Hunting for the muse

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Recently a friend asked me what is my muse. At first I didn’t know what to say. I did say that I just always wanted to do something like this; it wasn’t until I was twenty I knew it was painting. But I can’t stop thinking about the question,  especially as I paint. And as I can’t stop painting, what keeps me going! And going and going and going. What is my muse?

People are often asking me what is my inspiration. I usually say painting. One painting leads to another, spawns a direction, a feeling that needs to be pursued. But muse is a different thing: it’s what starts and keeps me going. It’s the underlying drive to create, even before inspiration, even before I know “what” I am going to paint. My muse doesn’t care what I paint, just that I respect the desire and do it.

Here’s my list of muses.

My children: I have always kept photos of my children in my studio. They are inspiration to be a good example for them, that it can be done, that one can overcome obstacles. I’ve had a lot to learn over the years and they have been along helping me.

That tree: I’ve probably mentioned this before here, but I’m talking about a single tree in the middle of the field behind my childhood home. There was a dairy farm behind our house. The tree used to be my closest friend. I would look out at it, see the cows grazing under it, sheltered by it when it rained. It was struck by lightening many times, had huge gashes down its sides. But it never fell. Later the farm was sold and hundreds of little tract houses were built. The tree came down but it still lives in my memory. It’s strength.

Mistakes: The willingness to make mistakes, keep going, redo. At this point, I can make a “good” painting, but that is not enough. I see mistakes as inspiration, a challenge. So letting go of something that is “good” is a challenge to possibly make a mistake and keep going. It is almost as if I court trouble, but now I keep that urge on the canvas. It leads to a depth of communication I wouldn’t find otherwise. My muse keeps me on track.

Stubbornness: The way my poet friend Nanci Lee works, writes her poems with small and big changes until it is just right. For her it is each word, each line, each space. We work very similarly. Layers and layers of life go into each piece. Stubborn persistence. My stubborn muse.

Myself: I heard someone say on the radio yesterday, in a program about letting go, “I have survived myself.” The drive to create art doesn’t  often come from ease. It comes from a passion to create something valuable from what is not easy. Being alive, navigating life, challenges.

Ultimately, for me, it is the joy I find when what I create talks, sings, breathes. Then my muse and I want more.

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We did it!

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I had an amazing, joyful experience at the dentist this morning. Yes, the dentist! I had a severe toothache last week, the kind where chewing was impossible and tears were close by. My dentist was on holiday, of course, but her partner checked me out. A week of antibiotics took care of the pain, but he said I would need a dreaded root canal procedure.

My dentist, this morning, agreed. A root canal seemed better than losing the tooth. She said it usually takes five to eight minutes, would all be over before I blinked. After much more than ten minutes she said she was having a hard time finding the root of the problem (so to speak). With age, nerves become smaller and calcify. She said she might have to refer me to a specialist. With a mouth full of dental equipment, I mumbled uh uh (i.e., no, no).

So, as I sat there with instruments searching the tooth, I started to meditate. And I kept telling her (silently) “You will do it, you can do it, keep going, almost there,” etc. Then, after forty-five minutes, she said she did it!

I told her I helped.

She said “I know.”

 

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Now you see me, now you don’t

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For whom do we create? How important is accessibility?

My friend, Nanci Lee, a poet, recently submitted her work for publication. She was rejected. The judgement was that it was too obscure.

As creators, our produce needs to be seen, heard, or it lies buried in ourselves. Yet the pleasure, excitement, struggle of creating lies within ourselves. To listen to others’ opinions, reactions can be instructive or it can be destructive. The choice is with the creator.

I don’t think James Joyce was concerned with accessibility. He rather thrived on his own language. Obscurity was his necessity. The lines in T.S. Elliot’s poems have been analyzed, taken apart, put back together by many generations. I took a course in university that studied the Four Quartets alone, never feeling redundant in its offering.

For me, the key word is necessity. The work needs to be necessary, honest. I need to do this, make this particular painting. It teaches me about myself, about life, how to be in this world. And as well, I do want it to connect with viewers. The profundity of a work is not how available it is but how deeply it resonates for me and in the world.

We are living in a very complicated time. Not much is straight forward, accessible. Connection is very important. Staying with what is important to me is a necessity.

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Open Studio

 

 

P1060535-X4It was that time of year again, Open Studio Weekend, as part of the Peggy’s Cove Area Festival of the Arts. For one thing, I am grateful to have a good reason to clean up my studio! But mostly it is so helpful to show my work to people I know, have known, will know. It was a steady stream of visitors for three days.

