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   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.


Monday, January 26, 2015
  home base
It's been just over ten years since I've shown in my home community of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My work has changed a lot since 2004--here is an installation shot of the exhibit held at the LE Phillips Memorial Public Library in December of that year. 




At the time, almost all of my work was made up of multiple panels, bolted together. I had been working exclusively in abstraction, using cold wax medium on panel, for about three years at this point. In retrospect, while I still appreciate this work, I see that it was created mostly with my head more so than with my heart. I did not invest much emotion or meaning in the work--it came more from a fascination with the medium I was just starting to explore, and the structural possibilities of bolting panels together . But these interesting arrangements of color and texture were an early and important step on the road to true personal voice. 


A little over a week ago, my current exhibit opened in the same exhibition space. There have been many changes in a decade. My 2015 exhibit, A Gift of Days: Memories of Ireland, is thematic in a way that my earlier exhibits never were. Back then, I was far less specific in my intentions for the work. Now, everything I make in some way relates to personal experiences and memories both visual and emotional. Most of my paintings have to do with specific places in Ireland, where I have spent so much time in the past few years.
Also,I have mostly abandoned multiple panel arrangements, as my images have become stronger and expressive as individual compositions.  

The photo below shows the same exhibition space, just taken a bit closer in than the 2004 photo. 




The adjacent wall in the gallery at LE Phillips Memorial Public Library, below:





Here is the statement I wrote for this exhibit; you may click here to read the John O'Donohue poem referenced (which I posted beside my statement.)  


Irish writer and philosopher John O'Donohue's poem, For the Traveler, describes the awakening of mind and soul that comes with a certain kind of focused travel in an unfamiliar place.  He speaks of travel as a pilgrimage, a journey--words that imply much more than a sight-seeing trip or holiday.  His poem is about a kind of travel that opens a channel between inner and outward experience, and one that involves intention, intuition and being aware of each day's offerings.  This kind of travel invites creative response, and is at the heart of the experience of an artist-in-residence program.

Artists' residency and fellowship programs are found all over the world-- providing selected artists with the opportunity to pursue their work for weeks or even months at a time, away from daily concerns. An artist's residency is a gift of time, of space, and of place--and of these, place is what most motivates me to seek these opportunities.  During each of the seven artist residencies I have experienced, the surroundings have given rise to new thoughts and changes in my work. This has never more so than on my last two fellowships, which took place at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland in the fall of 2013 and 2014.  Both times I was able to stay for six weeks and to immerse myself in the daily life of the small Irish village of Ballycastle, and in the stimulating and congenial atmosphere of the Foundation where artists come together from various parts of the world.

At the root of my memories and sensory impressions of the West of Ireland are the dramatic coastal cliffs,  richly textured boglands, patinas of old boats and buildings,  Neolithic ruins, and the dramatic skies that characterize the region.  I was moved every day by Mayo’s beauty and long history. As an abstract painter, the imagery I work with is filtered through these emotional responses, in ways that I hope convey some essence of this remarkable landscape

 
Thursday, January 01, 2015
  looking back, looking ahead
2014 ended quietly for me, a glass of wine, a good book, and asleep by eleven. But the year itself was an exhilarating ride, full of milestones and expanding horizons. I look back with gratitude to all that has happened, and ahead with a sense of momentum and possibility. 

It was a year of travel, from Florida to Vancouver Island, to North Carolina and finally back to my beloved County Mayo, Ireland. In the middle of all of that were several treasured months at home during one of the most beautiful Wisconsin summers I can recall. The autumn colors before I left for Ireland were spectacular. 

our woods, October 2014


It was my fourth time in Ireland, and my second stay at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Mayo. On each visit I have felt a deeper connection and a relaxation into the flow of my work and the simple life in the village. This time, a highlight was spending time with my younger brother Hugh, who came over for two weeks--the first time in almost forty years that we've had the luxury of a prolonged one on one visit. I also taught two workshops with wonderful students (there is something about Ballinglen that bonds those who come for class in a special way.) I also enjoyed the company of other artist/fellows in the congenial atmosphere surrounding the Foundation, and outings to the coast and the boglands.


