Soon I'll be leaving again for my last journey of the year, returning for the 3rd time in as many years to beautiful County Mayo, Ireland, for time at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
in Ballycastle. For the next week and a half, I'm at home, enjoying early fall in Wisconsin, and thinking over the past few months of travel and teaching. Time in Sweden, Italy, and travel here in the US...a total of six workshops and fifty-five students since May...it's a lot. My plan to slow down next year makes more and more sense. Yet I treasure all of this experience.
I wonder, going forward, if each place I've been will remain distinct and compelling in its own way, This is how it is now, with the summer's journeys fresh in my mind. I'm influenced by the sublime starkness of Sweden in certain paintings, and the warm colors and textures of Italy in others. Below, a recent painting done in response to the colors and textures of old walls in Verona:
Now I have a new place in mind with big impact, though I was only there for an hour or so. The photo below was taken when I was in North Carolina a few days ago, on a path that goes behind a waterfall. (Abstractions of rushing water, as yet unexplored, have been on my mind since last year in the bogs of Mayo.)
|Dry Falls, near Highlands, NC.|
In my recent workshops, a big theme has been developing personal visual vocabulary that arises from experience, thought, and emotion. I suggest that artists contemplate specific qualities they desire in their work, and what they believe to be their strengths. During class we focus on the concept of alignment of form and content, which helps students see how best to express what they intend.
Exploring form (including materials, techniques, and the way the various elements of art are handled) may lead to discoveries about content (what thoughts and emotions the painting conveys.) Or, just as validly, the reverse can happen, with an idea or intention leading the way into finding the best form for its expression. For many artists, including myself, balancing form and content is a complex, back and forth conversation, with intention and process influencing one another as a body of work evolves. Eventually, particular ways of handling line, color, value, composition and so on emerge as feeling "right" and true to the individual artist. These become aspects of visual vocabulary, to be explored, perfected and developed over time. The ideas of "what do I want to say" and "how do I say it" are often intriguingly intertwined, and the sources of ideas are limitless..
For me, travel is a major catalyst for my own evolving vocabulary, just as artists over the centuries have experienced breakthroughs as the result of spending time in a new environment. When travel is very fresh in recent memory, I notice that content leads the way in my work; I look for ways of expressing what I've experienced. When I paint during travel, and in the immediate aftermath, there is a direct (though very intuitve) connection to what I've seen and felt. As time goes by, this content starts to become more generalized and my focus shifts to aspects of form such as texture, color and shape. In other words I acquire, through travel, new ideas about form that eventually become part of my visual vocabulary. This vocabulary is flexible enough that it can play a role in work that follows.
Below are some examples of an evolving interest in shape, starting with a small work on paper done in Ireland in 2013, and inspired by the coastal rock formations near Ballycastle. The next one down is a large painting from 2014 in response to the shaggy earth shapes of the Mayo boglands, and the last is the most recent painting, influenced by small islands I noticed in Sweden. All are done using cold wax medium with oils, which I find most expressive for texture and rich color. But before the first painting in this sequence, shape had played only a minor role in my work. Now it's become a bit of visual vocabulary that I use in changing ways. In the intriguing loop of the interaction of form and content, I believe I'm also paying more attention to shape in the landscape along with learning to use it as a visual element.
|Carrowteige #2, 10"x8" |
|Ceide #1, 36"48"|
|Sad Island, 18"x14"|
I wonder if there will be some synthesis that happens of my travels this year once I can work fulltime in the studio again, and what new aspects of form and content will show up. I'm about to add one last injection of experience, as I leave for Ireland on the 29th. This time, I plan to visit Cork as well as the Giant's causeway in Northern Ireland--places I have not yet seen. As well, I will re-experience the majestic coastline near Ballycastle in Mayo, and the lovely autumn colors of the bogs.As I near the end of my travels for the year, I feel incredibly blessed with what has come my way, and I look forward to digging deeper into my responses in paint.