It’s been a hectic few days here. Studio Rally was not. I did have some visitors but they were friends, neighbors, and a former student. I am glad to have my studio clean. That’s about it for that.
The big news though, for me, what has been absorbing most of my thoughts, has been Lila. On Sunday morning we were taking our usual early morning walk and met some neighbors. She played with their new puppy and the next thing I knew she was limping. When another neighbor came along with his Newfoundland (a whopping 135 pounds of sweetness) Lila started to play with her as well. But only for a few seconds. She yelped and then was obviously severely injured. It’s a fracture in the lower right front leg. She was in a splint until this morning. We had to go back to the vet because her foot was swelling. He says that area of the foot is self-splinting so she is without the splint for a day. We go back tomorrow morning to see if she will need the splint again. Without the splint, at least she can go in the water now. That was very frustrating for her. She doesn’t have much energy or appetite but was still happy to see her veterinary friends this morning. And, I am sure, happy to have the splint removed.
So all this just before I leave for Denmark—next Tuesday. At least I am almost packed, ticket in hand and arrangements made. Because I’m not thinking too clearly these days. I feel a bit stunned. The phone rang yesterday and it didn’t even register. Thankfully I have call display. It was Tamar and I’m always happy to talk to her. I’ve stopped in a few garden centers on my many trips to her vet in Chester Basin (an hour from here) and when I was waiting for her to recover from anesthesia—most of the time it takes the shopkeeper to remind me that I am there for a reason. I’m not making decisions easily.
But I have started my vegetable garden and been weeding the flowers a lot. Trying to get rid of my retched goat weed (or gout weed or, I have even heard it called devil’s weed, which it certainly is!). Getting my garden ready for my absence of two weeks. Someone will be staying here. That’s good. Lila will go to her doggie resort. I will miss her and try not to worry about her. She should heal quickly. She is a dog and a young one.
Today is Day 1 of Studio Rally! I, along with ninety-some other artists and artisans in Nova Scotia, have open studio today and tomorrow, from 10 am to 6 pm. So get out your maps, folks, put on your wheels and come on by!
One of the best things about Studio Rally is my clean studio! If only it would stay this way on its own!
On the radio the other day, I caught the tail end of a musician being interviewed. His comments at the end, as I heard them, were that “All music is political.” This because we make music (art) in order to express the truth as we see it. Therefore it is political.
I understand his point but that’s quite a broad step—from truth to politics. I don’t generally think of politics as speaking about truth. Truth, to me, is inalterable, is totally itself, is not a concept, doesn’t need to be proven. Relative truth, what we know in order to understand, can change as circumstances change. But it is not an opinion.
Politics generally are directed towards a desired outcome. The outcome, as it is derived from the truth as the artist sees it, is, to me, not intended to influence people’s opinions, but to connect to feelings. For that reason, abstract art is so meaningful to me. It’s about truth as I see it and is not my opinion.
This reminds me so much of John Keat’s poem, Ode to a Grecian Urn with the final two lines
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
I can go for that.
At a party last Saturday, someone asked me what I’ve been doing, how my painting is going, how is it changing. I couldn’t really say. I’m too close to it. I told him to ask Dahlia, my talented, perceptive fifteen year old artist friend and student. It’s hard for me to talk about what I am doing, especially when I am in the middle of “it.” But Dahlia has a good eye; she will know how to describe “it.”
But if I had to describe “it” I would probably say something about how the under-painting, the images that I usually put down and cover up are now more visible, becoming more a part of the final painting, although still under the final resolution. So I the general feeling is more of openness.
Now that the paintings are in Denmark, I’m feeling like taking a mini-break. Not not painting, just not painting anything big, nothing ambitious, just small pieces, intimate paintings, ones that will make me feel quiet inside, not take as much physical effort. Yet even these are changing. And changing how I work on larger pieces. And that’s exciting. So really, there is no “break.” It feels more like a “lull”, a slowing down. A time to think, to wait and see.
This is a twenty-four hour seven days a week job, whether I’m in my studio or not, painting or not, working big or working small. I’m always thinking about it, feeling it, moving into and through it. In fact, I’ve been so focused on painting, I have found it hard to write anything much here. Or even to answer emails. Since January I’ve been painting almost every day with a focus so intense, it’s been hard to think about much else. So maybe it really is time for a mini-break, if I can do it.
Today it is raining and will be raining tomorrow and the next day and the next. But last week the sun waking up over the lake in the morning was memorable.
Lila and I have been taking lots of long walks, looking for new trails wherever we can find them. There’s one very beautiful trail just a few feet from my door. It runs along the brook which runs along beside my property and over to another big lake in the neighborhood. I used to go there frequently with Katie, my last dog. Last fall Lila and I took our first hike by the brook together.
It was a fairly rainy fall and the weather was not great that day. But I put on my rubber boots and felt prepared for anything. It’s a lovely trail. The brook widens in a couple of places and becomes large ponds. The trail starts out on one side of the brook and then you need to cross over a bridge to the other side to continue. That day the bridge seemed very slimy and rickety. I told Lila I didn’t want to cross back over it so, even though the trail was very wet and difficult, we were going to continue to the end and walk back by the road.
