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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, December 03, 2018
  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. 

Dwelling, 48"x36 ", oil/cold wax on panel
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. 

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. 





 
Sunday, November 04, 2018
  knowing/not knowing

Yesterday I posted this photo on Facebook with an invitation to guess where it was taken and of what. There were lots of replies--most people made guesses ranging from the ordinary to the exotic, while others said they simply appreciated what they saw and preferred not to know the answer. The range of responses was intriguing to me. I had posted the photo as a kind of fun "mystery" but reading these comments led me into deeper thought.

There's an interesting tension in looking at an abstract photo, at least one that is direct (unaltered digitally or in a darkroom). We know that it originates in a literal, real-world source. But it also invites us to loose that identifiable source, to let go of the need to label or figure out. It's an intriguing dichotomy of knowing/not knowing. 

In contrast, an abstract painting, drawing, or print is clearly an invented form. The ideas or impressions at its source are many-layered, nuanced, hard to identify. Whatever we see or don't see in the work as viewers, we do realize that the artist alone has brought the image into existence. The knowing/not knowing tension is different than with an abstract photo--even if the viewer "knows" that there is an elephant in the painting (something I was once told about one of my own) it is clearly an act of imagination to claim that.  

But I think there are also similarities, due to what abstraction is about, no matter the media. While considerations of color, value, texture, shape, and line are needed to make both good realist photos and paintings, abstraction asks for another step, a shift in perception. To lose concrete labels, to enter a world where we see and respond to other factors--to pure visual experience, to expression of emotion, to unusual interpretations even when the source can be identified. 

Just now when I looked at my sofa, I saw this instead of a piece of furniture. 




And yesterday, as I walked toward my dark blue car, spattered with road mud and salt, I saw an intricate pattern of texture reminiscent of a Japanese woodcut...the source of the photo at the top of this page.  
 
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
  memories: spain
Near Mount Teleno, Maragatería, Spain 

The night I came back from my month in Spain, deep in jet-lagged sleep, I had a vivid dream. It was a dream without action, plot, or characters, and only the vaguest suggestion of place. I did have the impression that I was looking out over a landscape that was mostly arid and flat, with some mountains in the distance. So it reminded me of where I had been staying in the Maragatería region of Spain, but everything was veiled in radiant light--bright and glowing faintly gold--and no features of the land were distinct. 

In the dream I was just being there, just looking and observing, surrounded by an atmosphere of air and light. I had a feeling of an ancient place, of simplicity, peace and spirituality. When I woke up, I knew that the dream was a gift from my subconscious--a beautiful distillation of my time in Spain. 

I loved that gift because re-entry into ordinary life after from a deeply experienced trip tends to be overwhelming, and when I woke up that first morning at home, I had something powerful to hold onto. It seemed to me I felt less confused than I often do in the first few days because of that. The conscious mind remembers so many events, locations, people, and visual impressions, as well as the accompanying feelings, thoughts, and ideas. That's a lot to bring home, in addition to dozens of photos, artwork, maybe a rock or two--so much to process, especially if it's left to the conscious mind. Memory(and if you're lucky, a dream) can do a better job of making sense of things. 



small works on paper done in Spain: graphite, earth pigments, gouache

As well, painting intuitively, without pushing particular ideas, allows you to access your personal feeling of the essence of a place. I value the small, intuitive works on paper that I did in Spain as fragments of experience I was able to capture. They remind me of the simple buildings of the stone village, of the rugged terrain, of colors and textures of the region. But I know that for more developed work, it will take longer for the process to unfold. Over time, some memories will stand out as more meaningful, more powerful in their combination of visual impressions and emotion, and become part of my visual language. It's also true that even a very important experience may come through only in small and subtle ways, in mere glimpses of the stronger truth held inside. 

The dream I had about Spain was very powerful, but also ineffable; it will take time to express anything of what it offered me. Memories are a bit more accessible in the meantime. The painting below, which I finished after I got home, seems in its minimalism to embody the feeling of simplicity and calm I associate with the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, which is a constant presence in the region. I also sense the aridity of the environment and the simple geometry of many of the local buildings in this painting. 



