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.
outer / inner
Although I admire and respond to a lot of pure, non-referential abstract painting, my own work has never been in that camp. I've always abstracted from
a visual source.
For the past twenty years or so, my fascination has been the intersection between the outer, visual world and the inner world of memories, feelings, ideas and responses to my experiences. Almost always the outer,visual input in my work comes from landscape and nature. (You can read earlier blog posts on this topic here
The exact mixture of outer and inner elements varies with every stage of every painting, and as time goes by, the search for the perfect balance compels me as much as it did when I was just beginning. My favorite paintings are the ones in which I sense a clear connection to my outer source material, but transform it with meaning that arises from my inner vision and intent.
|the studio at Ricklundgarden|
I've recently returned from an artist residency at Ricklundgarden
, in northern Sweden (see previous May/June posts for photos and commentary.) While I was immersed in that spectacular landscape, my paintings were fairly direct references to my surroundings, especially in terms of color and texture. Ice and snow, rocks, lichen, and birch bark all contributed to images that emerged in the Ricklundgarden studio. When I am on an artist residency, and inspired by new and unique landscape, I feel I am taking visual notes as I paint. The beauty and energy in the work I do while on residency lies in its directness and spontaneity. I try to take in and respond to as many aspects of the visual landscape as I can while I'm there. Although the more thoughtful and conceptual aspects of my work are always present to some extent, they play a secondary role during those few precious weeks of soaking up the visual world and responding to it in the studio. There is a free flow to the work that I do after spending time outside soaking up the unique beauty around me. That is enough, and very satisfying. Below are two photos, one of a small work on paper and one of the ice melt on Kult Lake that inspired it.
|Kultsjon, 6"x4" mixed media on paper|
Now that I'm back in my own studio and working on larger, more developed paintings, though, a new process begins, one of filtering and mixing my visual impressions with ideas, memories and feelings. The paintings I did at Ricklundgarden are now source material themselves--my visual notes. I have them spread out on a table and sort through them often, looking, remembering, and analyzing.
Below is a small painting I did at Ricklundgarden in response to the birch trees that grew everywhere. Especially when I first arrived and the world there was smooth and white with snow, I was drawn to the complex textures, colors and lines in the bark. I played around with these in a number of small works on paper.
Now here are two larger paintings I have done since coming home. My visual source in nature is birch bark once again, but less obviously so than in the smaller work done in Sweden. What have stayed with me are the colors, and the lines that appear on the bark that look almost like drawings. As I worked with line on these paintings, I had the sense that I was drawing maps of my memories of travel in Lappland, the meandering walks and the several road trips that my friend and fellow resident artist, Janice Mason Steeves
, and I took.
So, a shift happened that I value in my more developed, larger work--a synthesis of both my inner space as well as what I see and observe became integral to the painting. When this happens, it helps me to know the painting is finished. I'm excited to see what other ideas emerge from my time in Sweden as well as how this particular thread will play out.
|Travels in Lappland #1, 40"x40" oil and mixed media on panel|
|Travels in Lappland #2, 36"x48" oil and mixed media on panel|
|the sky at 1 a.m. this morning....|
It's my last day here at Ricklundgarden
, the artist's residency in Northern Sweden where I have been living and working for the past month. Along with my friend and colleague, Janice Mason Steeves, I will fly tomorrow to Stockholm for a few days of seeing the sights, and then to Toronto on the 10th. On the 12th I'll start my drive from her place to Wisconsin and home, sweet home.
It's cold and rainy outside, and a good day for getting ready to leave. Along with packing and cleaning, yesterday we also finished writing one of our co-blog posts--an ongoing project in which we have a conversation about a particular topic. This one is about our time at Ricklundgarden
. Click here
to read our thoughts.
It's been a very productive time--I've done almost 70 paintings, most of them small and quick, others more developed. That's a lot to take home and contemplate. Here is a photo of my studio taken a few days ago from the little balcony overhead, and the other showing the view from that balcony window.
There is much to consider about this residency, and I know my views about it will continue to evolve after I leave, and gain some distance on it. The influences may be subtle, woven in with other ideas and experiences, or they may be more direct. The mystery and magic of the intuitive process is that from all that is taken in--visually, emotionally, experientially--what persists and takes on the most meaning over time cannot be predicted.
a creative loop
Last weekend, Janice Mason Steeves and I paid a visit to the Swedish city of Umeå
on the opposite side of the country from where we are staying for a month at Ricklundgarden
(an artist residency in Saxnas.) While we both love the quietness and remote location of Ricklundgarden, a few days of exploring another location and being among flowers and greenery was very appealing. We thoroughly enjoyed the museums, shops and other delights of the city.
