my artist residences (part 1)
Many artists have been curious about my experiences at artist residencies in Catalonia and Ireland, so this is the first of two posts describing how I ended up at these places and what they meant to me. Every residency location and each individual stay is unique, of course--that's part of the charm! But although limited to my own experience, perhaps these posts will be informative and inspiring to anyone interested in an artist residency--in my opinion, the perfect way to visit another country. (If you have already been to a residency, I'd love to hear your thoughts about that in the comment section.)
The first time I applied for an artist residency was in the spring of 2001, when the director at the Centre D'Art I Natura
, in the Catalonia region of Spain, contacted me via my gallery inviting me to submit images of my work and a proposal. I was pleased and surprised, but a bit skeptical. I had never considered a residency abroad as a possibility for myself, and I knew no one who had gone to one. Not knowing quite what to think, I put together a proposal and slides and filled in some fairly random dates for my stay, and sent it off. The whole thing seemed more like a daydream than a reality.
Then came the reply, which I opened as my older son, who was then 13, stood by. I read through quickly and then started to laugh at the line, "...we shall expect you on the 7th of September." It struck me as completely ludicrous that anyone could expect such a thing, and even more so that I could actually do it. But I'll always appreciate my son's response when I read that line to him--"Mom, you HAVE to go!!" When my husband and 10 year old son heard the news, they added the same kind of unconditional support, and I gradually soaked up enough of their confidence to send in my acceptance. At the beginning of the school year that fall, I headed for the Pyrenees--never having been to Europe before and speaking neither Spanish nor Catalan (the language of the region.)
In spite of my inexperience, I had only minor (even laughable in retrospect) difficulties during my travel to the residency in Catalonia, via Barcelona. Then September 11th occurred, four days into my stay. It was hard to be so far from home and family at that time, but the isolation of the language barrier and location shielded me quite a bit from the horrible details of that day, and the people surrounding me there, especially the couple who run the Centre, were very kind. In fact I didn't grasp the real impact of 9-11 until I returned home at the end of the month...most of my time during that two weeks--hiking in the dramatic mountain scenery, painting in my rustic studio, meeting artists and others from around the world--was peaceful and focused, though of course I was also haunted and disturbed by the little I knew of what had happened.
The impact of this residency on my work was profound. For years I'd been going back and forth between abstraction and representation, but during my time in Catalonia, I found a commitment to abstraction that I've maintained ever since. I've joked that there must be something in the air in that homeland of Gaudi, Tapies and Miro--but what I really believe is that I was simply overwhelmed, and the unusually intense stimulation to my senses and feelings opened the way. The incredible beauty of the remote mountains, the excitement of a new and intriguing culture, the sadness and fear of being away during my country's great tragedy--I could find no representational image that was an adequate expression of this mix.
Yet I could sense that there was some essence of this place I loved, and of my own complex emotions, in the textures of dry grass and rushing water, the colors of slate, the clear light, the patterns of old pathways through the woods, the eroded surfaces of walls. This is what I paid attention to and worked with--the close up, intimate view of nature and its effects, focusing on rich colors and textures, and a sense of aging and weathering. Gradually, over time, working with this kind of imagery, I saw how to use these visual impressions as a vocabulary to express places, memories, and states of mind. This path developed over several subsequent years, all generated by what I began to work with during my residency.
(In my next post--my second visit to the Centre D'Art I Natura in 2008, and a few thoughts about my recent time at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.)