My last post was about my time in Greece in May and its effect on the work I was preparing for my exhibit, Overlays, at Addington Gallery in Chicago. That show is now up and can be viewed through August 29. There are nine medium to large scale paintings that all relate to my time on Skopelos and in Athens. Each one holds memories and impressions personal to me. But I hope I've also conveyed some sense of the monumental and ancient aspects of the place that are more universal.
|Artifact, Overlay, and In the Presence of Antiquities at Addington Gallery|
This work was created at an unusually fast pace. From the three weeks I spent in Greece gathering visual and conceptual ideas to the intensive five weeks in the studio in June, a very condensed version of the creative process was underway. The work seemed fueled by an especially pure, direct interpretation of my experiences in Greece.
|Akropoli and Fragment at Addington Gallery|
Usually, for me, the build-up to an exhibit spans many months and references a variety of experiences, sources, and memories. In terms of creative process, it is a gradual unfolding. Sometimes this creates a challenge in terms of consistency--the earliest work may not seem to be in the same vein as the final pieces. But usually I work back and forth on all or most of the paintings, looking to create a body of work that is consistent and integrated. In any case, there is a fairly long period in which various ideas are explored and refined.
With Overlays, my actual painting time was only about five weeks. After the first week or so, I felt confident about meeting the deadline because I was experiencing an unusually strong flow of ideas, and I felt focused and energized. About halfway through June, a studio visitor asked how long I'd been working on the paintings, and I had to stop and think. The answer at that point was "two weeks" which amazed us both. Some of the paintings were done and everything else was well underway. And at the end of June, I even had enough time left to do a ninth large painting, although the initial request from the gallery was for eight.
|Aegean Series, Addington Gallery|
The point of this story is not about how fast I can paint (I don't even consider that to be a virtue!) It is more that there was a sort of magic happening. I feel both grateful and perplexed by this, and wonder how this body of work fits with my typically slower creative process. Was I so on track because I was working toward a close deadline? If so, why wasn't there more stress or anxiety involved? Instead I felt mostly calm, focused, and pleased. Of course I had some frustrating days, but overall it seemed that a clear channel for expression had opened up. For me, the phrase "trust the process" takes on new meaning in light of this body of work. I see again how the creative process offers up endless surprises and new ideas.
As a final touch, when I delivered the work to Dan Addington, he immediately saw how perfectly it fit into the available space, and he had it all laid out in a matter of minutes. Although we hadn't gone into detail beforehand about specific size requirements, it turned out that the two smaller paintings fit exactly with the proportions of the two narrow hanging walls on either side of the doorway. The rest fell into natural groupings on the other three walls. Dan said he'd never had an easier time laying out an exhbiit.
|with Fragment at Addington Gallery|
If you are in the Chicago area, or passing through thius summer, I hope you will stop in and see the work. Thanks!
upon returning from greece
I’ve been back from Greece for almost three weeks now, so I’ve had some time to process my time there and reflect on my memories. And although I've shared photos and stories with family and friends it's always hard to convey the essence of any big experience. At least for me, most of what I take away from travel is internal and expressed through my work, responding to whatever surfaces in terms of memories and thoughts. I feel that what comes forward intuitively is the true distillation of the experience as a whole.
From my time on the island of Skopelos, where Jerry McLaughlin and I taught for two weeks, the strongest impact was visual—the colors of the sea under various lighting and weather conditions, the angles of the white buildings, and the patterns made by the hundreds of stair steps we climbed every day to get up to the studio and down into the village.
The sea colors ranged from dark and opaque at a distance to startling turquoise and aquamarine typically seen near the shore. On hazy days the horizon lined formed by sea and sky would almost disappear. It was a constant show every day—the studio we worked in had a spectacular sea view.