My brother Hugh at Benwee Head, in County Mayo, Ireland. 

Other great teaching experiences of 2014 included working with very focused and excited groups of cold wax students in Delray Beach, Florida, British Columbia, Mineral Point, WI, Cullowhee, NC and in my home studio.  I also taught a new type of workshop at the beautiful Lake Logan Retreat Center in NC. It was not specific to cold wax, but dealt with broader issues of abstraction in various media-- including monoprinting and acrylic painting--with a focus on small works on paper. 


students discussing their work at Lake Logan NC workshop

2014 was also a year of success for my own work with my highest level of sales and income to date--a total of 53 sales, from small works on paper to large commissioned paintings (including a series of five large paintings for the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.) I was excited to participate via Gormleys Fine Art of Dublin (where I had a solo exhibit in September) in Affordable Art Fairs in London and Brussels--the first time I have exhibited and sold internationally outside of Ireland. 

Ancient of Days, 36"x48" --sold in London by Gormleys fine Art of Dublin

Another highlight of 2014 was the sale of five large paintings via Telluride Gallery of Fine Art to the Lumiere Hotel in Telluride, CO, and several works that sold as a result of a spring group show I was part of at The PS Gallery in Columbia, MO. Thomas Deans Gallery, Woodwalk Gallery, Brewery Pottery Gallery and Elaine Erickson Gallery  all made sales too, and friends, colleagues and people in my workshops bought a number of pieces from me directly. This amazing year has brought hope that the economy has turned for the better and that other artists too are enjoying a return of sales. 

The year ended with a newly cleaned and organized studio, and the hiring of a studio assistant--my first ever. And there was the surprise and honor of being chosen from among 550 entries for Huffington Post art blogger John Seed's picks of Memorable Paintings of 2014.  

Red Bog, 48"x36"--published on the Huffington Post




My newly organized studio!

What's ahead for 2015? Lots more travel for teaching, including an expansion of the ideas launched with the Lake Logan workshop of '14--this time the setting will be in Taos, NM in April, at the famous Mabel Dodge Luhan house/conference center. Called the Poetics of Place, the workshop will include interaction with poet Cecilia Woloch, who also taught at Lake Logan, and her students. 

I'll be exploring another new workshop format in May with my friend and colleague Janice Mason Steeves, as we co-teach an abstraction/cold wax class at Ricklungarden, an artists' residencey in northern Sweden. (Jan and I will stay on and paint for three weeks after the class ends.) I'll be back at Lake Logan in September and at Ballinglen (Ireland) in October and November. I'll also be teaching several other classes around the country and in my studio in Wisconsin. I plan to send out a newsletter soon with complete details on all my workshops in 2015; please join my mailing list here  (scroll down the page ) if you'd like to receive that information. 

Currently I am preparing for five exhibits in January (and feeling grateful for my new assistant!) I am quite excited to be chosen by Gormleys fine Art for their booth at The London Fair  that opens January 21. The London Fair is considered the premier fair for modern and contemporary art in the UK.  

Fissures #1, 42"x40" oil and mixed media on panel. --to be exhibited at The London Fair

I'm also having a solo show at the public library in Eau Claire, WI that opens January 15--it the closest exhibition space to my home and quite a nice public space. I look forward to sharing my work with people I know in the area--I haven't shown locally for ten years and it seems time. The exhibit will focus on paintings created as a result of my last two residencies at Ballinglen. 

The other exhibits I'm participating in this month are group shows: Colors of Fire at Telluride Gallery in CO; Breaking Through Surface Tension at Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, and Geologic Time at Conrad Wilde Gallery, also in Tucson. I'll be flying to Tucson for the opening at the college on Feb. 12th, where I will also be speaking and later teaching a workshop (which has been filled.) 