On the way we met a man and his large Beauvier. He told us to be careful, it was very boggy further on. I said that’s okay, I had my boots on. What I didn’t realize was that my boots leaked (they have a zipper) and the trail was definitely extremely messy. We trudged on and were grateful to hit the road and walk back on firm land.
A couple of weeks later I met the man again at a party in the neighborhood. He told me when he crossed the bridge that day, it broke, with him and his dog on it. He landed up to his knees in cold water. Fortunately he had his cell phone with him, called his wife and was rescued. Just think: it could have been me. And I usually forget to carry my cell phone.
Monday I packed up my paintings to go to Denmark. It was a hard decision—what to send. At the last minute, on Tuesday, I pulled a few paintings out, rearranged the boxes and felt better about the selection. So my paintings are in flight over the ocean. And I follow next month!
I’ve been totally obsessed for the past few weeks about the shipment. Making sure the paintings went well together, complimentary and enough variety in colors and sizes, and dry enough to send. Once everything was packed and out of my house, I felt that empty, lost feeling I’ve often felt after an exhibit is up. Then, appropriately, I received an email from another artist, David Hinske, who happened upon my blog and then my website when he googled “post-show depression” (which he was experiencing after a very successful exhibit). It felt good to connect to someone else feeling that same strange feeling.
But the next morning I decided to go into my studio and clean up the big bad mess I had made from so much painting and packing. I did some cleaning and then, just couldn’t resist, started painting. So much for my post-packing lull! Just can’t keep away. The best cure for me is to paint. I’m stuck with it!
As David wrote me this morning:
Not exactly on point, but I'm paraphrasing Van Gogh who said something like the only way to get past painter's block is to paint. Isn't it an amazing thing to watch the picture take form? Even when I'm not painting well, it is still transporting. O'Keefe claimed she never started a painting until it was fully and completely formed in her mind - we all come at it very differently.
That’s very true. I prefer to be surprised by what happens during the process of painting. Not know until it’s finished what that particular painting wanted to be. And also—preferably pleasantly surprised by how they will look in a new space.
It was Molly’s 49 Day Ceremony a few weeks ago. This is a Buddhist ritual of people gathering together to help the person who has died with the final letting go of this life.
It didn’t feel like 49 days had past since she died. She's still very present in my life. And time is a strange concept. When I stopped teaching, in January, time felt like summers did when I was a child: endless, slow, calm. When I could do anything I wanted, no schedule, no demands. Now I have become used to time being unscheduled, for the most part, and it is going by much faster, much too fast.
Every time I think of Molly’s funeral, I wonder what food and drink I would want put out at my own funeral. That’s another Buddhist tradition, to give the departed body nourishment and pleasure on its way beyond this life. I don’t know what I would want. The foods I love the most and the foods I eat the most don’t always coincide. I love dark chocolate on a piece of fresh French bread with sweet butter. I love beer. I love most foods. But I am careful about what I eat. I need to be because I like to feel good. So I suppose a big plate of black Russian kale would do.
Then too, what would I want people to say about me. I can’t really think about that. I’m alive now. And I don’t think much anymore about what people say about me. I used to care much more. I’m not really obsessing about death. It’s inevitable, we all know that, more or less, even if we don’t know it. But I’m thinking about it more now because it seems my 102 year old aunt is failing fast and we all hope she passes on soon. She’s been pretty sassy, right up till now when she is bed-ridden and mute from a stroke. When she dies (if she were Buddhist) she would get a plate of clams on the half shell and some good wine. And people will definitely recall her piss and vinegar personality with amusement. It seems as if she gives us, her nieces and nephews, hope for a sturdy old age. But sometimes it does go on too long. She has said just that for the last year. So I wish her well on her journey. And hope it’s soon.
This past weekend I taught a workshop in Clare, the French shore of Nova Scotia. It was a wonderful, enjoyable, exhausting experience. I took Dahlia with me, my talented fifteen year old friend and student (she’s been taking classes with me at NSCAD for four years).
Friday night I gave a talk on my work, using slides to show an almost fifty year painting career. (How did that happen!?!) It’s always interesting to see again what I have done, where I began, how I progressed. And how I've come full circle from where I started, only with more understanding of what I am doing. The group asked lots of questions and I talked a lot. Talked a lot. They talked; I talked.
Saturday morning I talked a lot about color and then gave some color exercises. The first was to rule a piece of paper with six one-inch squares across and six one-inch squares down, giving thirty-six in all. The challenge is to fill in all the squares with color in such a way that no color dominates, pops out. Then I had them do some free form color studies using solid color papers cut from magazines. The afternoon was talking about pigment sticks or oil bars (what I use) and some work with them.
By the time I left I was tired and feeling satisfied. Teaching a workshop is good: I go there, teach, and leave. No grades to mark. I like that. It is so hard to put a grade on creativity, art production. In the greater scheme of things, a grade is meaningless.
Then we went to Annapolis to visit Wayne Boucher and his family. Annapolis is a hopping place. There’s always something happening there. The weekend before it was a benefit for the Public Gardens. This time they were having an International Feast Night as a fund raiser for some charities. The food was Mexican, the art was local. I came home with a car full of animals: a wood-cut rabbit, a photo of a puppy in Thailand taken by a twenty-five year old who is part of a My Photo project, a dog from Wayne’s dog series and a “spiritual giraffe,” also by Wayne. Then I picked up my own dog (at her doggie resort), whom I missed very much.