Blue was the dominant color in several paintings I did while teaching and has continued to play a role in the work I’ve done at home, though less prominently. White is the other dominant color in the landscape there—along with terracotta of the rooftops. The houses and other buildings are almost all white with colorful accents and set into a steep hillside along winding alleyways and narrow streets. The pattern of angles that result was always intriguing. So, these colors, shapes, and patterns have stayed with me as aspects of form. They are coming naturally into my new work and give some feeling of the atmosphere of Skopelos, but they were more pronounced in the work I did while I was on the island.
|painted on Skopelos, 16"x12", oil/cold wax on paper|
What has surprised me a bit since coming home is that the few days I spent in Athens are having the strongest impact in terms of feeding my work. I think that is because what I experienced there was as much conceptual as visual, and bring more meaning to my imagery. The sense of vast history was clear right away in the archaic remains that are still very present in the modern city. Passing by the ruins of 2500-year-old buildings while walking from my BnB to the metro was astonishing enough. But there was much more to be experienced in the incredible museums, on the Acropolis, and in the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. I was often touched by the humanity and presence of these ancient people and by the strength of their accomplishments—not only the monumental architecture but the amazing realism of the figurative sculpture and the reliefs carved on gravestones.
|on the Acropolis|
|grave image, c.500 BC|
|ancient bronze figure|
Because I was so struck by the antiquity of the city, I guess it is natural that references to artifacts and monuments, and even some vague figurative suggestions have been appearing in my work. I understand the connection but it has caused me to reexamine the usual statements I make about my work. For years I’ve cited rugged, wild landscape as the basic source for my imagery. But in addition, in the past year, architectural references have appeared, coinciding with a new interest in shapes, angles, and contrast. And now these unexpected new ideas relating to the my experience in Athens.
|Kerameikos, 30"x22" oil/cold wax on panel|
|In the Presence of Antiquity, 42"x32", oil/cold wax on panel|
|Artifact, 52"x36", oil/cold wax n panel|
Although these new ideas come from outside my typical sources, I love the freedom I'm feeling with them. I'm not questioning whether they "fit" with past work-- just working intuitively, enjoying the process and moving forward. It seems that the further I go on this art journey, the less need I have to nail it all down, to explain and justify. While working with limited focus has been very useful to me in the past, now the possibilities are expanding.
I also find it interesting to re-read the original intentions that I set for my work years ago. They are not specific to a landscape reference--instead, they have to do with expressing power, presence, energy, a sense of the unknown, and personal connection, without mention of the source material for these ideas. So although landscape served me well for years-- and is certainly still part of the mix--it seems very exciting to open up new pathways to those long-held intentions.
I have more paintings in process or finished done in response to my time in Greece, and I plan to exhibit them at my show at Addington Gallery
in Chicago that opens July 12. I hope that any friends in the Chicago area will stop in for the opening on the 12th (I will be there) or sometime later. The exhibit continues through August 29.
our video story
As 2019 gets under way, a huge, exciting and long-term project is nearing completion. Cold Wax Medium: A Video Workshop, made in collaboration with my partner at Squeegee Press, Jerry McLaughlin, is in the last stages of editing and revision. Making this video has been our goal ever since our book Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations (Squeegee Press, 2017) was published--it's another major stage in providing the comprehensive information that Jerry and I have been focused on since we began working together four years ago
In the big picture, we view the book, the video, and workshop attendance as unique and yet related opportunities. The book provides a wide base of information including topics we do not ourselves teach and is a hands-on studio reference many have found extremely valuable. In making the video, we acknowledge that artists are often visual learners, so techniques and other information are viewed as live action, as well as reinforced through on-screen text and is also ideal for people who cannot come to a workshop in person. At the same time, we know that neither book nor video can replicate the important interactions offered in a live workshop—so a combination of all three offers the most in-depth information. If this ideal situation is out of range, any of our resources alone will get you going with plenty of information.
|on the set|
Our professionally produced video was over a year in the making and is expected to be well over 5 hours in length. We're proud of its extensive content and quality--and for the latter are very grateful to our Bay Area, California production company, crushpix--with special thanks to its director, David Ronan. Our mission for the video has been to provide all the essential information conveyed in a five-day introductory workshop. We're aiming at a wide audience, including people eager to learn about cold wax for the first time, along with intermediate-stage artists who want a refresher, and experienced artists looking to expand their creative range.
Throughout the video we go into the "why" as well as the "how to" aspects of the process, because it's important for us to convey context and meaning as well as instructions for the techniques. We also want to present everything in a clear and concise manner. Like the book, the video can be viewed start to finish, but is most effectively used with a more holistic approach. Because most of the techniques can be used in any order, there is no one, linear way to view it. The video format allows viewers to skip around, watch sections multiple times, and gain personal understanding of how the various techniques may be put together.
