Saturday, July 31, 2010

hiatus and digression

I have taken a break from writing, not deliberately, but because the last two weeks have proven to be a hiatus from my normal activities. A broken wrist is deceptively disruptive to normality; one can still walk and talk and do everything, except -- oops, I need two hands for this, and for that, and for that.... Any regular activity comes to an abrupt halt until one figures out how to do it one-handed.

Added to the constant adjustment to the nuisances and aches of the wrist, two weeks ago we adopted a pair of 8-week-old kittens that had been abandoned at a local church. Getting them settled and examined and vaccinated and comfortable with us took a week; the second week (just past) has been devoted to keeping track of them as they take over the house. Since I have been happy for an excuse to rest, I have spent much time with Maia and Queso.

Also, I have taken a momentary digression on the creative side. With the fall and the fracture, I realized how unaware of the space around me I have become. Back when I was dancing, I always knew my relationship with the space and the objects around me. On a visit to a friend's house, I happened upon Alvin Ailey Dance Moves!, which morphed me, in my imagination, back into dancing days. So, with a copy of my own, I have taken time each day to begin to move in a self-aware way, doing those exercises from the book that I can, and trying throughout the day to move like a dancer. This is mostly a question of habit and mind-set, and I've used the hiatus to start to shift that particular focus back into a creative mode.

Lastly, the workshop with Rebecca (see previous posts) is just ahead, and I am probably not really going to paint until I am there. I was in the studio a few days ago, and I wanted to know what I won't learn until the workshop before I continued any of the current paintings. What with everything else going on, at this point I've put studio work on hold. I know that the workshop will give me a huge push back into productivity, and my wrist brace comes off just after I get back. So, I am riding out the month on a long coasting slide, into a re-energized August.

Friday, July 16, 2010

santa fe reflections

a trip to santa fe is always an artist date for me. in addition to the inspiration of the country one passes through in getting here (see previous entry), santa fe itself is a vortex of creative energy. in the short time since our arrival, we have managed to visit the venues of three of my personal painter-muses. our first stop was at darnell fine art, who represents rebecca crowell. six of her larger pieces currently are hung together across one wall, and in this intimate gallery it was possible to get up close and soak in the colors and textures. as those reading this blog will know, rebecca is my most recent source of painterly inspiration and wisdom. it is her oil-and-cold-wax workshop to which i am headed in a few weeks.

our second "art stop" was niman fine art, home of the work of hopi-tewa painter dan namingha as well as that of his two sons. i discovered namingha's work before i began to paint in oil, and some of my early watercolor landscapes were inspired by him (the piece imaged above is an example). any time i am in santa fe, i visit his gallery to see the latest. design, color, texture all dominate his mainly acrylic pieces, and they resonate strongly in me. there is no question that my voice contains echoes of his. where rebecca's cold-wax abstracts provide a medium and a language that informs my work, namingha's strong southwest grounding provides another painter's vision that closely parallels my own.

from niman, we headed to the georgia o'keeffe museum, where the current show focuses on her abstraction. there is always inspiration to be had in o'keeffe's work, and this visit did not fail. on the wall of the show is an o'keeffe quote about abstraction:
I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at —- not copy it.
this is so much what i feel about my work. it is that "equivalent" that i am actively seeking these days in my painting, an artistic equivalent for what i feel when i observe the country around me.

a second lesson from this visit with o'keeffe was the realization that she provides rich examples of painting things "up close", as i have talked about doing in my cold wax panels. her iris, her corn, even a cross-cut of a piece of wood -- many of her abstracts are simply (hah!) close-up portraits of things. i've looked at o'keeffe's works for years, but this is the first time that they have provided such a personal "aha!".

thank you, santa fe

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


we are en route to santa fe for the indulgence of madame butterfly at the opera house on friday. today's drive to farmington, nm, took us down the familiar route from hanksville to bluff, one of my favorite painting spots, on the san juan river. the south side of the river there is protected by gorgeous, inspirational, creamy-pink sentinel cliffs. today, we turned south past bluff, crossed the san juan, and made our way across the northeastern section of the navajo nation, passing just south of the four corners' site.

this country is the southwest that i know and love. it, like home, is "standing up" country. and riding through it gave me a chance to reflect on it in terms of paint.

these landscapes are angular, to be sure (see previous post), but within the angles there are tiny fossils, wind-carved arches, amphitheaters, and coves, and desert varnish drips (all this on the sandstone), not to mention winding rivers and washes through the valleys below and billowing clouds in the sky above (at least now, during the summer "monsoon" season). so, within angles, a myriad of other marks and shapes. perhaps my individual panels can be the main angles, at times subdivided by internal angles, and within these i can portray abstractedly the other, smaller marks and shapes.

this led me to ponder the other predominant characteristic of this country: above all else, there is space. big blocks of sky, rock, land. the cold wax, abstract technique lends itself, to my eye, to the portrayal of this feeling of expanse.

