‘Tis the Season

Especially for artists of the Plein Air variety.

Making art in the hot sun, wind, rain, birds flying over, bugs dying on the canvas, dogs visiting, people peering over your shoulder, and who knows what else, as you’re open to the mercy of Mother Nature. This is Plein Air. I have the greatest respect and awe for Plein Air artists.

I still have to finish painting my version of Magritte’s “The False Mirror” (above, not my version!) on the gallery’s outdoor wall. Why do I put it off, continually? It’s everything listed above: and the wind, shadows, blinding sunlight. Of course, rain, snow. I love the outdoors, but not when I’m trying to concentrate on work.

Luckily, I’ve had a number of broken bones since I started the mural. Osteoporosis. And my hubby’s nickname for me, Stumbleina. My broken foot (twice), toe, and wrist have kept me installed within the gallery, away from the call of Magritte. Valid procrastination.

I’m waiting for my present foot fracture to finish healing, maybe another week, then getting used to standing instead of sitting. That should delay my guilt for the summer, but just in time for a cool early fall. No excuses, then.

So it’s going on my calendar for September. I figure October may be too cold, so it’s narrowed down. And I have time to get the paint and utensils out and ready. I don’t have any projects with a deadline, so my time is open to organize.

But that idea for a larger mural on the big wall will most likely not be done by me. If our little town had an art competition, I could get a mural done for free, like in the town where I live, two miles from the gallery.

But who knows, maybe I’ll end up liking my Magritte mural, and contemplate painting a large one. Yeah, right. I’m also paranoid of ladders. Wait, another broken bone…hmm.

 

In the Beginning

Many of us, in all realms, have been influenced by a particular person, by their loyalty and respect for their passion. Usually it seems to be inborn, a genetic love toward an interest or a selective brain, underneath, and connected to the heart.

Even if that connection is sometimes, or superficially, lost, it is still there. You can’t hide it, it pops up in different arenas, in daily life, even when that person is doing an unrelated activity.

Again, it’s passion. It’s often translated by different-minded folk as weird, annoying, dumb, or a joke. Different-minded people have a passion too, whether it’s collecting Christmas angels, working with the Zuni people in New Mexico, or doing taxes for a living (really, you must have a passion for that, right?).

In my case, obviously, it is art and writing.

My father almost attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His art teachers in high school recommended him; but his father passed away suddenly in my dad’s senior year. It was in the 1930s, and the economy was in the Great Depression. My grandmother didn’t have a job, or even speak English; so my father went to work to help support the family. They lived in mid-Michigan, and my father moved to Detroit to take a then well-paid factory job at Chrysler.

So his pastels and drawings ended up in a storage chest forever. But he always noticed everything interesting or different, smiling, with a look of satisfaction, clearly feeding his heart. It could be a piece of furniture, a new shirt, or the selection of flowers around the house.

Dad had a passion, a longing, for the tropical islands, the water, the always warm temperatures, and welcoming sun. He always wanted to visit Tahiti, maybe a fantasy to live there. The movie “South Pacific” nailed it for him, the islands of love and beauty. He never made it there, but his early longings began in high school art class (above).

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I have his pastels of his dreams hanging in the gallery; they were hidden away in his home, found after my parents passed four years ago. They keep me company while I work, and encourage me to keep going, even when the going gets tough.

I had my mentors in art school, who I will always remember, and be grateful to. But I share my father’s blood and his passion.

 

 

 

Just Dots

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” – 1884 Georges Seurat, oil on canvas, 81 in × 121 in, Art Institute of Chicago

One weekend, I decided to do a mom/daughter trip; to Chicago. Fun for me, and a taste of good art for my daughter. (Not to mention great restaurants and the Blue Man Group).

Of course, I had the art slot was the main draw for me, the exhibition using the Chicago Art Institute’s “La Grande Jatte“, to head the studies and history of the making of Seurat’s masterpiece. Being a light, bright work of substantial size, I figured it was interesting enough for a non-art teen.

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It was more than I expected, larger than life. Every prior study Seurat prepared was meticulous and a mind-boggling visual history of one painting. My daughter didn’t rush through, but studied every piece. She was doing the teen thing, trying not to gush, silently inspecting and reading as she moved along.

The huge “dots”, the successful pointillism of Seurat, is a masterful use of color theory and composition. The exhibition changed the outlook frIom a “pretty picture” to a jaw-dropping artistic, genius creation.

