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.
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
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.
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
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.
lake logan workshop
I've just gotten home from a week of a workshop for eleven advanced artists at Lake Logan Retreat Center near Canton, North Carolina, run by Cullowhee Mountain Arts.
It was different in many ways from others I have taught--in fact I find I hesitate to even say I taught--it was more that I facilitated. The artists who came have all been painting for a number of years and have an excellent understanding of content and formal elements in their work. As a result, much of our week was spent in deep conversation about ideas, authenticity, intentions and goals. Each artist was asked ahead of time to prepare a short presentation about some of their source ideas and these were astonishing in their depth and honesty.
Of course, it was not all talk. Our large, airy studio was open for use 24/7, and there was plenty of painting going on. Unlike most of my workshops, in this class there was no special emphasis on cold wax medium--many did use it, but others included watercolor, acrylic, and (because there was access to two types of presses) monotype.
At the beginning of class I introduced the idea of small works as a way to explore ideas in a more free-flowing manner than is typical with more developed panels, and I suggested that each person do at least ten small works on paper in a variety of media over the week. The results were gems of exploration and discovery. At the end of class, we each contributed a painting for an exchange organized as a random draw.
Another unique aspect of this workshop was its setting, a beautiful lakeside retreat center in the Great Smokey Mountains. Three times a day, we gathered for excellent meals in the dining hall, and the week also included several yoga sessions, meditation, canoeing, and a nature walk. One night there was a bonfire, and Cullowhee Mountain Arts Director and all-around dear person Norma Hendrix and her husband Eric enchanted us with guitar and flute.
Another workshop was being held at the same time as ours, led by Los Angeles poet (and world traveler) Cecilia Woloch
. With the emphasis on verbal and written exploration in my own class, this combination of disciplines seemed especially fitting. Artists and writers mingled and talked intently at meals and activities, and I think we all recognized the similarity of the creative process in both disciplines as the week unfolded. (Inspired by this interaction, Celcilia and I plan some collaborative aspects for upcoming Culllowhee Mountain Arts workshops that we will teach in April, at the famous Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM.)
As an instructor, I valued many aspects of the lake Logan experience. I loved the way that the artists who came took ownership of the class, pitching in with ideas, suggestions and even organizing activities beyond what I had planned. One evening before dinner, I had gone to my cabin to change out of my studio clothes, and returned to find almost the whole class sitting around one member who was sharing a way of appreciating/critiquing works of art that she has used very successfully with high school students--everyone was taking notes and asking questions. Another of our artists was the moving force behind an evening in which the poetry students read their work for the rest of us.
Very special to me were the artists in the Lake Logan class who have taken my classes numerous times over the years. I'm grateful for the way they have trusted me with their personal journeys, and rewarded to see the growth in their work. And of course, I'm also grateful for those newer to me, excited to get to know them better, and hope that we will work together again in the future.
For everyone this past week, there were moments of insight, energizing thought, and transformation--and for quite a few, real breakthroughs in their work. It was a magical week.
thoughts on style
After my last post, about the persistence of landscape references in my work over the years, abstracted images from Mayo have continued to appear in nearly every painting. Several recent ones seem close to representational in their dark, coastal shapes and swaths of pale watery looking texture. I am thinking of these aspects of the sea coast as I paint, while at the same time enjoying a playful freedom with shape and line. (Above and below, Belderrig #3 and #4, 20"x16" oil and mixed media on panel.)
In art history class many of us remember the range of styles in modern/contemporary art described as a continuum. This was a way of saying that there aren't precise cut-off points among the myriad of art styles, from pure abstraction through to photo-realism. A particular abstract painter's work, for example, could be placed somewhere on an imaginary line,between an artist who was more representational in style and someone else who was less so.
Although that is a useful way to explain the big picture, it's not so simple when you consider the life's work of any one artist. Many range back and forth over that continuum over time, or even within a series or a small body of work, and they cannot be so neatly categorized. Within the context of exploring particular ideas, this approach can open up greater meaning and expressive potential.
Since seeing his work last year in Dublin, I have admired the work of the late Irish artist, Tony O'Malley. He was a man who took all of his life's experiences and transformed them into source material for his work. This work ranged from austere wood sculptures to playful, colorful paintings, sometimes non-representational, and other times with images of himself, his wife and friends, and various objects in his world. All of it is clearly his, very personal, very direct. It seems he never worried about whether something was abstract enough, or too minimalist, or too obscurely non-referential. Below, some photos showing the range of his work:
I'm thinking of this in relation to my own recent work, because in spite of knowing better, I sometimes listen to a voice that warns me not to betray my identity as an abstract painter, and which grows more insistent the closer I edge to realism. These past few weeks though, I've done well at shutting off that voice. While I do of course identify as an abstract painter, I am OK with imagery that comes through in the context of a particular visual exploration (in this case, the dramatic Mayo Coast.) The work I've been doing is compelling to me--paintings that seem to need to be painted, and I am including them on my personal continuum.
thoughts on landscape
Like much of my current work, the shapes in the painting above (Ceide Fields, 36"x48" oil and mixed media on panel.) suggest land forms--craggy, textural--set against a pale background that can be read as sky or sea. This work comes out of my time in County Mayo, Ireland, a place where the strong shapes and complex textures of the bog and seacoast captured my eye and heart.
