Confessions of a grammar nerd

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I’ve always been fascinated by language, specifically words, and more specifically proper use of words. Give me a book, or any piece of writing for that matter, and I am either picking out the typos or correcting the grammar. I can’t help it. Even when listening to the radio, I correct, in my mind, the sentences of people who I think should know better.

In the fifth grade, we studied sentence structure. Obviously I thought it was great fun, diagraming a sentence. Putting verbs in one place on a line, nouns in another, and adjectives and adverbs in their proper other places. For me, it made charming visual puzzles.

But these days anything goes. Even what I would call poor grammar is sanctioned by newspapers, novelists, radio and TV commentators. Proper pronouns have definitely taken a holiday, had too much wine, become tipsy. It has become okay to say “me and my . . . ”. I was taught always to put myself after the other person, to say “. . . and I” or “. . . and me”, depending on where we were in the sentence. That has definitely changed.

I had an intense discussion with my daughter recently about split infinitives. They drive me up the wall, appear regularly where they never did before. She, being more contemporary, thinks they have a place, sometimes they need to happen. Nevertheless, I am always correcting them mentally when I see or hear them. I do try to be open-minded, to see if they are necessary. Try out all possibilities. And I am sorry to say sometimes they do work, but rarely.

Even common phrases can upset me: when a radio moderator says “see you tomorrow” and I say back, “no, you haven’t seen me at all but I have heard you”. But they don’t hear me.

Recently there is a need for many young people to be referred to as gender neutral. I can understand this well. I wouldn’t like to be known as a female artist; I’m an artist, period. Gender doesn’t change the work, I hope. A painting is a painting, especially when I am not working on it. But what I find difficult, confusing, is referring to one person as “they”. “They” is plural and one person is one person. I may never be able to hear this without all the brain recalculations that I now do to be clear about what is being said, who is the reference point, one person or many.

This all keeps my mind very busy. But I do get great pleasure from it, especially when I come across good grammar, beautiful sentence structure and no typos.

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Memories of a rock concert

 

 

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When I was nine months pregnant with my second child, living in Manhattan, just before Christmas in 1967, I went to a concert by a favourite underground rock group called The Fugs. The band was formed in 1964 by the poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Many of the lyrics on their songs couldn’t be sung on public radio today, but I’m fortunate to still have a couple of their records. Some songs I remember well are “Slum Goddess from the Lower East Side” and “Kill for Peace”.You get the idea. The beat is so strong and the words so irreverent.

Being a small person, and almost at my due date, I was very noticeably pregnant. Coming to a concert of foul-mouthed singers was entertaining for more than my about-to-be-born baby and me. It was a small theatre so everyone turned around to look at this very pregnant person walking down the aisle to our way-up-front seats. 

Just a few years later, my young son and I would wait every morning on 6th Avenue and Spring Street for the bus to take him to P.S. 3. As it happened, Tuli Kupferberg was also waiting with his son for the same bus. Recently the two boys have reconnected and are friends as grown men, possibly because of that very early, prenatal introduction.

I still love the Fugs music.

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Let’s Talk (about what)

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Let’s Talk, no. 2; oil & collage on canvas; 36″ x 112″

For weeks I’ve been trying to figure out what I am doing, want to do, with my painting. If it is more talkative, as someone at the Secord Gallery exhibit in September astutely  commented, to whom am I talking, about what, when does it communicate, or not, and to whom.

Basically I am talking to myself and just hoping it says something to you. It’s not with words. Just with paint. If you love paint as much as I do, maybe it tells you a story you need to hear. I want it to have that feeling of needing to be just what it is.

One question from someone at my talk in Mahone Bay In September was “Do you ever get stuck?” I said “No, I just paint.” Paint my way through and that’s how I figure it all out. Lately I had the thought that I was lying: I was not sure I know what I am doing. Is that being “stuck.”

