Friday, November 12, 2010

COMMENT ON WHY ONE DOES ART

Our friend, distinguished writer from Brazil, Rogel Samuel, responded to my last entry on the blog and quoted from Villa Lobos, translated here by Chris:

"My art is like letters to the future
from which I am expecting no response."


Yes, that is it, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DOING ART

I am back to the motivation for doing art and comments about it.

In some sense, I think every person is an artist, at least latently.  I have seen works of all sorts done by different people, but not all put the badge of "artist" upon themselves.

For me, I was always drawn to the process of creating.  My grandmother taught me to crochet and knit when I was about 5, and I made my first cable knit sweater when I was in the 3rd grade.  It was pretty ugly, but I made it!  For Christmas I always loved all the craft kits:  woodburning, weaving, beading, number painting, anything that was available in that era.  Also, I took art classes at the home of Miss Mary Kirk who was then the art teacher at the Lima Ohio high school.  Miss Kirk lived with her mother in her family home, a large Victorian house covered with dust.  She had made the front room into a kind of art studio, and a small group of girls would come on Saturday mornings.  I remember being dropped off at her house and knocking.  I was always at least 30 minutes early, and she never let me in until 9:30 when the class started.  Often I was on the porch shivering in the winter weather. 

Miss Kirk's classes always consisted of a "project" she had thought out for us to do.  We did many different things over the years I went.  Miss Kirk used a ruler and marked our names & height along with the date on the wall of the house.  Her huge cat "Tom" for whom she boiled foul smelling kidneys on Saturdays lived on, as did her ancient mother, always in a chair in the corner under a huge trailing hoya plant covering the window with long vines and blossoms that smelled like chocolate.  The dusty living room was filled with mementos of Miss Kirk's Attorney father, I especially liked her alabaster model of the Taj Mahal.  How I enjoyed making puppets, learning perspective, my first painting, marbleized paper, so many interesting projects.

But I digress --- however it is only to tell you how I have loved to make things all my life. Knitting, embroidery, art, sewing.  

My husband Christopher is a pianist but never had a large career.  He is a modest, retiring man and the idea of trying to break into a world filled with competition was something he avoided.   For many years I couldn't understand this, but as I look back I realize that there are very few people able to scale the heights of a Richter or Dinu Lipati.  

This relates to me and what I do, as I spent many years very bitter over the fact that people I perceived as far inferior to him artistically seemed to have all sorts of engagements and publicity.  I felt that this world was like almost every world where there were people vying for "the job."  Does it matter what?   It seemed to me that it was almost a rule that those who fell more into the category of mediocre seemed to take the time to succeed by networking or other means sometimes less attractive to mention.

Now back to me.  I started painting in earnest again after a terrible trauma in our life together.  So that trauma was really a blessing, though we didn't see it that way at the time.  We had lost our house and almost all the money we had.  I had a small antique shop which hardly paid for itself, and Chris had several jobs accompanying and playing at two churches.  He played at a catholic church and they paid him $100 a month.  He was let go as a new music director came in and brought his own musicians, and we were devastated at the loss of $100 a month!! 

During that time, my father's oldest sister died.  I hardly knew her, but she had never married.  She left her estate to all the nieces and nephews.  One day I received a check in the mail for $328, my share of the inheritance from Aunt Irene.  I decided to buy paints, as all my art supplies of years past had been given away or lost, so went to a store and bought boxes of Winsor & Newton oils, some good brushes, gesso and masonite boards.  I then began to paint in our terrible rental house near my antique shop as much as I could.  I painted only one shape and size, a 16 x 16 inch square, at that time.  I painted with the impressionists, the fauves, Bonnard in mind when I started.  Chagall, Kandinsky came later.

None of the people I knew realized that I did painting at all, and if they came over and saw all the paintings on the tops of the moldings of the  house, they somehow did not attribute them to me.  Only one woman who was Chris' piano student watched my progress.  It was at that time that I began to realize that painting always took on a life of its own, that you had to let go and at the same time let a part of you oversee what was occurring.