Landscape has been at the core of my work since my earliest years of art-making, and I've approached it in various ways over time--beginning with direct, representational recording of what I observed. Occasionally in these early days I would include a female figure representing "me." Below is an intaglio print from my undergrad years in which such a figure, seated in the lower left of the image, looks out at the scene. I see this now as an attempt to express my emotional connection to the experience of being alone in nature.
At the core of all my work over time is the expression of this connection. Over time my work has evolved into abstraction emphasizing color and texture which seem to me to be the most direct conduits to the feelings and memories I associate with specific places. While I've allowed in some landscape imagery, for the most part I've downplayed the sense of "scenery" (suggested by pictorial depth and obvious clues such as horizon lines) in my work of the past 15 years or so.
So I'm a bit surprised by some of the work coming out of my time in Mayo in its fairly obvious references to what I remember from my walks and drives along the coast and through the boglands. Below is another recent painting, Mayo Coast #7, 40"x30" which includes dark, rock-like shapes and the suggestion of falling water.
Surprising to find these images emerging--but also somehow liberating. I feel that I'm tapping into some essence or energy of that place that allows me to play more freely and directly with landscape imagery than I have in the past. Along with the shapes suggestive of rocks, bog paths, foliage and cliffs, I've also been including lines that refer to mapping, charting, writing and gridlike designs--lines imposed over the surface of the work that counteract its more representational aspects. Some of these lines are adapted from stratigraphic drawings shared with me by Greta Byrne, the archaeologist at Ceide Field near Ballycastle where I have stayed in Mayo as well as from the maps of ancient stone walls at that site.
I think of this recent work as expressing two aspects --inner and outer--of my personal experience in the Mayo landscape. The inner experience includes the the drama of weather and vistas, the gentleness of the bog, the crashing of surf, the quieting of thought, the moods of the time of day and the feeling of oneness with nature. The outer experience includes purely visual observations as well as awareness of ancient sites, geology and geography, culture and history. I'm enjoying the merging of the inner and outer experiences in these paintings.
About ten years ago, I put together a list of qualities that I wanted my work to embody, including complexity, presence, ongoing exploration, and mystery.
Some of the words and phrases were fairly specific, at least in my mind, such as contrast
--which reminded me to keep value and color shifts interesting. Others, like connection
, were purposefully open-ended and evocative. Connection
could mean connection to my own inner landscape and experiences, connection to the viewer, or connection among the elements within the painting.
I made this list as a practical tool, thinking that it would help me to guide me through my work, keep me on track with what I was after, and also to know when a painting was finished. I did find it to be very valuable for those reasons, and for self critique in general. (Click here for a blog pos
t from 2009 about self-critique that mentions the list.) Over the years, I've revised it a bit, and created a power point around it that I show in some of my workshops, but my editing of the list has been minor. The main ideas remain relevant for me. Although I rarely refer to that actual bit of paper anymore, its basic thoughts are now an ongoing and now deeply integrated basis for my work.The original still hangs on my studio wall--tattered, dripped upon and nearly illegible.
This morning as I moved a few things around on my wall including the list, I studied it closely for the first time in ages, and saw it suddenly in a new way. It struck me that what I had done back then was to set forth my intentions, and that they have been unfolding ever since.
Today, more so than a decade ago, there is increased understanding and theorizing about how intentions shape and create our experience, operating in subtle ways beneath our everyday awareness. I realized this morning that the ideas in the list were probably more powerful than I had considered them to be in the beginning, when I wrote them down as a practical tool. They have likely been a force in bringing my work closer toward my highest ideals, exerting influence even without my conscious attention. Perhaps there's a fine line between the two, but what I realized this morning was that the list has played a huge part in charting my course as an artist, and for that I'm grateful.
ireland on my mind
As the recent painting (Mayo Bog, 40"x30" oil and mixed media on panel) above shows, even months after my return from the boglands of County Mayo in Ireland, I am thinking of the colors and forms of their rich tapestries. I will be returning to Mayo and the Ballinglen Arts Foundation
in mid-October for another residency, and to conduct two workshops (there are still some openings in the advanced class in November, if anyone is interested please email
With this post though, I am hoping to re-direct my readers to a newly published post on the co-blog that I write with my friend and colleague Janice Mason Steeves
, in which we describe a different area and artist's residency in Ireland, the Cill Rialaig Project in County Kerry. Here is the link
to that post--enjoy!