from mexican water, az, to shiprock, nm, my eyes were drawn to the complex pattern of clouds in the huge, blue, dominant sky. to the north, low on the horizon, a line of cumulus, probably over the rockies. ahead and above, cirrus clouds heading diagonally upward from, yes, a vanishing point on the horizon. almost straight ahead, a jet trail climbing up and backward at an angle over my head. i grabbed a car pencil and a piece of scratch paper and scribbled down the overall pattern. and then i thought: i can still have sky perspective even in my abstract rectangles and squares. these are clouds that i can abstract, impressions that i can convey in my cold-wax sky pieces through subtle directional indications that say "sky" without being maynard dixon imitations.

i can't wait to get home to work on all this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

time passing

i have only been out to the studio to paint twice in the past week, really just to assure myself that i can work with my wrist in a cast. both times, i stuck to drawing, sometimes with oil sticks, at others with charcoal, pencil, oil pastel, or nupastel. this wasn't a deliberate restriction, but i felt more comfortable with using these materials than with getting out the cold wax and the full panoply of paints, which can get quite messy. the pain in my arm lessens each day, but my energy level is more limited than normal, and after an hour or so, i've been ready to stop. so, my blue cast is still quite clean, though i imagine that will change.

the focus on drawing has actually been very useful, and i'm grateful to have had the space to explore it (though i'll also be glad to get back to mucking around in the paints!). as usual, the first issue raising its little head is how, on the one hand, to avoid drawing things and also, on the other, to refrain from mindless, iterative, meaningless marks. i found myself asking myself, where do i want to put a mark?, and, what color do i want in that spot? these two questions were easy to answer. but then: what mark? a loop? some scratches? the shape of some polygon? a long line? a doodle?

asking myself what i want to "say" with the mark doesn't seem to be helpful. to some extent, i've been guided by the knowledge of the country i am trying to portray, which is quite angular ("standing up country", they call it). even the vegetation is not the soft, rounded, lush, dissiduous flora of other climates: these plants and trees fight for life, frequently stand alone, and withstand harsh winds and rains just like the sandstone does. there is a beautiful dead juniper tree on our property that has been sculpted by the elements as much as any slot canyon.

in these two studio sessions, i've made the "mark" decision based on the character of the space i want to fill, combined with what surrounds it, and my own whim. it has freed me to know that i'll be painting over the marks i make; it diminishes their importance and turns them into promises for the future rather than finishing touches, as is so often the case in traditional painting. still, there is more work to be done, here, and i have been awakened to the value of just drawing for the sake of it, as an investment.

the image above, canyon night (8" x 14") is one of the smaller pieces in the show.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

clean slate

i spent this morning one-handedly cleaning up the studio after my show-oriented production work of the past couple of weeks. my drill, admittedly old and of poor quality, had given up the ghost back when i still had several montages to assemble, and the panic of securing a new drill, and then making up for the time lost, was evident when i finally got out to the studio. packaging, drill bits, old battery chargers, sawdust, beeswax, eyelets, wire, rags were everywhere. it felt good to get it cleared away.

several half-finished panels await my attention, and i plan to work on them first. after they are done and are added to the gallery show, however, i get to break out a new set of gessobords, these based on 8" multiples rather than 6". i am looking forward to working a little bit bigger.

in the meantime i have a pretty, if uncomfortable, blue cast on my arm. it comes off in five weeks, the day after I get back from the cold wax workshop in longmont, co.

Monday, July 5, 2010


the past nine days have been too eventful to have provided time for writing. a quick trip to see my friend maggie in sedona was followed by getting the show hung, which was followed immediately by a fall that left me with a broken radius in my left wrist (hence the lower case typing here -- it is already frustrating to have only one hand to use, without trying also to capitalize). that caused an emergency trip to the clinic in the next town over, and then came a fourth-of-july weekend full of social events plus the opening reception for the show, all of which passed in rather a blur of pain management.

the holiday is over, the show is up, and although everything i do takes at least twice as long as usual, i can now return to more normal activities. my exhibit occupies about a quarter of the gallery's space (see photo above), and it looks nice. the crowd at the opening comprised mostly friends and acquaintances, and the gallery owners provided a nice wine-and-cheese spread. my work will be shown for the month of july.

in the meantime, i can get back to work. tomorrow my wrist and arm will receive a cast that will stay on for six weeks. cello playing will be curtailed for a while, although this is a golden opportunity to improve my bowing. since i am right-handed, i don't anticipate too many problems in the studio, though i will need to be inventive when two hands seem to be needed. if anything, the obvious slowing down of my work process will be advantageous and will encourage me to find a more relaxed and thoughtful pace than that of the last couple of weeks. i should be able to continue to post here, though readers will have to tolerate this lower-case format. it won't change the thought process, i hope!