wooded site, situated by a large lake. The “yard” was just boulders, gravel and little dirt. My task began when a friend came over with a bag of iris the next spring. I needed to buy some soil to put the iris in, then to build a rock wall to contain the dirt, and my garden started from there. All of the soil has been imported and amended. The many rock walls came from rocks already on the property. With the help of a friend and a come-a-long wench, the boulders were moved into useful and appealing garden walls.
At this point, I have meandering paths through the gardens. There is a different focus for each area: a rhododendron bed, perennial beds, and a vegetable garden. The design didn’t plan for a young dog: nothing follows a straight line, so I have found some portable low wire fencing that seems to be working for my now seven month old puppy.
As I prefer weeding to mowing, I have planted heavily with perennials and shrubs. Recently I decided to mow what was supposed to be a wildflower field but was actually more wild than flower. It’s a good place to play for the dog.
Many of my flowers come from friends and I can now pass some of mine on. I’m still planting and rearranging. Even when covered with snow, I am always enjoying the land here.
If you are in the area, do come by. It’s a $10 donation for VANS. The hours are noon to 5 pm. The peonies are blooming, as are some miniature roses, foxglove, daisies, and a few rhododendron. My garden is looking pretty, waiting for you!
I have had some problems receiving comments recently. Tamar and I tried to limit the comment spam but it backfired. Real comments (not spam) were being loaded into the Junk folder. She’s fixed it now and also retrieved some that might have gone unnoticed except for her vigilance. (Thank you, Tamar!) So. To answer some of Jackie’s questions in her comment
So is this proof that a problem painting can be resolved? Have you ever had a painting that drove you bananas from start to finish and then still haunted you?
Yes! But usually I can wait even if it takes a few years to resolve them. That happened with the nine panel piece in this show. I thought it was finished a couple of years ago, but mostly because it was driving me nuts and I wanted it to be done! And I had an opportunity to exhibit it. So I did. But never quite liked it. Now, two years later, after working on it for several months after that exhibit, I do really feel good about it. And am glad to have another opportunity to show it in it’s maturity.
And some technical issues Jackie asked about: I use a Black & Decker heat gun. It has variable heat and different nozzles. With all the rain we had last week, the painting didn’t dry as well as I would have liked. But it was serviceable. I just bought some blending sticks with drier in them. Of course I forgot to use them when I was working on the big blue painting a week before I had to put it in the exhibit!
My oil sticks are the R&F Pigment Sticks. Very pricey but worth it. (I should get a commission: I've turned so many people on to them!) They are so beautiful, the colors so rich. Sometimes it seems like they don’t really dry completely, although the company says they do. Some colors dry glossy, some matte. Some colors take months to dry, some days. I keep a list of drying times posted so I know what colors are best to put down first, but often I am too impatient to mind my own advice.
I gave a talk about my work at the gallery Wednesday. The director of the gallery, when hearing me tell about how I rework pieces, said “So then, it appears you are a very prolific painter, but in actuality, it’s the same paintings reworked being exhibited!” Sometimes, yes! But usually, no. What seems to be happening, which makes me feel very excited, is that I can resolve a painting much sooner and with more certainty than ever before. My vision and decisions are closer, know each other better. It’s a better marriage. And the result is more immediacy (and to me more power) in the work itself. But of course, it does result in a lot of paintings ready to find homes!
Been down with a bad cold. Bummer. It started Monday evening with a bad sore throat and blossomed Friday when I had to teach all day. Two classes. My own in the morning and a friend's in the afternoon. (She had taught for me when I was in NYC.) I think I did okay. A burst of adrenalin got me through the afternoon. It was a screen-printing class. I had done some prints with the instructor and I focused on transferring an image/idea from one media to another. I showed slides of my work and also brought in my prints and told them what worked and what didn't. I enjoyed it but was very happy to go home and put myself to bed!
Because I was nursed on Abstract Expressionism, for many years I thought each painting had to come from an original impulse. No preliminary planning, thinking, drawing. Just spontaneous insight. When I was offered an exhibit at the Henri Gallery in 1981, and I had no paintings, just some new handmade paper pieces, I agreed to the show and told her what paintings I would exhibit. Described them in detail. She never knew that I hadn’t been painting on canvas for at least a year. So at that time I used the paper pieces as mockups for the paintings. I tried to transfer the images directly to canvas. But the change in texture made it a challenge. For the most part, they were successful.