SO...that's a lot. If 2015 is anything like 2014, I'll have times when I feel overwhelmed...when it seems I cannot possibly meet my commitments and deadlines.  I am familiar with a feeling of stress when things pile up--because of course nothing comes along in neat linear order. There are aspects of every workshop, exhibit and project that must be planned far in advance, often in the midst of some other demanding situation, But over time I feel I'm getting better at coping with this level of activity and demand--more able to relax and believe that it will be all be done. 

My challenge, and my goal for the coming year is to cultivate trust that my plans will unfold as they are meant to, and will evolve with sense of ease, enjoyment and accomplishment. And to all of my artist friends--may the New Year bring you ever closer to your own goals and desires, and may you find pleasure and excitement in all the surprising turns of your creative journey.









 
Thursday, December 18, 2014
  intention and intuition
Sralagagh #3. 16"x20" oil and mixed media on panel

The questions and mysteries that an artist encounters on a journey into abstraction are plentiful and deep, and at the core of this questioning is the search for personal meaning--for finding an individual path and for working holistically with emotion, memory, thought, and visual impressions. Ideally, with practice, a vocabulary of meaning and intentional form begins to grow, alongside techniques and aspects of style that resonate with the inner self.

When an abstract painter's approach relies upon intuition, spontaneity and involvement in process, thought and intention are often seen as inhibiting factors to be overcome. In this view, spontaneity and intention oppose rather than being complementary to one another. The common advice is to avoid thinking, evaluating, judging or pre-conceiving while painting in this way.

But without intentions--without ideas and thoughts underlying the work--abstract painting can become very inconsistent, pulled here and there by happy accidents and the many suggestions that the paint itself offers up.  If the artist doesn't refer to experience, emotion, or memory (or, in more formal work to some conceptual idea that intrigues) a lack of personal connection to the work can undermine its power and potential for growth. This problem extends to the ability of the work to impact those who view it, because without a source of ideas or expression, the work lacks a solid base from which to communicate.

On the other hand, without spontaneity, openness and experimentation, an artist risks becoming rigid, hemmed in by preconceived boundaries. The ideas behind the work need to be expansive enough to allow for roaming about, exploring, testing, and breaking new ground.

Often when I'm teaching workshops, I am challenged to articulate the balance that exists between having basic parameters and intentions for the work,  while at the same time remaining open to changes and new directions as things progress. It can be tricky tor any artist to recognize when thinking has slipped into over-thinking--when strong ideas or judgments have led to limitations that are stifling growth. Likewise, freely applying paint can be so fascinating that it's hard to step back and see objectively what the painting lacks in terms of presence, meaning, or resolution.

For me, the key to being in the zone where intention and intuition are balanced--with neither blocking the other-- is to tune in to my gut feelings as I work. When I'm having negative feelings about a painting--when I'm bored, frustrated, impatient, or it seems I am getting nowhere--it's a sign that I have lost this important alignment.  It means that I am either over-thinking, or else I'm too caught up in  "pushing paint around" ( a phrase I attribute to my friend James Edward Scherbarth.) Or sometimes it is a strange combination of both, when I have too strong a pre-conceived idea and think I will get there by a lot of random paint -pushing.

An important step in developing my own work has been to realize that intention and intuition come from the same inner source, are equally important, and that although they manifest in different ways they are not basically at odds with one another. For me, the balance between them comes in recognizing and developing certain aspects of the painting as it evolves--those that resonate with my ideas, that feel right and true to me, that represent what I wish to express and communicate. 






 
Thursday, November 27, 2014
  essence

I'm back from six weeks in Ireland, to the wintry, frozen landscape that surrounds my home. Though the contrast between this snowy world and that of north Mayo--with its rugged green pastures, rich tapestry of bog plants and ever-changing sea colors--is startling, the Wisconsin countryside has its own wild beauty right now.  It is stark, with only subtle color in the fields and woods, and the cold and snow are constant reminders of nature's power--all aspects of nature with which I resonate as a painter.



