I've been away from home for over two weeks now, traveling first in Croatia and Italy with my husband, Don, and now settled at Cascina Rodiani in Drezzo (in northern Italy near Como) for teaching two 6-day workshops. The first class is over and new students are arriving today. As someone who craves solitude, I have welcomed this small break. But I'm very grateful for all that has happened on this adventure so far, and for the many interesting interactions with people of various cultures and backgrounds.
My thoughts about the effects of travel continue...in my last post I talked about recent changes in my work, and that I've become less interested in interpreting specific locations and more in a wider conceptual expression. But because life and art never seem to move in a predictable, linear way, in Drezzo I once again feeling the effects of specific location. It makes sense, with so many visual impressions from travel and new experiences. Now is a time to gather up ideas that may eventually fit in with the larger direction in my work.
On this trip II've been soaking up color --the brightly painted houses in small villages, piles of fruits and vegetables in the market, beautifully arranged plates of food at nearly every meal, and rich patinas like on the old wine barrel below.
I also love the quieter palette of white buildings with red tile roofs, the subtle green of the olive trees, the pale nuances of marble. During our time in Florence with my friend Allison B. Cooke and her husband, I took dozens of closeup photos of old walls and fragments of frescoes seen in the churches of San Marco and Santa Maria Novella; there is a particular feeling in these ancient, worn surfaces of pale greens, gold, blues and pinks that strikes a deep chord.
So, in Italy, color has been on my mind in the works on paper I've done as class demos and on the side. It's an interest that has been brewing in certain works back at home, and I feel I am picking up some new visual ideas to carry back with me.
14"x11" oil/cold wax on paper....
an evolving idea
|untitled as yet; 42"x36" oil/mixed media on panel|
A change has been underway in my work over the past year --a move toward more defined shape, and higher contrast, and more developed use of line. These changes in the form of my imagery have been coupled with a shift in what the work means to me--its content.
While I have long tied my imagery to specific places in which I have spent time such Ireland, Sweden, New Mexico and New Zealand, I find myself increasingly involved in ideas that are less referential. Although my specific experiences in these places remain very important, underlying my current work is something more universal and spiritual than geographic. I feel like I am finding my way into a bigger idea--an expression of the rightness and order of the natural world, encompassing some of its intriguing dichotomies--fragility and power, movement and stillness, peace and violence, present moment and timelessness.
In earlier posts I've written about moments of strong emotional connection in various wild, rugged places on my travels, and that these moments take hold as memories that feed my work. In the past few years with all the travel I have done, these memories have piled one upon another. I wonder if it is the accumulation of so many of these memories that have pushed me into the current changes in my work, That maybe what I am doing is attempting an integration of these experiences, drawing on what unites them. (A simplified overview; the shift has taken many months with various influences, processes, observations and intentions in play--perhaps material for a future post.)
|untitled as yet; 60"x36" oil and mixed media on panel|
In the painting above, I recognize the source of the strong shapes as the dramatic coastal areas of Ireland and New Zealand, where I have spent time in the past year, but I feel that I've pushed these shapes in a more iconic and symbolic direction. Though the painting is certainly related to past work, I am thinking about it in a different way, and perhaps that is the real key to making changes. In my work overall, I'm experiencing a welcome release from identifying my work with specific place memories, which was usually the case in the past.
In some of my new paintings, color plays a strong role in the form of bright glazes over dark underlying areas. Again I am feeling a freedom in using color for pure visual and emotional impact, apart from any direct reference to my memories, yet evocative of nature's contrasts.
|untitled as yet: 16"x16" oil/mixed media on panel|
None of the paintings in this post have titles...which shows that I am still in a little uncertain about how I want to describe them. The past months have been a time of transition; the piece below took many weeks to resolve and was the first in which I felt I'd found a place to land for a while. A struggle yes, but invigorating. The journey is young and I'm excited by the possibilities opening up.