The next time I decided to do something like that, I didn’t keep the original colors. By changing the color, I was able to keep more freshness in the paintings. Now I find I can use an idea/image but it is best if I use it only as reference point, not as a literal translation. For that reason there are a few pieces I continue to like to have around as source “information.” They are usually pieces that are successful in a way that I can still learn from. Maybe that’s what I like so much about making art: it is a continual never ending process of discovery.
The reception last Monday was exciting. I was a little nervous, yes, before I walked into the room but I was so happy with the installation, nothing could have marred it for me. For the first half, the room was very crowded and buzzing with talk. Then it thinned out a bit. When I left the gallery Monday evening, my voice was hoarse.
During the reception people were picking favorites, naturally, and often asking me which one (ones) is (are) mine. I must admit, I prefer the largest ones. There is just something about the freedom they give me. Another comment I was asked frequently is if the color spectrum of the small (six inch square) pieces was planned. No, it wasn’t. It just happened because I had wrapped them that way (all the reds together, the yellows, etc.) and when I unwrapped them, they lay on the floor in that perfect order. Nothing was moved. They knew where they wanted to be without my thinking about it. And there was a perfect spectrum because I usually do paint thinking about a balance of colors in the sizes I am working with. So many reds, so many blues, etc. Otherwise all my paintings might be red! But honestly, I like to balance the colors I use rather than becoming too weighted in one area.
It did take a little bit of thought where things would go overall in the room, but once my (wonderful) helpers made the suggestion we used, it was easy to see it was right. I'm not good at those kinds of decisions. I can tell if it is right, if the painitngs are shown to their advantage, but the big decision of which goes where is hard for me.
Wednesday I went to the gallery to take some photos. (They will give me some better installation shots soon but I was impatient.) Some of the comments in the guest book were very positive, enthusiastic. But a couple were quite rude. “Boring” or “If gluing things to canvas and throwing paint at it is art” etc. I found it very amusing. It was in a childish handwriting, but I have no idea who wrote it. On the other hand, I received an email today from another (very good) artist saying how my paintings made her feel she had come home. And that she “was very moved by those powerful and warm canvases!” I would like everyone to feel as she does. I don’t have much say about that, how someone else feels. But I try.
There is great sadness for me now that I cannot share this experience, these paintings with Robert. He was always so supportive and interested in what I was doing, especially proud of the recent work. I think he would have enjoyed this exhibit.
I have lots to say about my exhibit, the reception, my feelings. But until I can formulate the words, here are some photos:
and last but not least, the twenty-one six inch square paintings:
We hung my show this afternoon. Two NSCAD students and a very generous friend. It looks good. The blurb I am putting on the wall with the paintings reads:
Speculations & Revelations . . . because that is what painting is to me: explorations, possibilities, imaginings and openings. I've chosen to work abstractly, to consider the painting process, the marks, the color, the impact of these, to be the image itself, without literal references. It's not about representational images. What you can experience is an exploration of possibilities, an opening to an inner dialogue between the painting and yourself.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow: the opening reception is 5:30 to 7 pm, at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, 1891 Granville Street, Halifax. The exhibit will be up for two weeks, until June 24. (I'm giving a gallery talk, noon, June 21.) Do come by if you can!
Wednesday night I went to see Frank McCourt read from his latest book, Teacher Man. He definitely has the entertainment factor down. For over an hour he had the audience mesmerized with his non-stop ideas and stories about teaching. My favorite was when, during about the third day of his first teaching assignment (at a vocational school in New York City), a student threw another student’s sandwich. The point was to irritate the teacher, of course. But Mr. McCourt smelled the savory sandwich now on the floor before him, the morsel obviously lovingly made by the student’s mother, picked it up and ate it. A turning point in his relationship with teaching. He was saying it is important to reach a student, first where the student’s mind is, in a language the student can connect to, then build from there. Teaching is about connection. He said wherever he goes he meets previous students of his. There was even a student of his years from Styvesant High in the seventies in the audience. Most of them thank him, tell him how much they appreciated his teaching.
