Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!
Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.
back in the studio
I've been home from Ireland for just over a week, time enough to unpack and spread my new work around the studio on walls and tables, and to give it some thought now that I am away from its source. Now I can also view it alongside the paintings I was working on back in late September, when I was packing to leave. Contrast, emphasis on shape, and texture are prominent in the new work.
A few days ago I sat with this work and made some notes. On an emotional level I find the strong dark shapes in the monotypes I did very compelling, expressive as they are of the rocky seacoast of Mayo, where at times I found myself close to tears walking along the cliffs, or on the wild beaches--overwhelmed by rugged beauty. Many of my small works, such as the monotype below, came about directly and spontaneously, and caught for me some essence of that experience.
The oil and wax paintings I did are for the most part softer, and more complex and colorful. They bring to mind the blanket bogs that cover miles of the Mayo landscape. The bog may appear barren and rather featureless from a distance, but up close it is a tapestry of color and form, created by the plant life, stones and turf. The soft bog lands and the rocky coast are the two most striking aspects of Mayo, and are often juxtaposed, with the bog extending right up to the edges of the tall cliffs as in the scene below on Clare island.
I love this contrast, this yin/yang of the landscape. Nuance and boldness, quiet sensitivity and drama. This is the emotional and conceptual material I want to explore in my return to my own studio. Several new paintings are underway, and I have dragged my lightweight, toy-like etching press from under a table and dusted it off. After all the fun of making monotypes at Ballinglen, I'm interested in trying some at home-I just need to replace the felt blankets and get some ink that isn't dried to a crisp. This little press hasn't been used in a good 20 years and may not be up to the task--stay tuned!
wrapping it up, ballinglen
I'm feeling sad and sentimental today, my last day in Ballycastle. I've become quite attached to this place where I've been living and working since the beginning of October...this beautiful county of Mayo, both subtle and dramatic in its varied landscape, and its people so welcoming and kind. Despite an eagerness to be home and the knowledge that I'll be back next year, it is still hard to leave. I took the photo below on my last walk to the Ballycastle beach this morning, a walk I've taken often since arriving, in all kinds of weather and times of day.
Even greater than all these bittersweet departing feelings, though, is a deep sense gratitude for this gift of time, space, support and opportunity. There are lots of people to acknowledge who have made this possible, including Margo Dolan and Peter Maxwell (founders of Ballinglen), Una Forde and Chrissie Tighe, who keep the place running with great warmth and efficiency, and my family for understanding so well what these residencies mean to me. There are lots of other people who have made my stay memorable, including Gretta Byrne (archaeologist at Ceide Fields), my fellow artists at Ballinglen (artists-in-residence Jim Lee, Vauney Strahan and Allyson Keehan, as well as those who live nearby, Keith Wilson and Nuala Clarke) my friend Paul Joyce who showed me around Dublin and Skerries, Mary at Mary's Cottage Kitchen who fed the workshop, all the people who came to that workshop, my friend Kate Hale Wilson who visited and provided the great excuse to get out driving, Mary at the grocery store who lent me books, Mary Lavelle-Burke who gave Kate and I a memorable tour of Achill Island, Stuart Shils who offered lots of advice before I left on what to see, people following my residency on facebook and this blog, and all the friendly people of Ballycastle who have been so kind to greet and chat and show off their dogs. Before I came to Ballinglen, I thought mainly of the work I would do and the scenic opportunities, but in leaving I find that people have been as much a part of the experience as any other aspect.
Below, the artists in my workshop, early October, on Easky beach (photo courtesy of Conway Restom of Australia.)
A week or so ago I started a to-do list for leaving, and it was the first such list I have had since the workshop week at the beginning (when I had a lot of details to attend to.) In the intervening weeks. my list was in my head, and very simple--paint, draw, make monoprints, walk, eat, check email and facebook. I called home quite a lot, to stay in touch with family. Once in awhile I went someplace, or attended to laundry or shopping. I spent a few wonderful days in Dublin, and a fun week when my friend visited driving around to various beautiful spots. Clearly this time was idyllic, and removed from most daily concerns. My work was my main focus, and I experienced growth, excitement, and new ideas. I especially loved doing small, fairly quick pieces in monoprint, chalk and mixed media. Some days they just poured out of me.
I ended up taking over two studios, since there was an empty one...here are shots from one of my last days of working, first of my waterbased/mixed media studio and then my oil painting studio.