Liminal, 48x36" oil/cold wax on panel

Soon I am off to my winter home in New Mexico, to be followed by a few weeks in San Miguel Allende for teaching. There will be new influences as a result--which is good, but I worry a little about losing the the connection in my heart and mind to this special place. Yet I can't believe that my time in Spain will not shape what lies ahead in my work. It was too powerful an experience not to do so. So we'll see what evolves...
 
Thursday, September 13, 2018
  thoughts from spain
Just over a week ago I was on a plane to Madrid. So much has happened since then it seems it was longer ago, but travel has a wonderful way of concentrating experiences and stretching the sense of time. I am sharing this trip with my dear friend Janice Mason Steeves, and after meeting up at the airport, we got our jet-lagged selves onto a train to León, a city not far from our ultimate destination, Castrillo de los Polvazares, in the northern part of the country. 

León was a perfect place to rest up and enjoy our introduction to the culture of the region, which for us involved a lot of great food and wine, wandering all over the historic part of the city, attempting small interactions in Spanish, visiting the Saturday market, and soaking up the beauty of the old buildings. As planned, we got our rental car on Saturday at noon, and made our way to Castrillo. 



market in León

Here at Flores del Camino, our home until the end of the month, we've set up our studios and are getting to know our gracious hosts, Bertrand and Basia. They established this retreat center to serve pilgrims walking the Camino several years ago, and manage the nearby village albuerge, or pilgrim accommodation, as well. Bertrand and Basia also make stained glass and hold retreats on subjects such as Sacred Geometry and Rose Windows. They are extremely knowledgeable about the area and generous in the sharing of their insights into its history and culture. Along with their two little boys, they have provided us a warm welcome, and have taken us on a few short trips into the countryside. 

The village itself is very beautiful, with stone buildings dating to the 16th century (the location goes back further, but the original town was destroyed in a flood.) Everything is built of similar iron-rich quartzite, creating a unity of color that glows in the sun, accented by weathered doors in shades of blue, green, and gray. 


 


The ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain known as the Camino de Santiago runs nearby, and many people on its path take the side trip into Castrillo. A few mights ago we had dinner with three of them, from Québec, Paris, and Germany. They talked about why they chose to walk the 500-mile Camino and what they are learning along the way. Later we shared a ritual bonfire into which we dropped personal messages. 



What is clear in this place is the power  of the Camino, its long and sacred history, and the passion of those who walk it-- whether for specific religious or spiritual purposes or for their own inner desires. Many people seem to walk the Camino at a time of transition in their lives  and the long, rigorous journey often brings clarity and a sense of possibility for moving forward. 

In this amazing setting, we've been working for several days now. A few days ago Basia brought us some lovely red dirt she had collected nearby as well as a small amount of ground verdigris from corroded copper. She uses both in her own work, mixed with gum arabic as a binder.  Since then we have also collected and ground stone into pigment and filled  jars with the colorful soil of the area, and have found that clear gesso also works well to mix and spread these natural pigments. 



making natural pigment from stone


Here is one of my works on paper using natural pigments:






We are looking forward to the time ahead, to more adventures and lots more painting--and to the arrival of our students next Friday. 

 
Saturday, August 04, 2018
  longing
Longing, 42"x 42" oil/cold wax on panel

When I was looking for a title for the painting above what came to me seemed exactly right--Longing. I feel that there is a sense of longing that comes through in many of my paintings, and for some reason, this one seems to get at that feeling more than most. To me this longing is a strong yearning for something yet to be experienced. A sense of nostalgia for something that hasn't yet happened, if that makes any sense. It comes to me during both the painting process and in contemplating the finished work. On some level, I've been aware for years of this longing in relation to my work. With this painting, though, that feeling came into focus. I don't know why, but it touches my heart. 

The longing I'm talking about is hard to define. In terms of the painting itself, it's not for any preconceived result; inside, emotionally it's not for any particular person, time, or even place--though wild places do play a strong evocative role in my work. Instead I can only call it a spiritual longing. It seems inexpressible in words...painting on the other hand can be a perfect form of expression for what is ineffable. 