Back to the reason I am writing this post:  as a child and later when I began doing art again it was because I had to, there was something driving me to do it and a relief felt when I managed to contact something within myself which seemed to be revealed by doing the art.

Now I jump to 2010.  I spent the last ten years in a downtown studio on the fifth floor of a rather obscure building where no one ever came except to receptions I invited people to.  Parking was horrible and expensive, but I trekked down there for the opportunity to be able to leave the junk out and in a mess if I wanted, to experiment, and to spend hours in total silence except for the traffic noise.  My surroundings were the brick walls of the adjacent buildings and the somewhat bad light. 

In that time I produced scores of pieces in a variety of styles, from pointillist to fauve, and if I didn't like them I scraped them down and used the scrapings on something else.  Again, my motivation was simply to paint and see what emerged.  I went through a period of "encrusted" paintings, and then into collage with glass and other objects.  Most recently I have reverted to pure painting, inspired by the work of Edward Hopper and Jan Van Eyck.  I checked a book out of the library on Jan Van Eyck.  When I checked it out, it was like new, and when I returned it it was extremely used, as I had gone through it so many times! 

Selling.  In the past couple of years I made the acquaintance of the only other artist in the building who does commission paintings of pets.  Her work is skilful, but I think her influence was counter to my view of things as her main interest was "that will sell."  To me the selling part isn't the thing.  I remember the first show I had at the studio downtown in which I sold a number of pieces.  Afterward, I started working and thinking to myself,  "This will sell."  and it was a total failure which I lost interest in completely.

Yes, it would be nice to sell.  I will not do any more mosaics until I sell one of my big ones, and who knows, that may be never!  But maybe I'm satisfied to have made my two large mosaics at least for now.   There is no room for any more, and I have no yearning for a huge space to churn out commercial commissions.

I have moved to the new studio now, a space I'm still taking on as my own.  I feel that some sort of freedom is going to emerge in my work now that I have realized that my motivation cannot be commercial. 

So, back to people like me, there must be a lot of people who are creative in whatever they do: the point is to do what you love in this life.  If you play the piano, you can at least play for friends and locally.  Frankly I am very very glad that Christopher didn't get a big career, where we would have to stay with strangers we would never know well, eat in restaurants we didn't like and have to fly.  No that would be a horrible life indeed.  No amount of applause would make it right.  And for me, I have realized that I have the freedom to do what I want. 

tonight, 11 pm, Chris plays Rachmaninoff and all is at peace


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back to doing Art

The past 3 months has been difficult in some respects as we have had several different things pulling at us.  The long term one was adding a studio room onto the house.  Although I was totally pleased with the result, it was a long drawn out process with a lot of detail work that went on and took time.  I don't regret the time frame as they did a good job.  However, it is wearing to have people at your house a lot of the time.

Then I had gotten into this rather large event, Portland Open Studios which I've mentioned below.  Preparing for this made me clean up my entire studio, hang almost 100 pieces, and try to pack up and organize as much of the stuff as possible.  The event was over two weekends and extremely exhausting to me.

The day after the event, we rushed down again and packed everything, took most of the pictures off the walls and took some of the paintings home in the car.  The following day, we got up at 5 a.m. in anticipation of the movers, who arrived at 8 am. 

The movers did a good job and the contents of 4 small rooms of the studio were transferred to our house, which is still in a state of semi-chaos.  I feel I have organized at least most of the studio so I can start painting again, and today painted for a while.  The light is so much better, I know that will make a great difference.

my new large easel is behind the double storage cabinets, and virtually all my supplies for painting are within arm's reach.  The mosaic glass is all in boxes which are three high and serve as a work table top.  I am not sure when I will do mosaics again as they are so heavy.  Perhaps a sculpture next summer...  Meanwhile I hope to continue painting.

It looks a bit cluttered and confined in the photo, but is actually comfortable and roomy.  I hope in a few more days that the accumulated exhaustion from not enough sleep and stress will wear off and we can make this change.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

STARTING A NEW PIECE

I have again become interested in plain and simple painting.  After years of abstracting, experimentation and so on I'm back to the basics of composition, color and all the elements that create a work of art in a simple way.