I believe it will take some time to process my experiences here, and that will happen in the months ahead, in the studio and in conversation and perhaps in my blog posts. At the moment I am still here and savoring each remaining moment. Everything is packed and I've said most of my good-byes. Leaving in the morning for Dublin and flying home on Tuesday with a full heart and many memories.
more thoughts from ballinglen
Upon my return Saturday from a few art-packed days in Dublin, I started a post that reported--with links and explanations--the work I had seen at museums and galleries around the city. But I've abandoned that post now, because with a little distance on the experience, what interests me most about being in Dublin and seeing all that art was not really the specifics of the work or the chronology of going from here to there. What seems most important is how what I saw fed into answers and ideas and questions about my own work at Ballinglen. As artists, it seems we always look at the work of artists we admire in light of what it can teach us about our own. Certain artist's work that I saw in Dublin spoke to me strongly, because I was looking for something they could offer.
I have seen changes in my painting since coming to my residency at Ballinglen, and questions about the role of spontaneity, simplicity, and degree of finish or perfection in my work have been floating around. As well I feel a new interest in using stronger shapes--brought on by the drama of the rocky coast here in County Mayo.
In the week before my trip to Dublin, I shifted from working on the labor-intensive oil and wax paintings to much smaller, more spontaneous pieces in monotype, pastel and charcoal. This has given me a fresh, exploratory feeling, because these are not media I normally work with, and I moving quickly along on a small format has allowed new directions and possibilities to show. I love making monotypes (using a real press like the one at Ballinglen) but have not done so since the mid-80s, when I was in grad school. I needed a little memory refreshing to get started, but was soon deep into it. I'm more familiar with pastels and charcoal since I use them in my oil and wax painting, but there they play a minor role. In these drawings I have been using them to divide space, add intense color and carve out shapes. While areas of detail occur in these small pieces, I'm also aware of making bolder shapes and allowing the spontaneity of mark-making to show.
Along with these experiments in media and approach, Ballinglen has offered me the resources (a wonderful library!) to read about and contemplate the work of other artists. This too has fed my work and thoughts about my work. One article, about Sean Scully
in an Irish Arts Review magazine from 2006 in which he discusses the spiritual aspects of his work, particularly resonated with my thoughts about what the changes I'm experiencing in my work may be about:
"The problem with one current idea of the spiritual in art is that it is represented by a kind of inhuman puritan notion of the perfect. So that under this umbrella, the spiritual is clean, cleaned-up and purely perfect. My idea is more human. And it embodies an acceptance of imperfection. In fact it incorporates it in a built up, imperfect surface surrounded by complex and uncertain edges. Spirituality is not something outside us that shines like a perfect lit-up plexiglass box, that we have to aspire to. It's already in us. In our imperfect bodies, we are already spiritual. I make something that accompanies what we already are, humanistic and complex. Not cleaned up. Spirituality doesn't have to look clean. It should look as the world looks."
I love this quote and find that it creates a certain freedom in my mind to allow things to be more loose and rough.
In the library at Ballinglen is a lovely book about Agnes Martin
, and after reading the Scully article, I found myself comparing and contrasting the spirituality of her quiet, monochromatic work with his. Her work is more controlled, refined and precise, perhaps a bit more "perfect" in Scully's view, but her hand always shows, and with that a sense of her own humanity and humility. So--I've been thinking about these two views of what elevates an abstract work into a realm of contemplation and spirituality, both of which appeal to me strongly. Oddly enough, when I visited the Sean Scully paintings at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, there was a stunning Agnes Martin painting just around the corner in the next gallery. What an opportunity to see these two masters of what I think of as humanistic minimalism together, just a few feet apart.
Also nearby at the Hugh Lane was the installation of the insanely messy studio of dublin-born artist Francis Bacon
, reproduced in exact detail after his death--with the help of archaeologists excavating and cataloging every item to transport to Dublin from London. As some of you know, my own studio leans a bit in Bacon's direction, and I spent some time with the background information supplied in an adjacent room, finding his mess intriguing and reassuring. Although I don't particularly relate to his paintings, the fact that he found his chaotic studio to be important to his way of working seem to get back to Scully's ideas about the complexity of life and one's response to it.
Other visual stimuli in Dublin included the surfaces of ancient Egyptian papyrus and beautifully shaped fragments of early Christian manuscripts at the Arthur Chester Beatty Library, and the constructions of Tony O'Malley at the Royal Hibernian Academy--so roughly poetic, tactile and inventive--very moving and certainly in the "rough edges" realm of spiritual expression.
I saw many other works of art at various galleries and museums, and many that I loved, but these I mention as feeding my inquiries of the moment about spontaneity, degree of finish, use of shape, and exploration of materials. As I rode back to Ballycastle on the train, I thought about how holding these sort of questions in mind while going out on a visual exploration (whether in galleries and museums, in the landscape, or while looking at art books) allows ideas and connections to appear, often in unanticipated ways.