Making the video has been an enormous amount of work--at times overwhelming. But in our years of working together, Jerry and I have built a relationship that is collaborative in all the best ways, and it's essential to accomplishing what we do. I love it that we work together without drama or ego demands--in spite of (or because of?) our very different personalities. After overhearing some of our online chat about the video, my husband said he appreciated that that we're able to operate with easy-going give and take and lots of good humor--but that we also freely disagree with no hard feelings. I'm so grateful to work with a person of Jerry's caliber--without his wide-ranging knowledge, intelligence, energy, focus, persistence, business skills, and friendship—none of this, neither the book nor the video (nor the tools, nor our ongoing plans) would be a reality. It’s been an amazing journey together so far, and things look bright for the future as well.
My own role in what we do goes back a number of years--seventeen to be precise, to the winter of 2001-2002, when I bought a small container of cold wax on impulse and started playing around with it. In those days of grindingly slow dial-up, I didn't use the computer much, and there was little information to be found anyway. I knew that the wax was a painting medium, but that was about it. I now know that artists had been using it for years primarily for its impasto effects--the body it adds to the paint--and to create a matte finish. Working on my own, though, my approach was original, without reference to what others had done. As the result of experimentation and trial and error--spurred on by satisfying results--the techniques I developed in those early years are the basic ones that are now so widespread in the cold wax community.
In working with cold wax, I learned its potential for layering, for the kinds of textures possible, and that solvents and scraping tools could selectively access the underlying layers. The color and textural effects that started to emerge in my work were very intriguing. At the time, my work was transitioning into abstraction from more realistic landscape painting, and cold wax opened up new ideas for this change. Instead of rendering organic textures, as I had been doing with straight oil paint, they now appeared as part of the process and had much more depth and authenticity.
My memories of developing these techniques is hazy. How did I decide to try using a windshield squeegee to move around the wax and paint mixture? When did I first start playing with my old printmaking brayers on the painting surface? I only know that my ideas built up slowly, and that for a while, I collected a lot of tools, texture making materials, and other objects to see what I could do with them. I remember that once I tried to make a large, spongy soft brayer out of a dowel and a piece of a styrofoam pool noodle (this was not a huge success). I also remember accidentally spilling solvent on a semi-dry surface and being excited at how this exposed underlying layers--and then learning, gradually, how to repeat this process in a deliberate and more controlled way. Over the next seven or eight years, these experiments and explorations continued. At some point, I started keeping a few notes, and from there Iwrote an article for Dorlands (the first brand of cold wax that I used) at their request. As other artists became curious about what I was doing, I launched two websites to share my information, and in 2009, I began teaching workshops about the basic approaches I had so far developed. There were not many of these at that point and I wondered how I would fill the time in my first 2-day class.
Over the next few years of teaching, I kept learning and developing new ideas. My students would often say that I should write a book about my techniques, but I had no real interest or spare time for that. Then Jerry came into the picture, a complete stranger who asked me to collaborate with him on a book. The story of the book is one we've told many times--how I resisted at first and how he won me over with his vision, his skills and insights and detailed plans. Together we learned about how to give and take, define and refine, and keep each other going when things got hard. We were also energized throughout the process by the intense, growing interest in the project from other artists ...a very large and supportive community for which we were--and still are--very grateful.
With the book in its second printing in 2017, we began to think and plan seriously for the video; once we began, it took over a year to outline and write the script (70,000 words), hire a production company, figure out the materials needed, what we needed for each demo or informational segment--and lots of other boring but important behind-the-scene details. We wanted to be totally prepared when the film crew arrived--but of course, it was all new to us, so some things had to be worked out on the spot. Filming took place over five very long days in May and August of 2018—the August session was added after our originally scheduled three days was not enough for all that we wanted to include.
The night before we started filming I dreamed I had a major role in a play--it was opening night, but there had not been even one rehearsal. Added to that, it was some sort of period drama, and I could not find my costume, and I was very anxious. Then a voice from someone in the dream said "Just wear your own clothes." I woke up with my heart pounding, but those words were comforting. To me they meant "just be yourself" and allowed me to relax just a little about the whole issue of being on camera. Filming was nerve-wracking at first, but it became easier with practice. Watching the crew at work was intriguing, and the whole process gave me a new respect for actual actors. On the downside, the process could be surprisingly tedious. We really appreciated our crew's attention to detail and the need to get everything just right, but sometimes it was hard to be patient. We often needed to repeat actions to get the proper focus, do re-takes of the script, pause while lights were adjusted, and figure out the best setting or angle for a shot.