In this way, winter may be the perfect season for my transition back to my home studio, because although visually very different from Ireland, there is some essence of the landscape around me now that provides continuity. I am intrigued by this quote from the American minimalist painter Agnes Martin:
The artist lives by perception. So that what we make is what we feel. The making of something is not just construction. It’s all about feeling… everything, everything is about feeling…. feeling and recognition!
What an interesting remark from someone whose work is generally perceived as austere and controlled! She did indeed work from joy and an emotional response to the visual world, filtered through her perceptions. 

During my time in Ireland, I taught two workshops in cold wax medium, during which I encouraged everyone to get out, soak up the textures, colors and forms of the surroundings and bring something of the personal response to that experience back into the studio.This interaction with the landscape is an important aspect of my own work, but asking it of the students led me to examine the process more closely. 

For me, the landscape and all that contributes to its unique character have long been powerful sources for painting ideas.  While I am drawn to the visual appearance of the landscape, it's the symbolic or poetic aspects of nature that provide personal meaning. I see the ways in which our emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical selves reflect the processes in nature of erosion, stratification, growth and collapse. I see its rich textures and colors as metaphor for the complexities of human life and its contrasts as evocative of our own struggles and challenges. 



So, what I am after in my work is a distillation or essence of the experience of being in nature as a whole. I may feel at one with nature as a living creature, but I am also set apart by the inner complexities that come with being human...feelings, memories, ideas and thoughts. While observation of the visual reality is the starting point, the work is both an inner response and an outward observation. When I am in landscapes that are rugged, textural, atmospheric and dramatic, I feel a wonderful merging of inner and outer realities...this is what feeds my work. 





However, I sometimes question whether this approach makes the work overly ego-centered, too much about myself or humans in general and not enough about what simply IS, without emotional interpretation. I do see such incredible perfection in all visual aspects of nature- the spread of lichen on a rock, the tangle of bare branches against the sky, the shifting clouds. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to paint. Nothing can approach the beauty of what has already been created in the natural world.



My answer to the dilemma is to take photographs of those perfect aspects. To me, photography comes closest to being an objective eye on what IS, apart from human interpretation (though of course, there is always interpretation, even in the choosing and cropping of images.) So, I take many photos when I am out in nature, for their own sake.   Not to work from in the studio, or even to refer to as a regular practice. 

But they do serve another purpose, because in the moment of choosing the image, focusing on some aspect of nature and clicking, I have also made an inner connection that becomes part of the mix that finds its way onto my panels. There's no escaping--nor desire to escape --the fact that I'm moved to my core by what I see and experience in nature. For me it's about seeking an essence that resonates with my inner self, while responding to and respecting the outward appearances of landscape.   


(Fissures #2, 42"x36" oil and mixed media on panel, painted while on residency at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland.)


 
Thursday, November 06, 2014
  ballycastle, mid-way
I'm three weeks into my time at Ballinglen Arts Foundation, and the time has unfolded in ways that encompass all of my favorite aspects of North Mayo. I've enjoyed walks on the bog and along the wild seacoast cliffs, time in my studio, and good craic--seeing friends from last year and making some new ones. My younger brother Hugh is here for a week and a half which has been a lot of fun. He has a car, which has meant some good explorations in the afternoons after I've had my painting time. Tomorrow we leave to spend the weekend in the Burren, a geologically fascinating part of County Clare that I have only had a tantalizing glimpse of driving through a few years ago.

The introductory Oil&Wax workshop last week went very well--it included trips out into the land/seascape to gather ideas for abstraction, lots of painting, and good times enjoying the wonderful camaraderie of the international group of artists who came. 



If there's any problem here in Irish paradise it is that there is so much I want to be doing that the days all end too soon. I can already see that I won't come away with the number of paintings that I did last year. Teaching two workshops (there is another coming up that begins the 17th) and going exploring most afternoons has cut into my painting time. But I remind myself that sometimes the most important things done on a residency are not the actual paintings but the acquiring of memories and connections to the landscape. I find myself paying attention to different aspects of the surroundings here than I did last year--looking more closely than before at the tapestry of bog plants, the configuration of rocks in the sea, and the way that the earthy colors glow in the damp, dark weather.  





