Miles Davis died 29 years ago this week. This morning his son and nephew were talking about growing up with him on “q”. He was obsessed with music, always playing, even when listening to the radio or watching TV.
Davis’ “Porgy & Bess” was one of the very first jazz recording I purchased. I listened to it during many of the long nights when I was in art school. A classmate that year introduced me to Miles and to Nina who then became my best friends to help me through life in a fourth floor slum tenement apartment full of baby cock roaches. It was Nina Simone’s “Little Girl Blue” that kept me company. When I moved out, the man who lived next door (I had never met him during that year) told me the late night concerts were sometimes too much.
In NYC I knew a jazz musician who took me to a diner in the upper west side on Broadway where Miles Davis liked to have lunch. We were hoping he would be there, but sadly, it didn’t happen. I did go to see other jazz musicians, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone, Ornette Colman. Usually I am an avid attendee at the Jazz Festival here in July. Missing that this year because of covid, I started using a headset to listen to music when working. Now I understand the kids and their headsets. The music sounds like I am right in the room with the musicians.
I did have a copy of Miles’ autobiography. I gave it to my then jazz piano teacher. I enjoyed the book, a good read, but nevertheless, was not a good jazz student. Too much education in classical music. I just couldn’t make the leap.
Thinking back on those days of jazz concerts in NYC compared to my quiet life now, I feel very lucky I had that opportunity and happy for my headset.
Romeo, my four year old dog, is, in dog years, now considered a young adult. He is a very friendly dog. If I gave him a cell phone, he would be on it all the time. As it is, being a dog, he has to contend with my scheduling his social/play life. I’m pretty good at scheduling my own life. Mostly it centers around time in my studio and time with Romeo. I am obsessed with both. My comforts and joys.
For the past year I have been working on an indigo triptych. I want it to put in my living room over my piano because that is the only place I have room for a large painting and because most people seem to be afraid of what they call “dark” colors. The indigo looks black and that is scary to many. To me it is very rich. Deep yes, and possibly disturbing.
But the essence of this saga, working on this painting, is that even though, when I thought it was done (several times), it never really felt right. I did put it in my living room last week as I felt I needed to take it out of my studio to really see it. That worked. I did see the problem: it looked like every other painting I could do. I am at a point now where I want a new cliff to step off, to experience what I don’t know, not what I do. To be uncomfortable. That would make me comfortable.
As if anyone really knows. But we try; I try, keep going. A friend in Vancouver sent me a link to a fascinating and inspiring documentary on “How Art Began”, written and produced by the British sculptor Antony Gormley. Gormley goes deep into ancient caves to see the drawings on the wall. Some were created as much as 80 million years ago.
His point is, in other words, there is always art. We need it. Art is intrinsic to being human. It’s our mark. We need it not just as a personal record of being here but as a connection to all that we cannot know. To what makes us bigger than what we can see and touch. Or speaking abstractly, absolute truth. We create on the relative level to touch the absolute as best we can. It’s about connection. We become fully ourselves as we express the joy of being.
Gormley is an esteemed sculptor. His works have an eerie power. But when he looked at one group of cave paintings, he said they made him uncomfortable. They were aggressive. He likened them to Picasso’s paintings, with distortions of the human body, especially females. I’m sure he would say the same for De Kooning’s paintings of women. I once had a student complain about the subject matter because it is aggressive, denigrates women, she thought. I find them beautiful. Aggression can be a useful energy in creative activities, it can transform its subject into something beautiful, help others to see their way through their own feelings. If art really is about truth, strives to tell the truth, we cannot deny that aggression is another energy in how we mark our world. It has power to create, to go beyond destruction. It has the power to be a true and positive reflection of our existence.
Recently a friend who knows more than me about the business of art told me I would sell more paintings if I raised my prices. He meant, I think, that collectors like to be proud of paying a lot of money for a painting, think its value is related to the price. Maybe. I don’t know. But it does make me wonder, once again, for whom am I painting.
Saying raising my prices makes my work more appealing is almost, but not quite, like telling me I would sell more if I painted landscapes. Or still-lives. Even though I have good drawing skills, I would probably be pretty bad at either as I have no desire to do that. And second, my paintings have been abstract since I first left art school many many years ago. Because that is where my passion is: it’s what I want to do. I also want people to see my work. And not just the wealthy. Selling more would be nice as long as it didn’t compromise my integrity.
Of course I would like a broader audience for my work. I’ve always had a fantasy that some important curator will notice my work and promote it so that it can be shown in museums everywhere and be in prestigious art magazines and galleries. All this would happen just because I keep painting. I’m good at dreaming. Unfortunately not so good at the self promotion.