|untitled as yet: 42"x36" oil/mixed media on panel|
New Mexico reflections
I’ve been in
New Mexico for five weeks now, as work progresses on the old adobe building
that will be our winter home. We’re
fortunate to have some very skilled and dedicated workers, all local guys, who
not only roof, patch up adobe and plaster, pour concrete, and build bancos, but
also offer helpful suggestions about how to approach some of the unique aspects
of adobe remodeling. Watching their work makes me truly appreciate the
connection between adobe buildings and the land, and the long traditions
involved in making these earth homes beautiful and practical.
goes on around me, my days are mostly centered around painting, walking,
staring at rocks and sunsets, meeting new people, and generally enjoying this
unique environment. It’s all still so new and amazing to me that I have a lot
of moments that strike me as unreal. Driving up the spectacular Rio Grande
gorge on my way to buy groceries in Taos, it’s hard to believe that I’m on a routine errand. Picking my way
up the rocky terrain behind our house, with its vast views on all sides, I try
to take in that this is home for at least part of the year.
incredibly grateful to be here and for me, the best way to express this is
through my work. I’ve been painting some fairly large panels (36”x48”) as well
as smaller works on panel and paper. I continue to see the effects of this
arid, angular and textural environment in my work. In some ways, this feels
fresh and new, and in other ways there is a continuation of ideas that began
back in Ireland in the fall--such as including more distinctive shapes and
higher contrast. That seems right to me, that form can shift to accommodate new
input yet retain the threads of ideas that are worth exploring.
|Azure, 36x48" oil/coldwax/pigments on panel|
studio, one of two outbuildings on the property, is tiny and closed-in compared
to the one in Wisconsin—I have about 12 feet each way of usable floor space,
and just one small, unglazed window, which I need to keep covered on chillier
days. I have several strong, LED lights
and spotlights, so the lighting is OK—it’s more that the lack of windows gives
it the feeling of being in a cave! When my window is covered, the day can go
from light to dark without me ever realizing it. But on sunny, warm winter days
though (such a treat to a Wisconsinite) I can open my front door to let in
light and air.
such a small space is something of a challenge. But I am adapting. I brought only minimal supplies from
Wisconsin, so there’s not much clutter, and the bancos (built-in low shelves or
seats that reinforce the structure) provide a flat surface against three walls
for storage and work space. Shortly after I got here, I answered an ad in the
local newsletter from someone selling studio supplies, and acquired a wonderful
adjustable drawing table, two floor lights, and a few other useful items.
I have to
smile a bit when I think of the chapter about setting up a studio in our
upcoming book (Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations, with
Jerry McLaughlin.) A lot of our advice about working surfaces and storage would
not apply at all in my current space! But we also make the point that a dedicated
artist can work anywhere, and I seem to be testing that theory at the moment.
In the future, I hope that something larger and airier can be built on our
property here. But in the meantime, what I have here is more than fine.
As I write
this, I am in the midst of packing and organizing to leave tomorrow for three
weeks. It seems odd to be uprooting
myself from this place in which I’m settling in and enjoying so thoroughly. But
I’m also very excited about the next phase—New Zealand! I’ll be teaching two workshop sessions at
Takapuna Art Supply in Auckland, assisted by my friend and co-author Jerry
McLaughlin. I’ll also be enjoying the company of another dear friend, Norma
Hendrix, who is the director of the Cullowhee Mountain Arts program. We’ll all have some time for travel and
relaxing together, as well as teaching. I look forward very much to this time
of exploring the area, working with students both new and from the past, and
experiencing a new culture.
To end on a
reflective note, I have debated with myself about whether to post these good
things in my life, at a time when many of us are coping with daily news of drastic
changes in our country. I know that the
blessings in my own life make it relatively easy for me to hold on to joy,
optimism and gratitude. Yet I also believe that Goodness is a universal and
unifying principle. As many others have said recently, holding onto the beauty
and positive aspects of life is what keeps us moving forward. I hope that we can all continue to share and
appreciate what is happy, abundant and joyful in our lives.