“Who Knew, no. 3″; 36″ x 36”; oil & collage on canvas
You know that feeling when you say, “Yes, That’s It!“ This morning, as I was about to close up shop, even had some paints put away, the world of the paintings opened up to me and I stayed in my studio long after I planned to leave. That’s what makes it worthwhile, that time of ”Got It!“ But then, there is tomorrow and I might have a very different feeling about what I did today. But I doubt it. it was strong this morning.
When painting, I am looking for something that is beyond what I’ve done before, for something I didn’t know. This morning I was working mostly with blue again. Always a struggle for me. And I do love that struggle. Where nothing comes easily and I feel challenged. Even when it comes easily but surprises me with a freshness I didn’t know about, it wakes me up. Then it is hard to stop working.
A friend was here when the paint I had ordered recently arrived and we started talking about blue. For several months in the summer and fall, I had run out of my favorite blue, ultramarine, and had to improvise. It was interesting, finding new combinations to create that richness of the ultramarine. Most blues are very beautiful but more superficial, pretty. When putting several blues together, I could come close to the depth and beauty of ultramarine. In truth, I am finding most colors look better on canvas when they are combined with closely related neighbors. And now I am enjoying mixing many blues (and reds and greens) and discovering what can happen. It’s all a mystery, even when it works well.
After a long hiatus from painting due to health issues, I am finally back at work in my studio. For the first time since I started many years ago, I was feeling like I might never paint again. Laying low, I watched a lot of good movies and read some good books. Not even thinking much about painting. Usually it is a twenty-five hour a day obsession. This period felt odd, like being retired must feel. Without the organizing principle of work.
Then I received an email from the Orange Gallery in Ottawa asking for a show March 22 to April 9. So I got back at it right away. I feel human again! As if there hadn’t been any time gap.
Apparently I did know I would resume work soon. Last week I cleaned up my studio and ordered paint. When the paint came, I was very excited. It meant I could paint again. I might have been thinking I didn’t miss it, but I am ready to work now. Painting is what I do, not who I am. There is so much more to being a person than what you do, but those things feed the work. I’m ready for a big meal now.
(A Poem That You Wrote, no. 3; 60″ x 72″; oil & collage on canvas)
I have one of the paintings from the Saint Mary’s exhibit hanging in my living room. I didn’t put it in my recent exhibit at the Secord Gallery. I need to keep it for a while to understand how it happened, what makes it unique, what it has to say to me. There’s a story there I want to hear, a conversation. I look at it and become immersed in parts of it, then move on, go back to the whole image. A friend asked me today what appeals so strongly to me about this painting, why this one. I think it is the nature of fearless strength it has yet there is still a mysterious subtlety to it. It is both bold and quiet at the same time.
This painting was my favorite a the Saint Mary’s exhibit. But it was not quite right, just a little too uncoordinated. So I reworked it, calmed it down. But I overdid it. Not good. It lost its vitality. So I reworked it again. Now we are both happy, the painting and I.
(Coincidentally, no. 1; 38″ x 46″; oil & collage on canvas)
I had an exhibit up for three weeks in Halifax at the Secord Gallery. They have a wonderful way of hanging the work. It consisted of mostly large paintings (several at 46“ x 46” and 60“ x 72”) and some small pieces (5“ x 3” and 8“ x 8”). The range of color was different from last April’s exhibit at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery where the tone was more limited. Here I played off on the colors of the Saint Mary’s show while expanding the range. It worked.
We called the exhibit A Poem That You Wrote. The title came from a conversation with Phil Secord, gallery owner. He was describing how he felt about the painting that was used on the invitation: it feels like a poem I wrote and rewrote again and again. I think so.
I live in a neighborhood where almost every house has a dog or two, all ages. I can think of five pups under two years just within a short distance from my house. There are lots of woods, land, lakes around so a great playground for dogs and children. Most mornings we get our puppies together for some playtime before work time. The dogs are so free and affectionate as they tussle and bite at each other.
Romeo is growing up fast. He’s now four and a half months and about four times the weight he was when I brought him home. We just finished our first round of six obedience classes. Up until the last class he was giving me a hard time, often sassy at home when working on training and only wanting to play with the other dogs in class. But with some help from the instructor, Bob Ottenbrite, Romeo aced it. No one was happier than me. The change came when I trusted myself to tune in to my dog’s mind, communicate directly, expect the best and guide him with my mind.
But you know, that not’s a bad way to approach everything, with an open mind. Dogs are born with a pure mind. People are as well. It’s only we who change that.
I learn so much from having a dog in my life.
Here I am trying to explain the unexplainable. Not easy but interesting to try. Abstract art is non-verbal communication, not about words. So how does one interpret an abstract painting much less paint one. Where does one start, anyway.
One of my students in Baddeck said her painting instructor suggested she tell her story in her painting. Wanting to work with abstraction, she didn’t feel this helped her get started. She did find, in the workshop, that just making a “mess”, allowing the paint to express itself, she was able to create a more satisfying painting, one in which she felt a connection.
I’ve been thinking about this. When painting yesterday, I realized it is not my story I am telling but the painting’s story. In my work, I come to this through the back door. I start with personal images. For this, I use actual photos of people important in some way in my life, screen print these images onto the canvas, and then react to these photographs with words and paint. Only then do I feel like I am painting. For this, I take the message from what I see, listen to what the painting wants to say, what story it wants to convey. It is often not at all what I thought it would be. I don’t have a plan. It’s not about me. There is nothing of me left. Just paint. The story the paint wants to tell.
Came home Tuesday from a week in beautiful Baddeck, Cape Breton. I was teaching a four-day workshop on abstract painting. There were seventeen students, presenting a full spectrum of art experience and age. I brought along my teaching assistant — my four-month old puppy, Romeo. He was very helpful and, except for some occasional puppy outbursts, extremely good.
Having had such a long career focusing mainly on abstraction (never wanted to paint anything else, although I could if I necessary), I really enjoy passing along any bits of insight I may have. I’ve come to the conclusion that abstract painting centers around composition. Without a good strong composition, nothing works. Color, forms, images all need the tension and balance of a good composition. A good composition is not a formula. But it is about focus, how the story is told. It’s the framework upon which the other elements rest.
Posted in Art, Romeo, Teaching
Tagged Abstract art, Art, arts, Creativity, Nonverbal communication, Nova Scotia, Painting, Perception, Visual Art, Visual Arts