As I’ve said many times, I need to sell to buy more art supplies. I do go through supplies very quickly as I paint a lot. But the thrill of knowing someone is enjoying a painting of mine is definitely indescribable. Then again, if I sold more paintings because I raised my prices, I would have more money to paint more and then could also give my paintings away more often as I wouldn’t need to sell so many. Sound good to me.
I live in a very idyllic setting, surrounded by pine trees, beside a fast running brook, facing a big peaceful lake with wonderful neighbours who are far enough away I can’t see them but they are always there for me when I need them. I haven’t been inside a store in at least six weeks and don’t miss it. A walk on the road is always a pleasure but it is not the same as going to a park. Hopefully soon.
I finally realized that painting, making art, won’t solve everything. At least, not for me anyway. It won’t bring predictable weather, it won’t solve the covid-19 pandemic, find a cure or a vaccine, open the restaurants and other activities, it won’t be a complete happiness cure. It doesn’t even give me peace of mind when I do too much.
Now that everything is closed down, I have been painting too muchMy studio is in my house and beckons. I enjoy the work; it feels good. But I end up drained and exhausted when I overdo it. My usual scheduled-in time-away from my studio isn’t available, not happening. No Pilates, no agility, no walks in the park, no visiting friends. This morning I took time to plant seeds in my garden, to take Romeo for two long walks, chat with neighbors at the proper distance along the road. It felt good, lightened my mind, gave me a better perspective on the state of the art of living.
Exhibition at Orange Art Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario, March 4, 2020
The last straw, I guess. Everything is cancelled including fun stuff. Even the parks. No more long walks with Romeo running free. So I am painting a lot.
I read on Artnet News that data says “being an artist is the secondsafest profession amid a coronavirus outbreak (behind loggers).” The solitary nature of the profession is its saving grace.” It might be safe to stay in my studio and paint most of the day, but it isn’t helping my supply of supplies to do so nor my bank account that feeds the stores. Art supply stores are closed now so I’m ordering on line and hoping things will not take too long to get here.
Maybe I will have to go back to working on paper but I hope not. If I do, I usually use paper that will fit into the frames I already have hanging around my studio. As my mother always said: waste not, want not. This seems to be a season of adaptation.
Speaking of on-line, I had scheduled myself to teach beginning April 8 but the venue is now closed like almost everything else. So I am contemplating teaching via video conferencing. I’ve never done it before and am uncertain how to begin. Right now I am thinking if I give an assignment and then we can plan a meet up on line to do show and tell and critiques. Otherwise, there is the time needed to produce which might be like watching the grass grow. It will eventually grow but it is the product that needs watering along the way.
It is blowing ice outside. Rather than snow, we have had an intense ice storm building up on the trees. The gusts of wind are strong now, so the ice is flying around, banging into my windows. It’s winter still.
It makes me think of one of a very different yet memorable storm event. I don’t remember the year, except that I had a small puppy, Lila, who must have been maybe three or so months old. Calculating backwards, it must have been thirteen or fourteen years ago, so maybe 2006. A kind friend had been letting me stay in her house in Halifax when I had early morning classes. I happened to be there alone with Lila the night a big storm hit.So first thing in the morning I had to shovel the backyard so she could go out to play and pee, then I had to shovel the front steps so we could leave the house. Then I had to shovel the car which was buried in at least a foot or more of snow. I was able to call neighbors near my house to find out when the road was plowed and then able to drive home. The next task was to shovel the stairs into my house in order to have access. It’s agood thing I enjoy shoveling snow!
Romeo and I have been taking long walks in the woods on a trail around Lewis Lake. It is open to dogs off lead from October through May only. So in the winter we enjoy the other dogs and people who enjoy dogs.
A few weeks ago I was walking with two other people and their dogs when Romeo, my very friendly pup, ran ahead to offer a happy greeting to a woman, her rather large (i.e, overweight) dog and two young children. He thinks it is his job to say hello to everyone no matter the species. Unfortunately she didn’t see it that way. She started yelling to “put that dog on a leash”, etc., etc. So I called Romeo back and we all, three of us, leashed up our dogs and walked quietly on past her as she kept yelling how irresponsible we were and couldn’t we see she had small children with her, etc. Once past, we let the dogs go again and commented on how one angry person can dominate a situation. And it was not a good lesson for her children. And there are not many other places like this where dogs can run free and play which is why we were there. And she should find another place to walk where she wouldn’t have to control everyone else.
I’ve been rehearsing in my mind what I will do when I come across her again. I will tell her how I feel and that we only have use of that park for a few months. Most of the off lead areas have been closed down, restricted, so this is an important free range path.
Maybe the opposite is also true. One person being kind, generous, gentle, understanding, can have a big impact on many others. I think that is the way it is supposed to be done.
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.