And for me, pointillism was not just a technique. When I started art school, my instructor challenged us students to create a painting using pointillism. Fun, I thought. I painted a still life in pointillism and considered it to be a simple assignment. Not so! My color theory was non-existent, the dots were the wrong size, and later I just painted over it so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

Of course, I could have pursued the technique, to learn and refine my own version, but it was clearly not to be created by me. I still marvel when I think about that exhibition.

I never heard the word “bored” from my daughter. That in itself was a major achievement. I think she even preferred the exhibition to the Blue Man Group.

My Lady

Francisco de Goya, Spanish, Señora Sabasa Garcia, c. 1806/1811, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art

Years ago, my young daughter wanted to walk through our annual subdivision garage sales. I’m not a garage sale looker, but it could be a mother-daughter time, right?

So we walked around, nosed through stuff. I like to look, but I rarely find anything I can use. Even my daughter wasn’t buying.

At the end of the sub, I was doing my last sweeping look, and stopped my gaze on an item leaning against a box on the ground. It was a painting. About a foot tall, with a nice carved wood frame. A painting of a lady. A delicate complexion, tender mouth, deep dark eyes, a childlike chin, lovely curls of hair laying on her forehead, and a delicious diaphanous shawl about her arms.

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I didn’t recognize to which artist it belonged. I didn’t care, she was mesmerizing. I asked the homeowner the price. I think it was $35; I naturally tried to bargain it down, but no way. I hesitated, then handed the money to her. She was mine.

At home, I was about to hang the painting, in my bedroom, to welcome me every morning, with her beauty. I turned it around to examine the hanger; and found a sticker with the name “Francisco de Goya”. Goya. One of my favorite amazing artists. Of course. I almost hugged the painting, but it was too precious to risk any damage.

Of course, you’re wondering; was this the real thing, an original?

I never was that lucky. It was a very well done copy. But I didn’t have to insure it!

Some years later, we moved across the state. I had wrapped her so carefully, and put her in the car with me. I looked for a spot to hang the painting, and found a narrow wall next to the doorwall (or slider, as they say here). A bit dark, just enough not to fade it out.

If you’ve noticed, my artwork is far from Goya’s style. But then, this is now, that was then. And Goya was a master. I’m still working on it. And working.

That was the only time I found a treasure in a garage sale. Though maybe only to me. And my daughter? Nothing that day. But the next day, she shopped across the street at our neighbor’s sale. And ran into our house, excited. For a dollar, she purchased a 4-foot carnival-type teddy bear. And she hugged it tight, with the same look I had with my lady.

 

 

 

Light Enters

The first exhibit I attended in Chicago was a retrospective of Claude Monet. I wasn’t big on Impressionism at the time, but it sounded good. It was the first time I went on a trip by myself, and the first large exhibit I attended after graduating from college.

The line to go in to the Art Institute of Chicago had to be a half mile long. I don’t think tickets were available in advance back then. But I was there, and this was my main reason to come to Chicago. As I stood in line, a woman walked up to me and asked if I was by myself. I told her yes, and she handed me a free ticket to the exhibit!

And the happiness just kept coming. Of course, I was knocked over with Monet. I had no idea his series of Grainstacks and Rouen Cathedral was so extensive, portraying different light through the day. This was my first exposure to light, and what it can do. Just amazing. It wasn’t the Impressionists’ color palette, it was the gradations, the subtlety, evoking place and time.

From there, I experienced the wonder of light through Cezanne, Vermeer, Goya, and Caravaggio. Though I admired their light very much, and they still give me great joy to see, I did not fall into this glory in my own work. My work is not subtle.

The idea of series and use of studies comes and goes with me. A favorite series of mine is Rouen Cathedral at sunset, 1893, Musée Marmorean.

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The studies that Claude Monet made, in numbers and sizes could take a lifetime. Importance and planning became a necessary component to making a painting. Much work is done, even before a painting is started, in idea, color, and composition.

If light isn’t a big ingredient in my work, then how does the work of these artists hold value for me?

To see the wonders of art, the possibilities, offering ideas in creating art and suggesting more uses of ideas and expression. To see the world through the eyes of another person, place and time.

 

Cut to the Heart

You know how listening to music can bring forth memories, that join together?

Art can bring forth the same magic, where you were, with whom, when and how you were affected. Art is more than just a picture, it leaves you with a montage of memories, the best to be milked when hearing the artist’s name, or a reproduction in a book.