On our return, we stopped at Umedalens Skulpturpark
, a sculpture park on the city's outskirts, and spent an hour or so wandering among the works on display, some by well known artists such as Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois and Antony Gormley. The sculptures are scattered around the extensive grounds of a complex of buildings, once a psychiatric institution, and today an office park and school. We had a map, but even so, we had to search for some of the sculptures, and a few fit into the surroundings so well--or were otherwise somewhat concealed-- that we almost passed them by. It was an entertaining sort of hide and seek to find and identify what we could. Some of the sculptures had an interactive element, including one of our favorites...
|Cristina Iglesias, Vegetation Room VII, 2000|
After leaving this immersion into a sculptural world, we both noticed that ordinary objects around us (trash bins, road markers) suddenly took on the aura of art objects. We had undergone a shift in perception that allowed us to notice the form and presence of things normally unseen. I've experienced the same phenomenon after leaving the studios or exhibits of certain artists who caused me to see differently, or more acutely, at least for a short time--a particular focus brought on by the artist's interpretation of the visual world.
I've also noticed the same thing with my own work--that after a day of being immersed in painting, I see more texture, color, contrast and detail in the world around me. The act of putting down color and manipulating paint seems to open up my own vision, and I leave the studio seeing through a painterly lens. I suspect this must be a fairly universal experience for those of us who spend hours in the studio. It is certainly helpful for generating continued ideas and direction--a creative loop in which the work and visual experience feed one another.
I am thinking about how creative loop works for me here at Ricklundgarden, where I am surrounded by a spectacular landscape that changes every day with the melting of snow and ice and the gradual appearance of spring. I'm spending time outside every day, and constantly looking out my windows when I'm inside, given the incredible views I have of mountains and lake in a world that never seems to actually get dark (there are a few hours of dusk around midnight to 3a.m.) I take a lot of photos and soak in every visual experience. But I notice that my sensitivities to the landscape are especially open when I go out in the evening, after a day of painting.
My work is not about the visual experience alone, though--it also comes from the emotions I feel in this remote, majestic place. The power in the contrast of ice, snow and rock, in the changing weather and the flowing of the water moves me. There is also a sense of mystery about what lies beneath the surface of the snow and ice. Every day that moves toward spring allows rocks and plants emerge that we did not see before. The grounds around Ricklundgarden that seemed so smooth and gently contoured with snow when we first came are now revealing their rugged and stony character, and the accessible parts of the lake shore constantly expand. As Jan and I head out for our evening walks, there is a feeling of childlike play in exploring the woods and shore. There are also bicycles for us to use, which are really fun. I feel about 10 years old when I take one down the road to the grocery or to my favorite waterfall spot down the road.
All of this experience is important to my paintings, which evolve intuitively, based on what I feel about the surroundings here as well as what I observe. As on other residencies in beautiful, remote places, being out in the landscape--walking, photographing, and just soaking it all up-- is the other half of what makes being here worthwhile. The creative loop of allowing the landscape to feed my work, and my work in turn opening me up to the landscape, is a rich experience.
A photo below of an ice formation taken after a day in the studio that involved a lot of white paint...
Below are some of my recent paintings, that come from the idea of what lies beneath the snow and is now emerging, and the visual delights of snow and ice contrasted with stone and ground cover. Both are currently untitled--top one is 10"x8", lower one is 12"x12", oil and cold wax.
Two weeks ago today, my friend Janice Mason Steeves
and I talked and giggled our way through the Toronto airport (already anticipating a fun trip together) and flew overnight to Stockholm, Sweden. We spend one jet-lagged, lovely evening wandering around the oldest part of the city, before departing again the next morning on a tiny plane to Vilhelmina, in the far northern part of the country. Although we were a bit shocked by the amount of snow still on the ground (knee-deep in places at Ricklundgarden
, an artist residency in Lappland-our destination) the striking beauty of the silvery-white landscape soon revealed itself. Within the first few days we were out on snow shoes and loving the experience of being out in the snowy world, with its vistas of lake and mountains. The warmth and green of spring at home has come to seem very far away.
Now I can see it would have been a shame to have missed this end of winter display--the contrasts of dark stone and sheer white tundra, the ever-widening clear water on the mostly still frozen lake, and the first small flowers and birds appearing. Some days, spring is in the air, the sun is warm and the piles of snow shrinking almost visibly. Others, like today are gray with light snow coming down. From what we hear, real spring is still weeks away--probably coming near the end of our time here.
All last week we co-taught a workshop in abstract painting with cold wax medium, to a small but dedicated group who made the somewhat complicated journey here. Teaching and painting time were supplemented with other activities which added essential depth to the experience, along with some fun social times.
A highlight for everyone was our day out, when we visited a spectacular waterfall area not too far from Saxnas, called Trappstegsforsen, in the morning. There were places where we could get right to the water's edge.