I plan to keep on with my quick and spontaneous work in my remaining two weeks at Ballinglen, perhaps also spending time with the more developed oil and wax paintings to see what cross-over ideas may emerge. As I look over the small drawings and prints I've been doing, it seems to me that several artists (not just one) could have been at work! I'm not sure that even I could identify all of them as being my own if I simply stumbled upon them. Yet I feel connected with this body of work in a fresh, new way, as you do upon getting to know someone for the first time.
One of the joys and purposes of an extended residency, is letting go of expectations and following whatever leads you. How and in what ways these small, quick drawings and prints, and my ruminations about artists like Scully, Martin and O'Malley will carry through in my work once I am back home remains to be seen. Possibly these are in-the-moment responses to materials and experience and will have little carry-over outside this time. But I feel the very act of doing them is important in some freeing way.
thoughts from ballinglen, county mayo
Nearing the halfway point in my Fellowship at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland, I'm reflecting on influences on my painting and changes that have been evolving since moving into this studio almost two weeks ago. I'm thinking and wondering, but really too much in the middle of it all to make any real pronouncements. However, here is some of what is feeding my work that I can clearly identify:
...my previous posts from Ballinglen have been about the impact of the landscape, and I continue to respond every day to sights around Ballycastle as well as memories and photos of coastal areas I saw on day trips with my workshop class in my first week here. I plan to rent a car to revisit some of these places (or find new ones) when my friend Kate visits early in November. Below is a small painting in response to the rocky cliffs and wild surf in the area near Carrowteige.
But it is not all the dramatic coastal images that are feeding my work. It is also the quiet, everyday textures and colors of brambly hedges and bog colors, beautiful cloudy skies and stone fences. With some paintings, I'm thinking about specific imagery; with others it is a mixture of various impressions and essences. I notice that when I am painting during an artist's residency, my work tends to reference specific aspects of the landscape more so than when I am at home---there is a cycle of gathering and processing the unique qualities of a place when I am there, and then bringing them into a wider context back in my own studio.
Another influence has been seeing a number of local ancient sites
: I've had the opportunity to visit 5 or 6 neolithic and bronze age sites around Ballycastle, including Ceide Fields (where extensive remnants of neolithic stone boundary fences have been excavated) and standing stones and various types of tombs. And the last day that my class was in session, we went to the fascinating Easky Beach, where there are endless fossil remains of sea creatures embedded in the rocks. The painting below is in response to what we saw at Easky:
And of course, since I am surrounded by the art of past Fellows at Ballinglen, and have access to a wonderful library of art books and exhibit catalogs, I am paying attention to how other artists
have interpreted this landscape and experience. In many cases there is a pull toward minimalism, understandable when you see the simplicity and strength of the shapes of coastal rocks and the grid of the farm fields.
While I love and appreciate minimalism, I find my own response heading in the opposite direction, toward an abundance of rich, detailed texture. However, I have also been using areas of simple color and flat planes in some of my paintings, as in the one below:
Besides the permanent collection and library at Ballinglen, there is also a gallery to which residents have 24/hour access. On display right now is an intriguing exhibit by Irish artist Nuala Clarke
, called "a drawing for everything." Approximately 300 abstract drawings are hanging, most of them on identical 7" square pieces of paper and composed within a circle.
I find myself often wandering through the exhibit, intrigued by the variation of her compositions. Nuala's work has been inspiring to me to explore new ways of dividing the space in my works and to introduce more definite shapes. (As an aside, she will be teaching a workshop
in December at Ballinglen on Abstraction, and I am sure it will be excellent.)
Another artist I have had the privilege of meeting at Ballinglen is Eddie Kennedy,
who came up to see my studio when he was here for Nuala's opening. I had been painting and re-painting the same piece all day and laughed a little at being frustrated by that. He said that something he had learned when doing an artist's residency was that the best use of time is to just keep moving, not to get too caught up in any one painting. This advice has also influenced me in the past week--I keep exploring and pushing, and am OK with putting something aside that isn't working. While I rarely totally abandon anything, there will be time once I leave for going back into the ones that fight back. In the meantime, there is so much to explore...
I am a week into my own painting time at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
in County Mayo, Ireland. It's very quiet here now in contrast to the camaraderie and intensity of the seven-day Oil&Wax Workshop that I taught here when I first arrived. The workshop was a great success, with plenty of time for day trips, drawing exercises, slide talks, and enjoying each others company at meals and at the pub. Most importantly the week provided enough time for the paintings to unfold and the process to be understood, and for the experiences in the dramatic and beautiful North Mayo landscape to be processed through the artist's work. (If this sounds appealing, plans are underway for two sessions next October/November--both an intro class and an advanced level--so if you are interested and not yet on my mailing list, please sign on here
, and you'll receive info with my winter newsletter.)