So the conversation now has been a lot of questions. The answer as I see it at the moment is to take a good painting and paint another hopefully better painting that still talks to the original painting, and exits in conjunction with it as well as on top of it. That is, not to stop too soon nor to completely cover what was good enough before. Let all experiences of the painting talk to each other.

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How to spell Trouble

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Let’s Talk, no. 1; 36″ x 112″; oil & collage on canvas

Lately I’ve been scaring myself when I am painting. This has happened periodically before but this time I don’t want to back away from what is frightening to me. My work has undergone changes, rearrangements, and rerouting continually over the years and especially in the past few months. If I look back to the beginning of the year and try to see a direction, the current situation is near unrecognizable. Which breakthroughs do I trust enough to act on, stay with? What am I trying to learn? What has revolutionized in my life? I really can’t put it into words; maybe that’s why I paint.

The less I try to go back to old patterns, the more sense this situation makes. It doesn’t always mean it gets easier to manage, but it gets more interesting to be a part of and the more I want to continue to explore.

It seems I  need to pay curious attention to what feels hard to pinpoint. I hope to develop a deeper understanding of these areas of life that are insisting themselves into my paintings. Fear is less of an issue, has less power, as I get older because the end is closer. So I feel more willing to take chances, face fear down.

Recently, I visited some people who own a painting I had done several years ago. At the time I did the piece, I felt somewhat unsettled about the work but someone wanted it and to this day they enjoy having it. Having not seen it for quite a while, I saw the painting as closer to what I am doing now. There is a certain energy shift I want to expose and play up. Probably the comment that my paintings are more talkative, is the most accurate statement I can use to explain what’s happening.

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Aftermath

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Sometimes, Someone, Something, Somewhere, No 4.

Curious about how my exhibit at the Secord was received, I asked Phil, the owner, about it. He said: “One fellow referred to the work as being more ‘talkative’. which at the very least made it clear that he was looking with an already experienced sense of your work.“

As well, a child, perhaps 5 years old, asked why there was a little orange rectangle in the bottom right area of Sometimes, Someone, Something, Somewhere, No 4. Phil covered the little rectangle and asked her if she still liked the painting. She then seemed to understand why it needed to be there. If only more adults would look at a painting that way.

Meanwhile the painting goes on, continues in my studio, with a renewed burst of conversations. Conversations between the paint and the canvas, between the canvas and me, between all three of us. I am fascinated by the realization and labelling of the work being more talkative. I wouldn’t have put it that way, but it is so accurate. Public conversations were very difficult for me most of my life. But not so much now. And that it shows in the paintings is confirming.

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Show time: Big weekend ahead

 

On Friday evening, I will be exhibiting new work at the Secord Gallery in Halifax. Opening reception 7 – 9 pm; the title of the show is “Relativity”. Then on Sunday, I will be going to Annapolis Royal, NS, for the opening reception of my exhibit there entitled “Let’s Talk”. Having two exhibits so close together was my idea. I like the pressure and the opportunity to clear out my studio a bit. Make space to paint new works.

So, if you are in the area, either or both, do stop by. Perhaps we can “talk”. On the other hand, I know abstract painting isn’t for everyone. I had to rent a cube van to take the work to Annapolis as the pieces are too big for my car: two are10’ x 3’ and two are 5’ x 4’. As they are quite heavy, I needed to call on my neighbors to load the van. While carrying the biggest ones out, one of the men asked a common question by people unfamiliar with this occupation, painting: are they all sold, how many will you sell, maybe half? My answer, of course, was I don’t know how many will sell; it would be nice if they sold, for sure. Simply put, it’s a labour of love.

In fact, that’s what the title of the exhibit, Let’s Talk, is about. Back when I first started working on the long, 10’ paintings, I had written on the canvas what was on my mind at the time: “Let’s talk about love”. Then I thought: “Let’s talk about it.” But I shortened the thought to “Let’s talk”. So let’s talk about the labour of love.

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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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