Next, again and again and again

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Actually, I do not agree with Michelangelo when he said: “No great work of art is ever finished.” I titled my exhibit at the Orange Gallery “Next, Again”. Originally I planned to call it just “Next” because that’s what I do, look for what is next when I work. But recently it was pointed out to me that I had already named some paintings “Next”. So I added “Again”. Because that is how I work: what’s next, again and again and again.

It may seem at times as if I could go on working a painting forever, but at some point there is nothing more I feel I need to do to a particular piece. No matter how long I’ve been working on it: a few weeks or months or years (really, sometime it take years!). It feels good in my gut, in the center of my body. That’s where I know it is finished.

Time to move on to what’s next.

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Tale of the dog

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When I went to pick Romeo up from where he stayed while I was away, I was greeted with: “Oh, hi Mom. Nice to see you. But I love Bob!” And into Bob’s lap he went with hugs and kisses. “You leave me, I’ll show you,” he seemed to say. I’m really glad he had a good time. It makes it easier for both of us. And after just a few hours together he was close with me again.

Then Romeo had to claim his territory here at home. Right away he needed to take his stuffies out for some fresh air. He almost always has to have a stuffed toy in his mouth when he goes out the door. He has his favorites, will look around for just the right one to take out with him. The first day home he went out with one toy, would leave it there, come back, get another, take it out, leave it there, and come back for another. All the while with a big smile and wagging tail.

Usually, before bed, I go out with Romeo and gather up his toys that have wandered out the door. The first evening, to make his point more emphatically, he grabbed his Teddy from my hands and ran off into the woods. And left him there for the night. But I still can’t find him. I suppose the bear wants to hide in the woods until the snow melts.

It really is nice to be home!

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Hamilton and me

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After eight packed days in Ottawa, I came here to NYC for some rest and entertainment. Last night I went to see a Broadway play: Hamilton. It is pertinent, a message for today. And it is fun, good music, great acting, wonderful choreography. My daughter won four tickets in a raffle. Second row seats, quite the treat. The show was right in my lap!

My best memories of going to Broadway plays was when I was young, probably around eight to ten. My aunt Paula would take me. I remember seeing Guys and Dolls and Porgy and Bess with her. We must have been visiting NYC. She lived in New Rochelle with her husband. He had a pharmacy and she organized the store.

Once when I was visiting them, I was running up the stairs of the apartment building and tripped. The result was a seriously bloody nose. I still have the slightly deviated septum, but thankfully only I notice it. I stayed with her after I had my wisdom teeth pulled when I was in my sophomore year of university. And she drove me into Bethesda to get weighed at the drugstore there when I was about twelve and she thought I was gaining weight. To me it was a kind gesture but fostered a lifelong emotional need to watch the scale, to bring her back.

Paula was the kind of aunt every young girl wants. Supportive and warm to me. I know she had some problems with one sister, but not with me. She had no children and indulged me with kindness. I loved visiting her. And I did whenever possible. When I lived on Broome Street in Manhattan, she came and helped paint my new loft. I was in my early 40s; she was 72 at the time. Later, when she had a stroke and was in a coma, I travelled to the hospital in Westchester to visit. I was told she wouldn’t know I was there, but she did. When I moved away from standing by the bed, she was visibly upset. She did recover somewhat and was moved to a nursing home in Cleveland to be near her step-daughter. We corresponded for a while, her letters being almost illegible, the writing very scratchy and running downhill off the paper. I assume a nurse read her my letters. Gradually they became less and then stopped. I was not told when she died. Another sad part of my friendship with my aunt was when she needed to go into a nursing home, her step-daughter assumed Paula had given me money and asked me to return it. She hadn’t. But it was hard for her family to understand that we simply liked each other, enjoyed being together.

One other happy memory of musical theatre was when I was sixteen. It was summer, probably August, and I went to see Porgy and Bess again. This time in an amphitheater in Washington, D.C. with a boy I had been eager to date for a while. It was a magical evening, a perfect first date.

When I was in art school, a fellow student introduced me to Miles Davis’ recording of Porgy and Bess. I would play it all through the night sometimes. When I moved out, I met my next door neighbor who gently told me there were times when it was more than he wanted to hear. I still love listening to that recording, often when I am painting. Today I’ve been listening to the music from Hamilton, another happy memory.

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Beginner’s mind

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“I Think I Might Be Dreaming, no. 5″; 48″ x 48”; oil & collage on canvas

Several years ago I read that Michelangelo on his deathbed said: “It is a pity I am dying when I am just beginning to know my craft.” He was not young, had been working at his art for a long time. I have an old, worn paperback book about him and his sayings, yet I still wonder how so many pithy statements managed to be saved in print. I am grateful they were. It is all so pertinent to the mind of an artist and the practice of making art. There is always so much to learn.

I just ended an eight day stay in Ottawa. A mixture of work and play yet all pleasurable. First the vernissage for my exhibit at the Orange Gallery on Thursday evening. Then I gave a talk about my work on Saturday. I taught two workshops focusing on colour, one on Sunday and Monday, the second on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday after the class I flew to NYC where I am now, will be until Monday. Then back to Nova Scotia and back to painting. In between the art events I went swimming, took saunas and steam baths and soaked up family.

