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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.

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, 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 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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018
  my month in ireland
There's a change that happens shortly before you leave a place that you love. A feeling of nostalgia sets even though your'e still there...you miss it already and know it will be a long time until you are back. Today I'm almost done with my stay as an artist in residence at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland, packing up and reflecting on my time here, having those goodbye feelings. I fly home in 3 days after a short stay in Dublin. 

By now, the landscape here in North Mayo has become familiar --the lanes and back roads, the hiking trails, the beaches, the fields, the old walls, the spectacular, wild coastline. But every time I come here (this is the sixth time)  I still discover new places. This visit, I came upon the tide pools near the Stella Maris pier just a few miles from Ballycastle and spent an hour or so there marveling at these small worlds of texture, shape and color. 

Tide Pool, near Ballycastle

Even though my work overall has been evolving away from specific landscape references, when I'm here the landscape and seascape always assert themselves in what I paint. But in fact the bolder shapes in my new work have their origins in the cliffs and rocks I've seen on previous residencies here; I appreciate being back at the source and seeing the continuity.

at Benwee Head

I came here in March with an idea about exploring an intersection between painting and printmaking, something that has been in the back of my mind for several years, and which I've played with a bit at home without much success. My plan was to start with prints (drypoint, carborundum, and monotype) and then add layers of cold wax and oil in ways that would allow both media to contribute to the final piece. 

My first attempts here, like my previous ones at home, weren't very successful. In addition to some technical issues that I had to work out, I couldn't figure out how to handle the paint application. Either the layers of paint quickly obliterated the prints, or the bits of print that did show through became so precious they got in the way of developing the work as a whole. I needed to find that delicate sweet spot in which both the print and the paint had a voice. 

print/cold wax/oil  10"x8"

It can be a frustrating process to work out a new idea or technique. But here, there is a lovely calmness to each day, no rush, no pressure, and the process as it unfolded seemed  interesting, rather than difficult or discouraging. I ended up with five pieces that I considered successful, and will keep exploring this path once I'm back home.  

As I start to clean and pack, I'm pleased with my work here and feel that the ideas I've been working with in recent months have taken another step forward. I'm excited to see what will happen when can work again on a larger scale in my home studio (I do sometimes feel constrained when on residency by suitcase-sized surfaces.)  

oil/cold wax on paper, 16"x12"
my studio space at Ballinglen with finished work

In other ways too this has been a good and satisfying time. During my first week here, I taught a workshop to a very compatible, fun, and competent group of artists. I had caught a cold and was feeling a little less than wonderful, but they were all kind and compassionate and we carried on. 

workshop group at Benwee Head

As for my residency time, this has been one of the most enjoyable I've experienced. The other artists here have been wonderful--congenial and generous, those with cars often inviting those of us without on various outings, and there have been lots of casual chats and evening get-togethers with food and wine. I've had some deep conversations about my work, other people's work, and things we all have in common as artists. I love spending time with people who understand what it means to be seriously focused on art, but are also up for fun and adventure. At the same time, we have all respected each other's needs for studio time and solitude. It's kind of a perfect little world...some of us here joke about the Ballinglen Bubble--the feeling of happily floating through our days, mostly oblivious to the outside world. 

Michael Geddis and Eva Isaksen, artists in residence at Ballinglen
Happily, I'll be back next year at this same time, experiencing the early Irish spring (or maybe, as was the case this year, a few weeks of lingering winter). For now I need to turn to my typically messy studio and the need to clean, organize and pack. My bubble hasn't quite burst, but I do feel it gently descending toward solid ground.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018
  my current exhibit
Crossing, 48"x 72", oil on panel

In many years of exhibiting my work there are certain shows that stand out for me, and my  current exhibit (through April 11, with sculptor Christian Burchard) at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in Telluride, CO is one of those. It's the debut showing for a body of work in a new direction--overall a more stark and angular approach than in the past. It's still very recognizable as my work--I've kept the intricate textures and layers that I've been working with for years, and organic form still sometimes dominates--but the approach and concept have gone through changes.

Light and Shadow, 42"x36" oil on panel, sculpture by Christian Burchard

My main interest now is in dualities--strength and fragility, organic and geometric, dark and light, subtle and bold, color and neutrality, held in dynamic balance.  This is a shift away from previous work that was generally tied to experiences in specific locations, based in memory, and often had a softer, more atmospheric sensibility. What I'm doing now deals with more universal and formal ideas about contrast and the balance of opposites.

Astir 48"x24" oil on panel

The changes in my work have been evolving over the past year and a half or more. At first they were subtle, then more insistent as my ideas began to shift. It's been an interesting journey finding my way-- I've had many frustrating days in the studio, fumbling for answers, older approaches no longer working for me. Yet I've been buoyed along as one after another painting was finally resolved. Each has been a learning experience, and the learning continues. (The triptych at the top of this entry took 7 weeks to complete.)

Ancient Site, 48"x24" oil on panel

The definite shapes in this work have posed the biggest challenges, because I've wanted to keep a sense of fluidity and not allow them to become too tight or solidified. I've also had doubts that such angular and defined shapes can really "be me" after years of using a softer approach. I have wondered where they came from and why they appeal to me so much. But looking back at earlier multiple panel work from 2002 through about 2012 I see that I do have a history with geometric shapes (as seen below in a painting from 2008.) I love the way that over time, earlier ideas can re-emerge in a new way.

Coast, 2008, oil on multiple panels

My new direction has surprised, challenged and even scared me a little, knowing that the work in my Telluride exhibit would be a noticeable departure from what I've shown in the past. (The show includes a couple of transitional pieces from my older style but overall the emphasis is on the newest work.) Considering my trepidation, it was really gratifying that the show has been so well received, with numerous sales and an exciting opening night. Lots of credit goes to the gallery for the spare and sensitive installation, and the beautiful co-ordination with Christian Burchard's wood sculpture--a very compatible pairing.

Passing Through #1 and #2, each 60"x b24", with sculpture by Christian Burchard
Change can be disorienting, but this review of my current show by Susan Viebrock for Telluride Inside and Out reminds me of my roots.

Crowell’s work is the result of a physically demanding, sometime violent process of layers that are scratched, eroded and dissolved to reflect what occurs naturally in the rugged landscapes she loves. Nevertheless her paintings feel quietly intense, almost Zen-like...Crowell’s spare but dense work seems tethered to spirituality.
...it becomes evident that Crowell believes in the transformative powers of art, the ability of a painting to conjure emotions such as happiness, love, beauty, perfection, as well as the experience of a return to childhood vision..

Despite the changes and new emphasis on the formal aspects of painting, my work retains its ties to landscape, memory and experience. This source is a constant and is aligned with my process of working with layers of organic and textured surfaces. Where the source takes me has changed, and will likely continue to change over time. 

Ascent, 42"X36" oil on panel



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       Rebecca Crowell