That afternoon, we drove to Stekenjokk, a region above the tree line on the road to Norway. The road itself which was closed to traffic at some point, as it is still being cleared of snow. We left the car then and walked through a landscape so sublime, it was like a dream of a smooth, still ,white world.
Now that class has ended, Janice and I are enjoying the next few weeks as time for our own work and exploration; we have until early June here as artists in residence. I've been working in mixed media on various kinds of paper, mostly quite small, with visual ideas taken from the contrasts and textures of the landscape. I have especially enjoyed working with egg tempera, seen in the examples below. As always when I'm on a residency, I spend a good deal of time out in the landscape taking it all in, and then allow imagery to emerge intuitively in my work.
I'll post more images of my paintings next time. Painting, reading, writing, walking, exploring and visiting take up the days. Gerd Ulander, the director of Ricklundgarden, has been a wonderful resource and host on our various excursions, and she is ever gracious and spontaneous. Just this morning, a ride she gave us to the grocery store evolved into a drive to a vista point atop a nearby hill, and a stop at the local church that features a striking mural of the Good Samaritan story by the Swedish figurative painter Kalle, who spent time at Ricklundgarden in the mid-20th century. We shall miss her when she leaves tomorrow for an extended trip away, but she has helped us to plan several more adventures for our remaining days here.
To be continued...
I'm writing this in a transitional time, organizing and packing for five weeks in Sweden, most of them at Ricklundgarden
in the far north of the country. That is where my friend Janice Mason Steeves
and I will be teaching a workshop, followed by an artist residency for our own work. The trip is only a few days away now, and as always before a big trip, details and loose ends loom enormously.
My brain is tired from decision-making. Some of the decisions are pretty trivial--the blue sweater or the white one? Some seem more crucial, especially the ones about art materials--how much paper, which tubes of paint, how many colors of pastel? It all gets down to prioritizing space in the limited contents and weight of a suitcase and carry-on.
But of course, it's all in preparation for an opportunity I am thrilled to have, so I need to keep that perspective! And taking time out for my blog is a nice break from all the details of my to-do list.
|The Silence Of Ancient Surfaces, 32"x48" oil and mixed media on panel|
Interestingly, the brain fatigue from making so many choices seems very similar to what I generally experience at the end of a painting day--when I am often more mentally fatigued than physically. While I am perfectly able to continue putting down paint, my brain can take no more. Even though the choices I make while painting are intuitive and spontaneous for the most part, choices are still being made below the surface of my awareness. Somehow, these intuitive moves seem to be as consuming of energy as those pondered more consciously (and there are plenty of those as well.)
I'm often amazed at the number of decisions required to "make something out of nothing", to go from a blank panel to a finished work. Especially in process-generated abstraction, in which the journey shapes the work, every step along the way is a choice of direction. Countless decisions are made, over the course of one day, and over all the days it takes to complete a painting. Including of course, the final, difficult one of knowing when the work is done.
As with any project (including packing for a trip) the decisions begin broadly with choices of panel and general concept, and become more and more precise and fine in the stages of editing and revising. I have always been picky about the last phase--the fine-tuning of my work. Adding bits here and there, standing back, living with it all for a few days to see what else might need a small tweak. I love this stage, when it seems that any small changes are all for the good. For me, this time for making small adjustments is crucial in order to feel the work is truly finished. I'm looking for the point at which nothing more needs to be added or deleted, and then I call it done.
The painting posted above, The Silence of Ancient Surfaces
, is one I recently brought to completion. The final details, a series of dark markings with charcoal across the surface, brought a satisfying depth that I had felt was lacking before that step.
Now I'm smiling, thinking back to my packing-for-a-trip analogy. Today is the day for fine-tuning. Musing about the decisions involved in painting make packing seem pretty easy.
I'll be posting from Sweden next time, with photos and tales of the trip. I hope you will follow along!
thoughts and dreams
Recently my Swedish friend Asa Bostrom
published an interview
with me (conducted by email) on her blog (click here
to read.) She asked excellent questions about topics such as my studio practice and how I would describe the intersection of creativity and spirituality. I was really pleased to have my words available to both her Swedish speaking and English speaking followers. As far as I know, it's the first time my thoughts have been translated into another language.
Asa has also been very instrumental in organizing the upcoming workshop at Ricklundgarden
(an artists' residency in Northern Sweden) that my friend Janice Mason Steeves
and I will be teaching in just three weeks. I met Asa when she came to my workshop in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland in 2013. (I love the international aspect of all of this!) When she brought up the idea of a workshop in Sweden to me then, it seemed like a fantasy rather than something that would actually take place. In talking with Janice about it back then, one of us would often say, "Do you really
think that workshop in Sweden is going to happen?" In took Asa's persistence in finding a location and helping with many planning details to see the idea to realization. And of course, there have been many hours of work for Janice and myself as well--an awful lot of them at the keyboard, where neither of us prefers to spend our time. But all of it worthwhile; we are both now excitedly anticipating our time in Sweden.
|Ricklundgarden, Saxnas, Sweden|
Looking back, it seems that many events in my teaching life have begun as ideas that seem like dreams at first. Then, through many rounds of decision making, number crunching, and countless emails dealing with endless details, they have grown to reality.