So then, what did I learn from this intense week. A lot about listening, looking, seeing how other people think, about their work, about their lives. My life has always been focused on my work. I’ve been lucky to be able to do what I want but also I do it at the sacrifice of other things. The main other thing is security. I choose to jump into the unknown not only visually but also to be able to make the visual product. It is important to take chances with painting, try to extend beyond what is familiar. After all, why do it if it isn’t a challenge, if I’m not learning more about my craft.

It’s a balancing act. Much of what I need to make my art is beyond my means but I can’t do anything without it. So I do it.

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What’s new

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Last weekend, GPI Atlantic had a fundraiser event. I donated a large selection of artwork to this amazing organization. They use the Genuine Progress Index to count what matters: happiness and well-being. The GPI Youth section sets up sustainability projects with young adults. Well worth a donation.

At the reception, I was fascinated by what paintings people were drawn to. Some of the work was several years old, enough so that to me, it looked dated. They are good paintings but I wanted to do something to them, change them, redo, make them what I have been doing recently. To a lot of people, what attracted them are what I wanted to change. One women liked my work because it is calm. That is not how I would describe my more recent work, or what I want in it.

There is some work I have done over the past many years that I feel could be from today or even tomorrow. When I look a them, I feel they still have something to teach me. I did a series of screen prints in 1995 that are not visually old. I could have done them yesterday, not over twenty years ago. I wouldn’t change a thing on them now.

What I am looking for in my newer work is a quality I had when I first started painting: a freshness, openness, willingness to expose, to show excitement, energy, vitality. A searching quality. It is happening more often. When it doesn’t I have to rethink, step out of that seductive comfort zone, where I “know” how to solve a visual problem. Try something I don’t know.

Yesterday, once again I had photos taken of new work and once again I saw what needed to be reworked and also, this time, what direction I need to take. A slight turn in the road. Again.

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The Black & White

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My first house in Nova Scotia was in a small fishing community. I bought an old house and renovated it. I had a big studio and two beautiful golden retrievers. The contrast with New York City was a joy. I remember sitting on my back deck, talking to my daughter in NY and telling her “I can’t hear you. The sea gulls are making too much noise!” I’d sit in front of the large living room window with a bowl of popcorn. Life seemed ideal.

But it was a hard place for me to live in one very important way. I didn’t relate well with my neighbors. On one side were the Blacks who chained their dog to a small dog house all year long. On the other side were the Whites, who yelled at me every time my dogs got loose. (Katie was the ringleader, always finding a way through the fence.) “If your dogs get on my property one more time, I’m going to shoot them.” And maybe they would have. I moved.

The other day I met a man who had been in some classes with me taught by my tai chi teacher. I hadn’t known his name at that time. We started chatting and he told me he’s a White. Luckily he didn’t live there when I did and we can joke about it. It’s his relatives who threatened to shoot my dogs. He now owns a lot of the land around there and has a big fish plant beside my old house. The house, by the way, is up for sale, again.

I’ve said many times before and I’ll say it again: I feel so lucky to live where I do now. I have a decent studio, amazing scenery, wood, lake, brook and most important, the best neighbors anyone could want. I am lucky and I chose wisely.

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Ask Me Anything

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As a New Year gift, CBC had three of their top radio hosts be the ones to be asked questions. These hosts, and most of the  broadcasters at CBC radio and television, have become my “friends”. I look forward to hearing them, know their schedules, can plan my day around our “dates”. Usually I know what time of day it is by what is on the radio. Obviously I’m a big radio fan. Always have been. We didn’t have television until I was in my teens.

When I was about eleven or so, my next door neighbor who was a few years older than me, was doing one of those lotteries where you guessed the name on a card that held the key to a gift which in this case was a white plastic radio. I was very eager to win, so I must admit, I peeked! And won. (Please don’t tell. My excuse is I was young. Ok?) I never felt much guilt because that little white radio, as it sat by my bed, gave me so much pleasure. Especially on Sunday evenings when the series of fifteen minute serials were on. These were programs that in today’s lexicon would be labeled sexist or racist. But we didn’t think then about this, they were just people to me. This was a long time ago. Things have changed in this area, and keep changing. At least I can say  I definitely wouldn’t peek now.

This show, Ask Me Anything, was advertised as “a look behind the curtain of three of CBC radio’s biggest shows to see what 2017 stories had the biggest impact on hosts and what they’re planning to dig into in 2018.” It featured Piya Chattopadhyay, host of Out in the Open, Anna Maria Tremonti, host of The Current and Duncan McCue, host of Cross Country Checkup. Ask Me Anything was led by Ali Hassan, host of CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud. It was in front of a live audience who also had a chance to ask questions along with a host of other radio hosts.

So much of what these three hosts said their goal was about presenting and understanding every point of view on difficult topics. Looking more closely than we usually do about our prejudices and preconceptions. Sometimes the people have disagreeable opinions, sometimes compatible to mine. Dispassion is a difficult yet worthwhile mode to accept. At least when listening to opposing opinions. I can, at times, talk back to the radio and cause no harm. I love radio!

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