|A tired toast after last day of filming|
Once we finished with filming, the task of putting it all together was left to Crushpix along with our input and suggestions. We have been awed by David Ronan's ability to shape the many different segments into a cohesive whole, working in an intuitive, insightful, and innovative manner--especially considering that the material was completely unfamiliar to him going in. Our own work in the post-production stage has included going over footage, deciding how to format the bullet points and other on-screen information, providing still shots, and creating the two power points that are included. We've also watched everything in sequence more than once to make sure it all flows correctly and is clear and well-organized.
And so, it is nearly done. Our pre-sale period is underway; more information and sample footage can be found by clicking here. There are still a few days left to take advantage of our $100 off discount on pre-sales. We look forward to 2019 with gratitude for our many supporters--as always, we're humbled and amazed by the confidence and trust placed in us in regard to our work. A Happy New Year to all!
my work now
After several weeks in Mexico last month (teaching in San Miguel de Allende) I've settled in for the winter in our New Mexico home with time and intention to do lots of painting. My memories of San Miguel are steeped in light, color, the textures of old doors and walls, cobblestone streets, and flowers everywhere. Jerry and I taught an advanced cold wax workshop there, and my husband Don joined me afterward for a short vacation.The city has a significant art community and we met some friendly and welcoming artists, two of whom took us out on fun day trips to the surrounding countryside. The whole visit was rich in experiences and visually exciting.
Now I'm overflowing with impressions not only from the time in Mexico but also from the the month of September which I spent in northern Spain. On the best painting days I feel loose and open, inviting whatever impulses come to the surface as I process these experiences. As usual, memory has a way of distilling the most significant impressions--yet even with memory's help, there is overload.
|Secluded #1, 14"x11" |
Fortunately I'm grounded by formal concerns--my focus on strong shapes and contrast and in some paintings, a renewed interest in color (after a long spell of using mainly a neutral palette). I'm playing with negative shapes, and defined vs. subtle, shifting edges. These explorations are not new--I've been pursuing them for about two years now--but I'm still learning, gaining more insight and fluency. I'm slowly finding new ways of approaching the panel that work, even as the outcome is unknown.
Compared to these aspects of form, the ideas behind my current work are harder to describe. But I don't mind that they are elusive--it's an interesting journey, processing the experiences of travel and searching out what has been meaningful to me, and how it connects to my overall ideas. This is an intuitive process; the results can surprise and intrigue me.
|Dwelling, 48"x36 ", oil/cold wax on panel|
For example, some images in my recent work have an architectural feeling, something that is completely new for me. Their shapes and compositions bring to mind the many houses in both Spain and Mexico with inner courtyards, worlds hidden behind gates and doors. Glimpses of windows and angles reminiscent of walls or corridors have appeared in the work. Since I've never abstracted from buildings before, I admit to some resistance at first. My painting has been about landscape and rugged, wild places for so long and I always describe it in that way. But what I've realized is that many of the old houses and other buildings in my travels evoke for me a sense of mystery that is not unlike certain rocky places I've been in nature. This feeling has something to do with enclosure and being surrounded by high walls--private places, childhood adventures in hidden forts.
Other images in my work relate directly to the landscape and remind me of pathways, the Camino in Spain, and ancient sites. These images, like the architectural ones, feel like actual places to me but their spaces are ambiguous and dreamlike.
|Where to Wander #1, 16"x16" oil/cold wax on panel|
I often talk to my students about intentions for their work, and it may seem from these descriptions that my own are a bit murky. But intentions are based in simply knowing what moves you, what lies at your core, what you find visually exciting and emotionally compelling.
For me that means painting about what I think of as my emotional home, or my soul-home--the core of me, the place where I am both most myself and most connected to others. When a painting is working for me, it's like I'm bringing some aspect of this place into being. Yet any one painting is only ever a fragment of the whole. My paintings often, to me, embody a feeling of longing, or of nostalgia for a place never fully experienced.
I've written and talked about my intentions in various ways over time. Perhaps as we advance in our work, our intentions come into focus and can be thought of in simpler ways, while at the same time, they open up new ideas. For now this explanation of painting my soul-home seems as close to true as I can express, and gives me an expansive feeling of possibility.