I am thinking about this now, midway through teaching a workshop at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House
in Taos NM--a beautiful, historic adobe home that was visited by many Modernist painters, writers, and intellectuals of various sorts, starting in the early 1920s--Georgia O'Keeffe, DH Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Carl Jung, and Martha Graham among them. Today it is a lovely inn and conference center, steeped in the history of its famous owner and her visitors.
|The Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico|
The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has been in my thoughts for a long time. About ten years ago I was in Taos for a day and took a look around the house and grounds. I was impressed by the atmosphere and character of the place, and stories of its visitors. As I left that day, I thought, "Someday I want to come to a workshop here." That seemed a rather impossible dream with kids still in school, and finances tight.
|the classroom at Mabel Dodge Luhan House this week|
And yet, this week I'm not just attending, but teaching a workshop there. I feel so grateful for everything that has allowed my dreams to move forward into reality--even those hours at the computer, and the stress and uncertainties of planning. The time, gritty details and hard work are not the stuff of dreams, but they are
the necessary groundwork.
|Taos Mountain |
much to do
Since the day in mid-December when my son decided I needed an assistant and offered up a friend of his for the job, my studio has entered a new phase. With Kara's help, new shelves have replaced the rambling counters and piles of the past, and my smeared and dripped end wall has been freshly painted. Now workshop materials, various drawing and painting media, and printmaking supplies all have their places. Best of all, the floor space has opened up and the working area feels much more spacious.
When I first considered hiring Kara, I wasn't sure I'd have enough for her to do. Now I wonder how I did without her--there are plenty of chores as well as larger projects to take on. Since she started working here, she has been putting in about six hours a week at various jobs--she's taped and gessoed lots of panels, sorted out all of my powdered pigments, helped prepare for my shows in January (attaching hanging hardware, wires, and wrapping panels for transport), and organized supplies for my workshop in Tucson in February. Next week she'll help me set up for a studio workshop. Usually when she is busy with these things, I'm painting, and being able to hand off so many chores and turn to my work seems an amazing luxury.
Besides being a hard worker, Kara is also a smart problem-solver, and I find her input and energy very valuable when it comes to organizing. For example, when my paintings were returned from a recent solo show,and there was nowhere in my stuffed storage racks to put them, she took the initiative in dealing with this one remaining area of chaos in the studio. (In the past I'd have just piled them in some corner.) Organizing my inventory--both the paintings and the related data--is a project I have had in mind for years to conquer. Now every painting in the studio is photographed, wrapped and labeled, and Kara is about halfway through entering all data on all of my work that we can account for in Artwork Archive, a web-based platform that is easy to use for storing images and information.
As I experience now the difference it makes to have this help, I'm more aware than ever how much there is to do--always, every day--for those of us who rely on our art for a living. Like most artists in my position, I've done everything myself for years. I'm fortunate that my husband and son have also been able to pitch in with certain needs (such as transporting panels, crate-building, trash removal, and heating in winter.) But the list of tasks and responsibilities needed for making a living from art work and teaching is immense, and also so varied it can leave one feeling quite scattered. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is to always give painting due time, with the demands of business in its many guises.
Once a friend of mine told me that she imagined my life as an artist to be very relaxed and idyllic, lots of sipping tea and gazing at sunsets...to which I laughed out loud. It is deeply satisfying, rewarding, and exciting--yes! And there are indeed many lovely times, quiet and focused, alone with my work. But there's also stress, overload, and exhaustion. As hard as I work, as full as the days are with trying to keep everything going, there are forever loose ends fraying, follow-ups forgotten, and urgent emails buried in the inbox. It's easy to fall into a frustrated mind set in which the undone tasks loom large and seem crucial to moving forward, gaining more income and recognition. At these times, "que sera, sera" is a soothing thought.
Of course, I am wary of whining or complaining-- I love my work and my life, and am grateful even for the busyness and overload, since it means that things are happening and my career is growing. It is wonderful to be in charge of my own time, to shape my goals and feel pride and accomplishment in what I do. But I'm also feeling the urge to tell it like it is, to talk a little about the demands, the stress, and the more tedious aspects of keeping things going--not just for myself but in support of everyone living this crazy art life.
People often ask me how I do everything I do, and the simple answer is that I'm almost always working. To be able to spend a little more time painting and a little less on the more practical tasks of studio practice is a tremendous gift.