This sense of longing accompanies me in the studio, pulling me along toward an elusive perfection, a point that would hold the deepest possible soul connection. It keeps me coming back over and over to a painting-- adjusting the color, adding a line, shifting a shape. For me this isn't overworking. It's more like inching toward an ever shifting sense of completion that goes beyond the physical form of the work--looking for a path to a feeling of wholeness and connection that is tantalizingly close but always slightly out of reach. I'm happy when I find a meaningful stopping point in any one piece, but the bigger, more encompassing search continues.

As I write this post I worry about seeming grandiose or pretentious in trying to explain what is difficult to put into words. But this is not just about me--I'm also sure that this sense of longing is far from unique. In some form it's the engine that drives the work of every creative person. 
 
Friday, June 29, 2018
  clearing out


Among Stones, 16"x12" oil and cold wax on panel, 2018

Back in January I posted about the role of memory in my work, the intriguing way that certain visual memories, strengthened by full presence in the moment and shaded with emotion, become part of my creative source. 

I'm thinking about memory again as my husband and I tackle a massive clearing-out of the house we've occupied in Wisconsin for 40 years. It's time for this project for many reasons--among them discovering that we like the more minimal lifestyle that we have in New Mexico, where we now live for half the year. There, we have the only the clothes, tools, and household things that we actually need and use. Even my small New Mexico studio is a spare version of what I have in Wisconsin. We both notice a lighter feeling when we're living there in simpler surroundings. In contrast, our Wisconsin place has become heavy, weighed down by decades of accumulation.  

Overall this de-cluttering is a good thing, and I love the transformation of new space and organization in closets, drawers and rooms. Yet dealing with the stuff of our lives--old photos, papers, kids' books and art projects, things from my parents' home--has been more emotionally draining than I would have guessed. 

The process triggers many memories, of everyday moments and of bigger events--some mundane, some wonderful, some difficult and painful. And all of it, the good and the bad, jumbled together as bits and pieces surface from different eras--the stages of our kids' lives, family documents, numerous pets, friendships, travels, enthusiasms, health issues, jobs, times of financial stress, and our parents' illnesses and deaths. Even if I only glance at the stuff I'm going through, the act of moving from one memory to another makes me feel scattered and exhausted. It's also sad to realize that so much of life is forgotten over time, even though in many ways we are no longer the people we were, and it's necessary to move on. The remnants of so much of my past and my family's, the many old versions of who we were, are now on their way to the thrift store, the recycling center or the dumpster. I'm pleased to have new space and simplicity, but there is nothing easy about getting there.

On the other hand, in the de-cluttering process I've also gone through a lot of stuff from my art life--writings, files, sketchbooks--and there, rather than feeling scattered, I see how one thing has led to another in the growth of my work and career, and evidence of pleasure and pride in my painting from early days. With the exception of a few bad gallery situations and a fair number of rejection letters, the memories evoked by my art records are positive ones. 

I love that the artist part of me seems consistently "me" over time, throughout the various stages and changes in my work. In the big picture there is a sense of clarity and purpose, and of connections to past and present. An anchoring sense of self that has not shifted in the same way as other aspects of life have inevitably done. 

I've found plenty of detritus in the art stuff to toss out, of course--multiple copies of old show announcements, hundreds of old slides (remember slides?) and bad photos of my work, inventory sheets from defunct galleries and that file of rejections--but what I am keeping amounts to an interesting (at least to me) and forward moving story.

Thinking again about my post in January, it seems to me that my personal art history is another aspect of the creative source that is fueled by memory. There are threads in my work that go back decades--the influence of the landscape, the importance of  intuition, interest in rich and textural surfaces; these have been kept alive through both memory and continual practice. And even further back are memories of a childhood connection with nature that are at the very core --the "me"-ness-- of my work. 

I know that this feeling of continuity in my art life is not unique--perhaps everyone who has practiced art for years has their own version, each a fascinating story--a combination of memories and a consistent sense of self that feeds the work. 