Another reason i will have fewer paintings to take home is that I have spent most of my time on two fairly large panels that i will send over to Gormley's Fine Art (my gallery in Dublin) at the end of my time here. They will be featured at Gormley's booth at the Art Fair in London in January. I am pleased with that project and will post the results when the paintings are done (getting close!)

It all goes back to my earlier post from Ballinglen--the idea of taking things easy, letting them unfold. Although there have been relatively few times of true quiet and solitude, there have been many other kinds of experiences to savor.  
 
Sunday, October 19, 2014
  back in ballycastle

 
 
As I write this, it is my first night back in Ballycastle, County Mayo, where I came last year for the first time for a fellowship at Ballinglen Arts Foundation.  I have the same cottage as last year, and have spent the evening settling in, making some food, having a glass of wine by the peat fire (that I’ve remembered how to coax into life!)  A sweet, sad flute melody is playing in the background--there is no internet in the cottage, or phone, or TV. Only the radio, a program tonight of traditional Irish instrumental music.

In unpacking and making the space mine again for the next five weeks, I was amused to recognize a fossil rock on the bathroom windowsill as one I put there last year (in spite of the plea in the orientation packet not to leave fossils and rocks in the cottage, lots of the artists seem to do it!) In the cupboard, I discovered a mostly empty packet of popcorn that I bought last year at a fruit and veg stand—pleased then to find a snack I love at home but which is not part of typical Irish fare.  It seems a few other artists have enjoyed its contents in the interval since I left it there in November, 2013. These small, quirky signs of my former presence make me smile.

And so I am back in a place that is a kind of home for me.  Tomorrow I’ll set up my studio, take a walk on the beach if it isn’t pouring.  Or, in between the times when it will be pouring, which is to be expected.

For months I’ve thought about being back here, sometimes as a brief flash, other times with outright yearning.  I’ve been conjuring up memories and sensory impressions all year in my paintings and works on paper—of walking on the bog and along the coast, the rough textures of rock and lichen, the traces of ancient people on the landscape, the wild surf.  As well, I have revisited memories of life here, the peace of days focused on my work, the friendliness of the people in the village, the simplicity of having no outside demands, the walks home in the dark evening, stopping at the little grocery for dinner food, the occasional night at the pub with others from Ballinglen.

On this, my first night of this year’s stay, I’m feeling impatient to dive into these experiences again and eager for whatever will be new.  But I’m also remembering that this is a place that unfolds in subtle ways, and fully coming back will take a little time.  My deep feelings for this part of Mayo evolved over the whole six weeks I spent here in 2013--as one experience led to another, my work found direction,  insights re-enforced one another, and the people I met became better known to me.  Even the landscape and seascape, as dramatic as they are, did not fully impact me all at once—instead, each time I went out walking I took in more.

Tonight as I listen to the Irish flute, sip my wine and watch the fire, I'm thinking I want to take things slow and easy.  It’s challenging to shift out of the intense pace of life at home, where I work constantly and have many responsibilities of home and family. Here, I can simply sit and do nothing but experience the moment...rediscover the quiet inside in which my experiences here will fully resonate.
 
Thursday, October 09, 2014
  off to ireland


In a few days, I return to Ireland for my fourth stay in as many years. This year, as I did in 2013, I will be an artist in residence at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo. Each time I return, it feels more and more like a place in which my soul is at home.

This is a quick post, as I have so much to do before I leave. But I'd like to share this blessing by the Irish writer and philosopher John O'Donohue, called For the Traveler. In it, O'Donohue speaks about the kind of travel that opens a channel between inner as outward experience, that involves intention, intuition and attention, and it brings to mind so many of my experiences in Ireland so far.

I'll be posting more soon from the other side of the big pond!



For the Traveler
Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

 

       www.rebeccacrowell.com




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