The cost of living

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I went to a memorial service for someone very unique last Sunday. He was a very talented photographer and lovely person. Every time I was around him, I felt a warm generous spirit in his being. There were a lot of people there I hadn’t seen in a while because the “celebration” was a few hours travel from my house. The evening was very gentle, with people telling stories, reminiscing about Nat. We could all have dissolved into puddles easily but somehow it did stay light and celebratory of a life lived well.

Even though I spend a lot of time alone, I like people, enjoy being with them, and usually call someone a friend until proven otherwise. But that evening, one person I talked to told me he had seven friends die in the past year. I said: “Seven friends! I don’t even have seven friends!”  Sometimes I feel that way. Mostly what I don’t have is the kind of friend you tell all your adventures too at the end of the day. I guess right now that’s my dog. I did say to someone (someone I hadn’t seen in a long time) that my dog is my best friend, maybe even the love of my life. Now, isn’t that pathetic! But that’s the way it is right now. I do tell him everything because he is here, he’s a compassionate being and listens. I love having conversations with him. His responses are not so verbal, at least not the human kind of verbal. I like to think he enjoys our conversations too. Altogether, he’s a different kind of friend, one who stays young until he dies, or until I die, whichever comes first.

I’m not afraid of dying, I think, but I feel I need to pack every minute with importance, even if it is just relaxing well. And from what I understand, relaxing is important.

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A measure of time

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It’s Not What You Think, no. 4, 60″ x 108″, oil & collage on canvas

The most frequent question I get is “what is your inspiration?” My usual answer is “painting”, or “the paintings”. This morning I had an immediate experience of that. I went into my studio as I usually do (I am a morning person, always have been) planning to put in some productive work time. But I felt lethargic, uninspired, uninterested. I sat down with a cup of tea anyway, yet thinking I might as well go upstairs and play ball with my pup, Romeo. But I was, in truth, feeling too lazy to get up. So I just kept looking at the paintings around me.

Then I saw what a specific painting probably needed to make it sing, didn’t feel like waiting until tomorrow so started working on that before going upstairs. And before I knew it, a few hours had gone by as well as lots of time painting. It was a good experience. If I had given in to my apparent lack of inspiration, I would have missed out. So Romeo had to wait.

I will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the work really looks like. I have discovered it does take time for paintings to settle. What often looks really good when fresh, does not hold up with time. Or even might look better. Tomorrow.

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Jean Miro

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Quote:

“I struggle more and more to achieve a maximum clarity, force, and plastic aggressiveness–in other words, to provoke an immediate physical sensation that will then make its way to the soul.”

YES.

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A matter of innocence

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I’ve been doing a bit of research on my new hero, Etel Adnan. One good source has been, believe it or not, Pinterest. I get to see/pin my favorite photos of her work and keep them for further viewing.

In addition, my research led me to an article by Negar Azimi in the Wall Street Journal on Why the Art World Has Fallen for 90-Year-Old Etel Adnan.

The article has some pithy quotes from Adnan. About her process, which verges on the existential, she says: “Once I put down a color, I never cover it up. If you are born a musician, why become a banker?”

and describing her current successes, the WSJ says:

The fact that artistic renown has descended upon a nonagenarian woman who paints tiny abstractions and writes poetry and prose of quiet force and complexity might seem like a historical accident. Today’s contemporary art market, after all, places a premium on large, shiny, expensive objects. Adnan’s work is the anti-Ozymandias—a corrective to exuberant art-world bling. There is none of the bravado or self-regarding mythologizing of other artists of her stature. And yet, invitations stream in daily for exhibitions, collaborations and symposia. “I am happy it didn’t happen any sooner,” Adnan says of all the attention, adding, “It’s ironic, isn’t it, at a time when I can’t really use the money.”

The claim is that she has defied the current climate of exuberant, large abstraction and kept a steady hand at creating paintings about a quiet, contemplative inner world, small in scale, big in that important inner dimension, allowing introspection and contemplation, along with an intense visual excitement.

Distilled down to the essence of her appeal, Adnan says it clearly:

“I always had a few people who liked what I did, and that was enough,” says Adnan, with a wry smile. “I do think I’ve kept my innocence.”

In addition to Adnan’s work, what I have found on Pinterest has been interesting, educational. There is a lot of good abstract painting being posted. I’ve found it challenging in that I think maybe I should be working like that, with lots of loose linear elements extending over the entire canvas. It looks good, enticing, but then when I get into my studio and try it, I realize I just can’t do that. I really do need a large amount of quiet space, a resting place to balance the active expressive marks that are needing more and more of my painting’s energy. I just cannot give it all away; I have to keep some protected space. And above all, my own personal integrity and ideally, innocence.

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My new hero

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Over the years I’ve had a few art heroes. Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, and of course, Rembrandt. I have been inspired by Diebenkorn’s early abstract paintings, but he isn’t a hero. I don’t know why he doesn’t transcend that boundary, from being great, inspiring, to being a courageous hero. I need to think about that.

But now, I have a new hero. Etel Adnan. Not only is her work brave, she is extraordinary as a person. A poet, writer, painter, intelligent in her life and work, and still producing great paintings and writing at 94. Amazing and inspiring.

Usually I wouldn’t comment on age or sex being inspiring and I wouldn’t if I didn’t resonate so much with her work. I know there is ageism and sexism in most fields, especially the visual arts, but I have always worn blinders, just kept going straight ahead. I do hope I will be “discovered” before it is too late but I know I would not feel alive if I didn’t paint. I don’t think it is her age that I find so inspiring, although that too is unusual. The work itself has a quiet power that is important to me. So, yes, Adnan is my new hero.

 

 

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Quirks

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This morning I realized why Romeo is so intent on taking his stuffed animals outside, one after the other, especially after he has been away for a bit. He’s a herder. A Portuguese Water Dog, who has been bred to herd the fish, fisherman and buoys. He is just doing his job. It took me three years to figure this out. Just shows how little we know about others.

Reminds me of when I am working and trying to do something “different” and end up doing the same thing I usually do, more or less. I have my own handwriting style, my own painting marks, preferences and can’t seem to change that. Even if I really wanted to, which it seems, I don’t.  It’s my job to stay honest about who I am.

What does seem to be changing is the energy of the work. It is still mine, but different. Different enough to prod me on to know more. As long as I can appreciate what others are doing and who they are, that’s enough. I’ll keep being me.

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The pleasure/pain principle (in art)

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Etel Adnan,  “Untitled” (2014), Oil on canvas, 10 ½ x 13 ¾ inches (27 x 35 cm) (© Etel Adnan, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.)

Recently I came across the art of Etel Adnan and have been smitten. It’s not just beautiful. It is more than beautiful. It seems to exist at that point where pain and joy connect. Without one, the other would not be so powerful or create such profound beauty, such important sensitivity.

The power comes not from the delineation of a message, telling of a story, expression of likes and dislikes, but the experience of it all without words. There is a Buddhist line in a text: “Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into space like the imprint of a bird in the sky.” Before they vanish, or maybe afterwards, there is great art. The acknowledgement and experience of the alternatives of every situation and feeling. That place of non-thought, just being with the pain and the joy, the good and bad at once.

The intersection, convergence of pain, suffering and the celebration of the goodness of being alive, of survival: that, to me, is where art communicates.

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