My memory chest of art is a map of my adult life in art, crossed with my personal life. A marriage of wonder and warmth, sadness and ill.

Though I’d been drawing since grade school, I fell away from it, taking a still-loved interest in literature and writing. Then friends, boys, jobs and finally college fell in line, with literature at the top. The second year, looking for an elective in the college catalog, art popped up.

After years of absence, art entered my life again. This time, to stay.

Pumped up, I went to my first exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art, featuring the German Expressionist, Kathe Kollwitz. I had done woodcuts back in public school and was curious to see a master’s work.

What I saw floored me. Passion, love, misery, rawness. The bare bones. I wanted to have that fulfillment, that letting go of the best and worst of life. The bluntness of the cuts, the dark smears of ink, the haziness of style. A wonder is the image below: “Woman with Dead Child”, etching, 1903, 15 in x18 in.

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I had been painting nudes for some time, finding comfort and life in the abundant female folds of flesh, and the core quiet of male strength. But Kollwitz experienced the horror of war, the love and loss of family, the contrary bittersweetness and exhausting drollness of being a mother. At that point, I had a daughter, a safe family, living in suburban ease.

But I was sensitive to life. As a child, my parents took me to my first movie, “Ben-Hur”. Filled with deathly action, blood, and cruelty. I was mortified for weeks. Later, I couldn’t watch a war movie without leaving the theater, shaking. And my heart beat fast when I tutored in the Detroit projects, the families grateful for any help for their children.

I am one of the Kollwitz children. At least as an artist. Woodcuts are a soft spot for me, as is the human figure, though models aren’t as available to me as I’d like. But the woodcut, it cuts deep.

This Is a Title

As I’m typing out artwork labels for the next show, I’m sighing again.

I sigh because a title cannot sum up a work of art. I sigh because titles can be confusing. They can be cryptic. And even boring.

When I view artwork, I view it first. From all views. And again. Like a movie or book, you miss things the first time. Then I check for the artist’s name, unless the gallery held only one artist. If there’s a price, I notice that. But that’s another story.

The title, in my book, is just what I said in the second paragraph above. I rarely remember titles, I think for those reasons. But I don’t forget the artist, the style, palette, composition, etc.

Those titles, “Untitled”, or “#2”. Really. Why bother? Just number the artwork on the back or bottom , unobtrusively. The artist and gallerist naturally need to identify and inventory the work.

But apparently viewers need to have a title, but just what does that add to the information, or more importantly, to the art of the art?

Many titles are ignored and forgotten, with popular substitutes. As in “Whistler’s Mother”, which is actually titled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1”. Which title will be remembered? Though the original title is more descriptive, it’s a mouthful.

Some are entertaining and spot on, though. “The Scream” couldn’t be more identifying. But still, boring. We can see the screaming. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” Yep, we can see that. “Woman with a Hat”. Why bother?

Then there’s the poser’s name. That’s more useful, at least to satisfy our curiosity. But, as in “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere”, a woman is the center of the painting. Who is she? Artistically, again, not that important. But we naturally want to know who this important, beautiful subject is. The Bar just does not justify. But again, is the subject’s really useful to the art? No. But human curiosity prevails.

Anyway, back to finishing the labels. Maybe I’ll just skip the titles on my work. Why bother?

The Art of Meditation

I make art. I used to run marathons. I wash dishes, clean the house, fold clothes, and sometimes stare out the window.

As you’ve guessed, these are all forms of meditation. I’m there, but also not there. I’m in the moment, not thinking about the past or the future. Okay, maybe sometimes.

But I let it go, as I feel the fold of fabric, listen to the roar of the vacuum, stare at the blank canvas, or sit on the cushion.

I teach art. And I teach meditation. The two are both spiritual, contemplative, and usually singular. Both help me experience life carefully, as I look, listen and touch. Through meditation, I learn to deal with the day in a thoughtful way, noticing when someone is having a bad day, listening (really listening) to a friend, and inwardly, “feeling” a canvas fill with color, line and position, as I sit quietly in front of the easel.

In an art museum or gallery (yes, including Graffia Gallery!), I stare at the finished art, and reverse the feeling, letting it fill me with various emotions, and spreading out to give me a new outlook.

Whether in artwork, physical movement, or tasting food (still working on eating meditation), new experiences surprise and educate. And it all happens from just doing nothing but noticing.