I learn a lot of these studio visits. Everyone’s point of view is valid and unique. The last two visitors, friends in the arts community, gave me lots of food for thought. They were commenting on my use of circles and circular marks in my paintings. I said I have been trying to stop using them but cannot. They just keep happening. In some, they are somewhat different but they are still circles or circular. This has been a constant part of my work since I started painting many years ago.

The helpful comment was quite direct: the circle is a part of my language; don’t fight it.

So now back to work.

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Cutting it short, or not

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Romeo likes to make up games for himself. Lately he has been pushing his ball over the edge of the dock into the lake. Then he tries to retrieve it without getting wet, just butt up, sticking his nose down as far as he can. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Watching him, I keep thinking: Romeo, there are no shortcuts. Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to struggle, just catch the ball or paint the perfect painting right away. Not get my feet wet.

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Seven years of change

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At the Harrington Brown Gallery in Memphis, TN, March 2011

 

Seven years ago, in 2011, I had an exhibition at the Harrington Brown Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee. It was one of those shows where I took a major right (or left if you prefer) turn after that. Seeing my work on the walls outside my studio is always educational, sometimes upsetting, other times exciting. This particular time I could see very clearly that I had been painting myself into a corner. Every painting used the same motif as a solution to whatever was not right. The conclusion was the same, that is, the use of a circle image to “fix” the painting.

When I came home, back to my studio, I knew something major had to change. It was a struggle for several months. On the other hand, some of those paintings still linger with me as exceptional. That, I think, is because I was searching for something fresh, pertinent, important. A new way of solving visual issues. That way of working is always difficult yet extremely rewarding. After a while, I did become comfortable with this newer way of working, resolving painting issues.

Lately I have been feeling that same intense energy, the desire for change, to challenge, to be honest in my work. Now,  in truth, I have always been interested in and studied things unseen: dreams, meditation, astrology, numerology and such. I suppose this kind of interest also aligns with my need for abstract painting.

Today I read in an astrology blog that Uranus, the planet associated with change, has moved into Taurus, an earthy, grounded sign, and will be there for seven years. The writer suggested looking back at the past seven years to see what has been the focus of change. In seven years, again, all will be different. More than any other astrological transit I have witnessed, this one felt the most true to my life. So very clear. And now, the beginning of more change, more excitement and challenge.

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Rembrandt and me

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I am an abstract painter. Right from the first day, abstraction spoke my language. I never wanted to paint otherwise. For me, it talks to the inexpressible part of being human. Not being attached to objects, it makes sense out of the unknown. Forcing me to be open to what I don’t know. Literally, through the paint itself, it educates me. Teaches me to experience, to be open.

Yet I feel closer to Rembrandt than to Pollack. Don’t get me wrong here: I do love Pollack’s paintings. And de Kooning, Rothko, Kline. There are many abstract artists whose work inspires me, yet Rembrandt is my heart. I went to his home in Amsterdam once, felt his presence, his intensity, a stillness. The light in the house was just like in his paintings. It felt as if his work was carved out of the very air in the rooms. I felt so reverent, I didn’t even take a photograph. But I do have the memory of being there. And I think about that house often.

That quality, of being created from an inner environment beyond thought, transforming and illuminating is my search as well. Remember that haunting, old saying: “There is nothing new under the sun.” If so, it just may be the way the same “old” thing is put together. Rembrandt put it together in a way that tells a very contemporary story.

The above painting was the first oil painting I did before going to art school. I can see here the influences of Rembrandt’s brushwork, his use of light and colors. I was using what I had at the time, a black and white photograph. This heightened the contrast, drama. When I was in high school, I would visit his paintings in the National Gallery in Washington. I identified with the Girl with the Broom. We had a Dutch door in our house, where the door was split in the middle, opened in two sections. The girl with the broom was me: leaning on the lower part of our door, brooding as she held onto her broom, looking directly out at the passing scene before her, thinking, longing, imagining.

I have since read that this painting was done by an apprentice of Rembrandt’s, possibly Carel Fabritius. Rembrandt approved by putting his signature to it. Does that make it less truthful, less powerful to me? I’d have to see the original painting again to answer that. Reproductions are not the same. But I would hope not. A good painting is good. Truth and beauty come in many forms.

Still, I’m not sure how this affects my work. Probably there are many ways to tell your personal truth. Mine is in non-referential, abstract painting. If I were to meet Rembrandt today, would we talk about abstract painting? Would his work be non-representational? Tell me, Rembrandt.

 

 

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