I’ve read McCourt’s two other books: Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis. I enjoyed them both, each for different reasons. The first, Angela’s Ashes told of his growing up poor in Ireland. What made it so unique was how he related his story without any self-pity. ’Tis on the other hand, begins with his arrival in New York, feeling lost and lonely and—feeling very sorry for himself. At first, for that reason, I didn’t think I would enjoy reading ’Tis. But McCourt’s honesty and desire to learn was very impressive. And it gave the book an overall richness.
And one thing at his talk: he kept saying how his wife, Ellen, would like to move to Nova Scotia. I’m all for that! (But alas, he’s very rooted in NYC.)
The blue tarp is down! Finally, at last, I can see the lake from my house. When they took it off yesterday, my eyes were teary as I watched from inside. For the rest of the day and evening, the view out my windows was the best, most exciting entertainment possible. The scaffolding is still up but at least my view is not blue anymore.
In the early morning. And oh so beautiful!
So, I was finally at last (with great enthusiasm!) able to get into my studio this morning to work. The place had been cleaned up for last weekend’s Studio Rally. And there were no workmen around today! With my paintings to be wrapped on Wednesday, picked up on Thursday, of course, today I decided to work (extensively) on one of the large pieces in the exhibit. The large blue painting that has been a struggle from the beginning. I’ve already photographed it, thinking it was finished, but never felt completely comfortable with it. It worked but didn’t feel right to me. It just felt too busy. I’m happy with it now, I think. I’ll know tomorrow when I look at it again. And I am grateful to the heat gun I recently discovered as a way to get the paintings to dry. (I use oil paint sticks and the heat helps set the wax in them.)
The other day R. was also saying artists (who are successful, showing and selling) like to talk about themselves, their work. It’s more of a public obsession for them. They want to show their work and they want to talk about it. It took me a long time to want to talk about my painting. But I’ve learned it is important. Not everyone can look at a painting and be satisfied with just looking/feeling/sensing. And in a way it does help me to put it all in words, have a point of view, a perspective on what I am doing. And not only the “what” of it but also they “why.” It is, after all, a non-essential service by conventional standards. But it’s one I wouldn’t want to do without.
When Tamar and I were talking about art (the arts, creativity) the thought kept coming up: “How do you know if your work is worthwhile?” So many people devote their lives to making art, to writing, to playing music, and maybe they receive positive feedback, become successful, maybe not. Maybe they are “recognized” by one generation and not by another. Time is the great equalizer. But still people keep creating; and to have that devotion, it is necessary to believe in oneself. And not only to have that confidence, but also to project that out into the world, let other people know that “your work is the best.” To have people take you (your work) as seriously as you do yourself!
I was talking to my friend R. yesterday and she was saying how she doesn’t enjoy exhibiting her work. She is a much less shy person than I am on a personal level, but the exposure of her creativity, even though she does receive positive feedback, makes her uncomfortable, even shy, embarrassed. Whereas I feel on top of the mountain when I exhibit my work. Somehow, knowing the work is done, finished, on its own, I feel separate from it yet proud of it. Like my children are grown, have lives of their own and I like that. It is also good to be able to see the paintings in a clean space, one that is intended to show the work at its best. And I like people to see what I have done; I paint so that other people can see it. It is communication.
In my first years of painting, I wasn’t as eager for people to see the work. The need has increased with my confidence in the work itself. I did always feel that I would (eventually) make good art, maybe even the best. It was always that feeling that kept me going, even when I was not happy with the work itself. And many times I thought what I was doing was the best, only to look at it a few years, or maybe even a few months later and see that it was definitely lacking.
About fifteen years ago I was in an exhibition with Richard Mueller and Wayne Boucher. We called it Three. As usual, I thought my work was good and was pleased to be showing with a couple of other artists I respected. But when I saw my work on the walls at St. Mary’s University Art Gallery (here in Halifax), I thought it looked dreadful—uptight, rigid, systematic, i.e., Bad. Next to Wayne’s bold fearless black and white abstractions, mine paled. And that was good to see. I wouldn’t have seen this quality so easily if I had kept working without reference to Wayne’s paintings, just kept the paintings in my studio. I am grateful to have seen this. It fostered an entirely new direction in my work. We showed together again at York University and by then, my paintings had changed enough that I felt good, they could hang there with pride.
So now I am eager to see how my new paintings will look when I exhibit them June 12. To see what they really look like. Right now they are stacked in my studio waiting to breath in a public space. In a little over a week.