 
Monday, May 28, 2018
  dualities
Dualities are contrasting concepts that may be seen as opposites, yet also as parts of a whole. Day/night, young/old, male/female, birth/death--all are pairs that actually complement each other to form a complete idea or cycle. It can be said that one does not exist without the other, that they are interdependent and meaningless individually without their counterparts. And while we may personally prefer one aspect of a duality over another, not acknowledging its opposite undermines a wholistic view of life and acceptance of what is. (I'm adding what I see as an exception to this idea at the end of the post.)


An Ancient Conversation, 36"x36" oi/cold wax on panel

For years my work has had an overall softness without strong edges or lines.  But now contrasting elements of light/dark value, organic/geometric shape, and calm/active textures have been growing much stronger in my work. This has happened gradually, without conscious intent, at least when it began. I've thought a lot about where this more emphatic contrast is coming from and why. 

The most important influence on my work--experiences and memories of wild, rugged landscapes--is still the same. But there is something new in my response to these places. I'm thinking of them in a more universal way, instead of according to particular location as in the past. At some point I realized that my overall response to them--wherever they happen to be--is consistent, and that there are certain dualities at its core. My thoughts and feelings about being in wild and rugged places are complex, and this makes these places compelling to me beyond their visual beauty. So I think there is a connection, between these dualities and the greater contrast I'm bringing to my work--a new alignment of form and content.  


Benwee Head, Co Mayo, Ireland

Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo, Ireland

An interesting thing I've noticed in the past about being in wild places is the calm and quiet they can bring to the soul, even though they tend to be dramatic, very active places (at least the ones I love best). The wind may be howling and the surf crashing but inside there is peace. I think my interest in dualities started with that realization, and it's been percolating ever since. It may well be the root of my need to express something new in my work--the drama as well as the subtlety and quiet. 

Over time I've become aware of other dualities in my experience of wild places. Even though they may seem on the surface like contradictions, in fact they offer a sense of unity that can be profound. For example, I often feel a split in my sense of self when I'm alone in nature. I feel insignificant, a tiny speck in the vast spaces around me, yet in some mystical way I'm also connected with the land at my core. Both perceptions seem equally true and expand the experience in powerful ways. 


Northern New Mexico

Another kind of duality has to do with my shifting sense of human frailty and vulnerability. I may fully acknowledge the danger of descending a steep, rocky hillside alone, for example, while at the same time my mind is completely, calmly at ease. The risks I sometimes take in remote places are part of fully engaging with my surroundings and not holding back out of fear. Of course, the other side of this duality is basic common sense. While I sometimes push the limits, I also recognize that the forces of nature and the laws of gravity care nothing about my need for adventure. Perhaps at its core this duality is about being both inside and outside of my physical self. 

Contrasts of inside/ outside also happen with thoughts and feelings. No matter what the surroundings, at times I slip away from being fully present. Like many people, I can easily become pre-occupied with thoughts of everyday life. On a spectacular rugged shoreline in Ireland, I might be wondering whether I'd answered an email or if I needed to stop at the store. Yet whatever is running around in my head will shift abruptly the second I return my attention fully to the landscape. In that abrupt transition the beauty of my surroundings will stun me and hold me completely-- until the next random thought worms its way into my brain. The dichotomy between inner and outer worlds puts human trivia in stark contrast to nature's power. But such moments make me feel grateful to be alive, monkey-mind and all. I'm sure that many people who love nature experience this and other dualities; they create a fascination that pulls us back again and again. 

And finally, there are dichotomies within nature itself--its wildness and gentleness, strength and frailty, the light and dark, the macrocosm and the microcosm. The beauty and power of nature encompasses all of these aspects and more, and they inform my work alongside with my more personal responses and memories.

Memory and Presence 40"x30" oil/cold wax on panel



Addditional notes: 
I mentioned in the first paragraph that I can think of certain concepts or realities that do not seem to require an opposite for completion. Perhaps it's idealistic of me, but I believe they are singular and complete in themselves. These include love, truth, goodness, trust, peace. I'm sure there are more. 

I also invite you to read a recent blog post by my friend Janice Mason Steeves, who also loves and is nurtured by wild places. Click here for her post, which inspired me to write about my own response to wild places. 

This video shows me working on the painting above, Memory and Presence.

 

       www.rebeccacrowell.com




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       Rebecca Crowell