Above are several of the paintings I've done in my first week here, and they speak of the richness of the experience so far, and of my emotional response to the landscape. There are changes happening in my work--starker contrasts, and stronger colors, including some that are outside my usual range.
I'm feeling so moved and intrigued by this place and very grateful to have a month ahead to explore. The landscape right around the village is mostly gentle green farmland--rich with texture and color--and similar to what I know from previous trips to Ireland. But North Mayo also has some very distinctive geography. There is extensive bog land, soft and quiet, and stark with few trees. Along the coast this landscape ends abruptly at the edge of spectacular sea cliffs, ancient rock incredibly varied in its forms and colors. For example, near Ballycastle (where Ballinglen is located) is Downpatrick Head, a spectacular sea-stack that separated from the mainland about 1400 AD. Below are a few photos that show the character of this wild, rugged coast as well as the more gentle aspects of the countryside.
Here is a photo taken at the fossil beach at Easky, which we visited on the last day of the workshop:
Although these are specific images, my process while painting is an intuitive search through memories and emotions arising from experiencing this place. When the painting goes well, I'm intrigued by the mystery of this process--the way the essence of my experience comes through without conscious effort to express it.
I have been quite literally in another world for the past week and just woke up to the fact that I have neglected this blog since shortly before leaving for Ireland. We are nearing the end of the week-long Oil&Wax Workshop at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
, and it has been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. Ten artists have gathered here from as far away as Australia, and including artists from Denmark, Sweden, the US and Canada, and Ireland. I have enjoyed the opportunity to present class over a period of seven days, which allows time for drawing, more slide presentations, and several trips out to see the surrounding, spectacular landscape. Below are some photos from our field trips to Moyne Abbey, Belderrig, and Benwee Head near Carrowteigh.
I will post more later about the class and my Fellowship period ahead (six more weeks to paint and enjoy!)
ideas and impulses
Like a lot of artists, I can identify some consistent themes in my work over the years that appear through over and over again in different media, formats, and degrees of abstraction. These themes have to do with landscape, objects in nature such as rocks and lichen, the passing of time and its effects, and contrasts--such as ancient/ephemeral and descriptive/subjective. It's not that I ever chose or consciously decided upon these ideas. To some extent, they've been with me all my life, beginning in childhood--when I loved being alone in nature, collecting rocks and shells, drawing and painting the landscape, and examining the objects in my grandmother's curio cabinet--arrowheads, fossils, fragments of ancient objects.
These are the ingredients in what I think of as my personal creative soup, in which images and ideas combine, simmer and bubble, some flavors strong, some more subtle. I believe we each have something like that cooking away --a unique combination of memory, experience and attraction to particular aspects of life and our surroundings.
But these ideas and references are only part of the story, because the painting process, the media used, and all other physical aspects of the work are equally important; this is known in art terms as the relationship of form and content. (See this blog post from 2011
on this topic.) I find that form and content each have a unique energy; content is based in emotion, memory, thought and association, while form is about the thrill of action, experimentation and discovery, and the honing of technical ability.
There is a special zone I think of as "watching myself paint." In this state of mine I simply observe my hand and tools respond to what is happening with the paint, the colors, the textures. It is pure enjoyment of form, spontaneous and in the moment.
This alone wouldn't satisfy me as a painter though; aspects of content such as thoughtfulness, meaning, and discernment are also vital to my work. So, I'm often experiencing a free association of memory, ideas and thought as I paint, and pointed self-critique--asking myself, where this is heading, what is being evoked, and is it working?
Over-thinking, wanting to figure everything out ahead of time, wanting to control too much of the outcome can bring everything to a halt, of course. Thought takes over and the flow of form is blocked. The key is not to swing too far in either direction--to keep spontaneity and thought in balance.
In terms of my own work, I cannot say it's as simple as starting with freedom of form in the early stages of a painting, followed by step-by-step refining as the painting develops, editing and making choices. How easy it would be to explain if it were all so logical!
Instead there is a constant back and forth between form and content--a conversation, sometimes an argument. For example, with a few impulsive moves, color and other aspects of form can change dramatically at any point (including five minutes after thinking that the painting was done.) At other times there can be a more or less logical development from beginning to end, with no wild veering about. The content of the work may emerge early and persist, or may change ten times before the end. The "watching myself paint" zone can happen at any stage, including the the final touches. Painting can feel like a crazy ride, a slog through mud, or a peaceful walk in the woods. Finding what works, the right balance for each painting, is an ongoing challenge--insuring that each painting is different, and each an adventure.