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.