My most recent pieces have been of city landscapes.  I just worked on a large piece of several buildings on a road and find that no matter what the piece is, that the same sorts of things happen, that it is a great struggle to find balance, color harmony, and finally to allow the original inspiration come through. 

I struggled and struggled to get it and finally it's in a state (not complete, how could it ever be) where I'm leaving it alone.  I had a sort of emotional exhaustion afterward, but today started yet another landscape which involves several houses, the Columbia river and the far shore.  Again, it is that same dance between colors, shapes, lines, angles, and feeling.  I don't know how the plien air people do it.  I really don't know how one can choose the "right" color in just a day.

I was reading about Leonardo and the Mona Lisa, that he took it with him for several years and must have worked on it during those times.  I quote from his Treatise on Painting:

"There are men who are discoverers and intermediaries and interpreters between Nature and Man, rather than boasters and declaimers of other people's work, and these must be admired and esteemed as the object in front of a mirror in comparison to the image seen in the mirror. The first is a real object in and of itself, the second is nothing. These people owe nothing to Nature; it is only good fortune that they wear a human form and, if it weren't for this good fortune, I'd classify them with the cattle and the animals.
There are many who would, with reason, blame me by pointing out that my proofs are contrary to established authority, which is, after all, held in great reverence by their inexperienced minds. They do not realize that my works arise from unadulterated and simple experience, which is the one true mistress, the one true muse. The rules of experience are all that is needed to discern the true from the false; experience is what helps all men to look temperately for the possible, rather than cloaking oneself in ignorance, which can result in no good thing, so that, in the end, one abandons oneself to despair and melancholy.


These are interesting words.  I believe that what he means by "experience" points to several things, not only the scientific method by which he examined the properties of light, shade, perspective and so on, but also the inner wisdom which he imparts in such a remarkable way to his masterpiece the Mona Lisa.  That the expression shown through her eyes must surely be the inner light of his own, as after all, we all ultimately paint ourselves and our own inner and outer experience.

Thus to think that a painting must have an overt message brings it to a lower level.  My husband Chris was talking of poetry and said that poetry is written because it can't be expressed any other way, and the same goes with painting.  If you can explain the meaning of a piece, then why bother? 

In my last piece I have painted a large rather run down wood home which is built on a rise up from the Columbia River.  It's on the main drag  going into a lumber town, and next to it are several other buildings which have all become businesses.  I was struck by the look of the house and actually made a second trip to Astoria to photograph the houses next door.  There was the frame of what must have been a sign up on the berm, and I originally put it in, thinking that would indicate some extra meaning in the picture, but in the last repaint I removed the sign as I wasn't necessarily wanting to make some statement which involved that.  The piece had taken on a life of its own and I now look at it like a visitor as well.

I think that a piece of true poetry takes on a life of its own beyond the intention of the artist.

Monday, March 8, 2010

THE WORK ETHIC

I guess going to my studio every single day and working an average of 3 hours or more has begun to pay off.  Recently I was notified by two shows that I have gotten juried entries accepted.  One took 2 of my 3 entries and the other took 3 of my 3 entries. 

As I can be so hard on myself and my own work, constantly critiquing it and trying to improve it, this encouragement is well appreciated.  These are the 3 pieces accepted in one of the shows:
titles are GOING DIFFERENT WAYS, NORTHWEST FARM AND DAY AT THE BEACH



Monday, February 15, 2010

PAINTING: THE MEDIUM THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

I read the following in the New York Times:

"What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned. "

The reviewer, Roberta Smith, then went on to suggest several artists who I then looked at,  and I thought to myself that even the artists suggested have that same sort of minimalism, a cool aloofness from anything personal.  I didn't find "intense personal necessity" in them.

What I see is that a lot of artists just become like a manufactury, churning out one after another piece.  I look at my own things and they are sometimes small, personal, painful and often very flawed, but somehow I believe they are authentic. 

Is there something wrong with expressing what is within oneself rather than projecting a veneer of taste or intellect?