This past week I have been working on this painting for the bedroom. Tonight I caught my cat Lily doing her best odalisque beside it so I snapped these shots of them together.
So in the past, I have admitted to being one of those artists who grapples with intense bouts of sadness, bouts that are at times so gripping and intense you can barely hold a brush in your hand, let alone steady the thing for detail or realism. The curves turn linear and the lines wave and bend with trembling. You erase and erase until the frustration just leads to tears and the tearing up of preliminary sketches and grids.
At some point in this process you finally get so exasperated, you just grab the closest implement of application and let the strokes go where they will.
This piece actually began as a much darker work with lots of primary colors for contrast; it was a piece that I cherished mostly because its importance to a friend of mine, nevertheless, a piece that I had more or less made to suit his tastes instead of mine.
As it happens, I store blank canvases in the same corner of the basement where I store finished works. And the other night as I was flipping through to find the size I wanted, my eyes fell upon that painting. ..and I started to think of how much I wanted to take out those awful strokes of ocher and red. . .
So instead of starting fresh, I decided to go to work there.
After I had taken this painting upstairs, I noticed that there was a tiny ding in the wood support where it had been dropped on the basement floor. At first discouraged by this discovery, I quickly recovered when I realized I could patch it.
With lacy mesh from an old curtain panel, its mate lost in the fog somewhere now. A slumping and ravaged mishap in a heap on the chair beside the easel like a castoff bridal veil.
I cut the bandages haphazardly, applying them to the corners of the canvas as reinforcement. Afterwards, I applied some gel medium and paint to anchor them.
Next came coats of color and gel medium mixed with pearlescent powders to address the areas where the piece had fallen short of my vision of a completed work. Blues and maroons, mixed and unmixed with dabs of this and that and at times patched together with leaves shakily extracted from that cast off curtain.
A couple of hours later, I was finished. Happy and satiated that I’d lifted myself out of this sad spell, but also had done sufficient triage to resurrect a work that had gone to a corner of my basement to die.
So in reading my facebook feed this morning, I came across a teaching colleague’s post expressing that he’d more or less had his fill of reading about this sideshow that has been going on in politics. That we need to start finding something else to talk about, to just get back to the business of lifting ourselves out of this mess and muck and outright insanity. So I guess I am posting this short blog with a bit of art that speaks volumes about what gives us hope over despair.
“Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,) You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self. ” —Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
“As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,The rising of the women means the rising of the race.No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.” —James Oppenheim
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
Jane Gilday performs “Don’t that Beat Everything”
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
’Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in
Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking
Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling
And the rocks on the sand Will proudly stand
The hour that the ship comes in
And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean
A song will lift As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in
From “When the Ship Comes In”
Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music
(borrowed as fair use for educational purposes)
I choose to be a figure in that light, half-blotted by darkness,
something moving across that space, the color of stone greeting the moon,
yet more than stone: a woman.
I choose to walk here.
this arlo guthrie video is so beautiful. ..the embedding doesn’t work, but if you click through, you won’t be sorry. so inspiring. thanks, woody and arlo. 🙂
Last night as I was poring through my collection of gardening catalogs, tearing at pages with white flowers mostly: roses, irises, magnolia. . .I was thinking about the mixed media piece I wanted to finish, but also getting an itch to paint again. So now I’ve taped more photos over the drafting board and small easel, assembled my brushes and paints. . .the prints from Chagall and Degas are permanent fixtures. Sometimes I add or subtract things, but the photo(s) in the bottom right corner is/are always changing from project to project. Mother Nature has a way with the arrangement of color and line and I like to follow her suggestions for abstract.
This is almost a spiritual activity for me. I am particular and superstitious about these two things; the same way a little kid can be vigilant about avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, I am persistent about avoiding a naked workspace. After I finish one project and clear the easel or table, I go to the basement and take out a new canvas or wood panel. . .depending on the project, a sheet of Arches, Canson Mixed Media or Mei Teints paper. I may not touch that blank slate for days; nevertheless, I find its placement necessary. It’s my dreaming time, a time for walking past the table or easel and imagining the possibilities.
In the same way, I also like to have drafts of poetry or blog posts accessible. . .folded fabric and patterns. . .the spices set out for a dish I plan to cook.
I need to rest in between projects as well. I have to crash. . .to sleep for hours and hours, I guess to incubate and charge my batteries. I think perhaps it’s part of what we do as artists, these periods of intense creating followed by quiet time. Perhaps it’s just mania followed by depression. ..I’m not sure. . ..the scariest feeling being the one when I fear the sleepiness won’t go away. ..I won’t ever write or paint again. ..or be able to stay awake.
And on this final note, I will end with an amazing clip of Tom Waits reading Charles Bukowski, two of my favorite artists, guys who are quite familiar with the reality of the outsider stance and the very real feelings that lead to it. I hope it inspires you. . . .
One of the ways I like to jumpstart the creative process is to sit in front of music with a lapful of assorted magazines and a pair of lightweight padded scissors. Images can come from most anywhere, not just magazines though, and as type this, I also feel a twinge of pity for the person who inherits my hacked-up coffee table art and photo books.
I also like to shop yard sales, thrift stores and book sales for fodder.
Most forms of media fall into the category of fair game when I am searching for just the right image or language to finish a collage narrative however.
As a result, I have amassed quite a collection of cut-outs methodically and obsessively stored and organized in notebooks, file folders, and sealed plastic containers.
The activity keeps my hands busy, but it also keeps me in a constant state of daydreaming, imagining and exploring all the surfaces and textures suggested by the photos.
It’s a cheap thrill, I guess. . .but somebody’s gotta do it.
Sometimes stories come as I place images next to each other based on shapes and colors
and sometimes I begin with a story in my head or a loose idea.
Mostly I just like to play though, and proceed with no particular place to go.
Here is the story of a pastel painting, one that began with a tiny artist trading card I made at a friend’s house.
First the baseball-card sized collage, enlarged for the blog:
Tomorrow I will show you where I took it from here. From collage to pastel painting. 🙂