Surprise!

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Some days seem to have a surprise built in somehow. A friend recently mentioned how there are days when he wakes up in the morning but just wants to pull the covers up and stay there all day. Then after a cup of coffee, his energy shifts and he feels eager for whatever the day brings. It feels like a mystery, how the energy can shift so quickly.

For me, getting up in the morning has always been easy. And coffee is not a good friend. If I feel slow, movement helps.

But what does surprise me, what shifts my energy, is when I go into my studio with either no desire to paint, maybe little interest or an intention of doing one thing and find I am doing something completely different, usually something very intense and involved. I become totally absorbed.

Often it is the same with interactions with people. I might think I am really not going to enjoy someone’s company but then, to my surprise, do so. Have a deep communication with the person, or a wonderful time at a party I dreaded going to. Prejudging can be a handicap, no doubt. But sometimes I think I do it to avoid disappointment. If I don’t expect much, then good things will feel wonderful. The tricks we play with our minds!

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“A beautiful trip”

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Yesterday (or maybe the day before, all days running into each other recently) I heard an awesome interview on q (CBC radio arts program) by Tom Power with Sonny Rollins. First, I love jazz and love listening to jazz musicians talk about their music. Second, Sonny Rollins was brilliant. He is 87 now and cannot play his saxophone any more because of his health. But he is still a vibrant living spirit of the music he created.

His confidence was a major impression that came across clearly. He knew from age eight he would be a successful musician. He placed himself where it was happening and he practiced his craft religiously. Both major aspects of being successful. He emphasized that the important part of creating an art is knowing there is always more. There is always something to keep reaching, something more to achieve.

He said every successful artist has a “fingerprint”, a uniqueness that raises him or her above the crowd. When playing music, he went deep inside himself. He said when he is in front of a great painting or listens to great music, any great art form, he feels a connection to a deeper part of himself and that creates a connection to a universal truth. (Well, maybe he didn’t use the word truth, but I think he did and that is a favorite thought of mine.)

He said he feels like a “blessed person”, is deeply grateful for what he has had with his music. Making good music is for him living ethically.

I remember conversations in art school about whether or not an artist is a moral person. Great art has that responsibility of uncovering a deeper truth, connecting us to something we might not otherwise know. But obviously, history has shown us, a great artist is not necessarily a moral person. But it would be nice to think so!

The photo above was taken in Montmartre, Paris, a couple of years ago. Another comment on the power of loving what you do. You know that saying: If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life!

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What he had to say

RomeoInTheAirAnother challenge I have been thinking about lately is when to stop on a canvas. I usually keep going and going and going, making big and small changes constantly, sometimes over periods of years, sometimes just days. But sometimes I loose the original vitality and feel I have to start again on top of what I have done.

I like the rawness of the beginning process, but it is not enough. Nevertheless, I still long for it as I continue.But if I were to stop trying to “fix” or “improve” on the initial impulse, it would not be, simply put, as much fun.

A while back I had a dream wherein a minor, background figure was a photographer who was lurking in a hallway. When I thought about what he might have to tell me, I heard “leave the mess.” I still think about this when my paintings become too tidy. It’s that need to find a satisfying (to me) balance of rawness and finish. To know when to stop and when to keep going.

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Long ideas

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I started work on a big project: two 3’ x 10’ paintings. It’s a shape I would never have imagined myself using. But a friend was selling the stretchers and I couldn’t resist the challenge. And it is a challenge. I am, and always have been, more comfortable with a vertical imagination. Lines, space, form always added up to a tall image. I want to avoid landscape references. In abstract painting, a landscape format is often used. So these very horizontal canvases are definitely unique for me.

To my surprise, the paintings are evolving much differently than I had expected when I first imagined this project.  I had thought I would be using horizontal lines and expanding the space by the way they moved variously across the canvases. But I am, still, using a more vertical image. The broad expanse feels tall.

I am keeping a running photo log of the process but don’t feel I can share it just yet. Maybe later. The above image is one of two 7″ x 5″ postcards I sent to the Old Lockup Gallery in Cromford, Derbyshire, UK for a fundraiser, September 1. Check it out if you are nearby!

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Alone with all of us

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Last weekend, July 14, 15, 16 that is, I was part of the Peggy’s Cove Festival of the Arts. That meant I had Open Studio Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Long hours; lots of people passing through. The best part was my studio hadn’t been that clean since I moved in! It isn’t so clean anymore, but that’s fine. The visitors and the conversations and seeing my work in a more or less clean space was very inspiring. So my studio is getting messy again. And it feels good.

It did take me a few days to recover. I’m not used to talking to so many people over such a long span of time. It was a good weekend, seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while, seeing other artists, meeting new people, and getting positive feedback on my work. Of course, the people who didn’t like it, didn’t say anything. Three women came in, took a quick look, asked me to sign their page saying they had been here, and left. I said to them, that’s it? Other people stayed, asked question, enjoyed the visit.

Most of the time I have no idea what people are or will think of my paintings. I keep challenging myself to explore and sometimes I find I scare myself with what I dig up. Seems like I have many people inside my head, talking about what to do with my work. I don’t need friends or enemies. I’m busy with my own thoughts. It’s more, who, i.e., which thought, do I follow. Seems like the most bold are getting more attention these days. I will follow through with the discomfort, and listen, and just do it.

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Where

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When I was in NYC recently, my grandson, who is an extremely accomplished musician and composer, was asked if he worked with a plan in mind. His answer was the same as my way of working: he/we just start and see what happens. There is usually a germ of an idea, something that is pressing to be expressed. One thing leads to another, with constant choices along the way. Possibly that approach runs in the family.

Robert Rauschenberg, in his exhibit at MoMA. Among Friends, described his collaborative aesthetic: you get together some people and you just do it. With or without friends, you do just do it. As long as you do it, it happens.

 

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NYC – A bite of the big apple

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After a week in NYC, I’m home to my own quiet jungle. New York was lovely. A strange word to use to label that city. But it felt very soft. Warm, sunny and safe with family and friends.

The main purpose was my grandson’s high school graduation. The ceremony itself was exceptional. Forty students each made a video expressing, more or less, their feelings about graduating. Mostly gratitude, some antics, some clever, all sincere. A very talented, intelligent group of students.

I also was fortunate to see the Rauschenberg retrospective exhibit at MoMA. I saw a lot of his work when I lived in Manhattan. There were videos in the exhibit of his set designs for Merce Cunningham’s dances. The show brought back so many memories of my days in New York, how accessible art was in those days. Just walking out the door was an easy trip to a museum or gallery. These days it is a big event that doesn’t happen often. I don’t mind, actually like my quiet life. But then, I have seen so much, and easily. I don’t really feel a need to chase down excitement. There is plenty, right here inside my mind and memories.

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