journeys and stories
As we waited for the opening of my current exhibit, Interplay
, at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta Georgia, Thomas asked me to tell him a little about each painting. Each holds stories, memories and associations from the past year of travel--in Sweden, Italy, Ireland and New Mexico-- and I loved it that he asked to hear a little about them. As we walked around the gallery, the impact my experiences hit me in a cumulative way for perhaps the first time.
|Interplay, exhibition with Jeri Ledbetter, at Thomas Deans Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia|
An exhibit is a summation, a compilation of many works of art that represent a range of experiences. But in the lead-up time before a show, the smallest bits, the decisions and chores necessary, take over most of an artist's focus. Things can seem chaotic--paintings are scattered around the studio, some finished, some not. There are decisions to be made about which to include, which need to be photographed. There is the work of preparing for hanging with wires and clean edges. Computer work too--a statement, titles, prices, photo editing, posts and promotion. For my show in Atlanta, I decided to drive the work down instead of shipping, so I had the task of loading everything in the back of my station wagon, and three days on the road heading south. Then came fighting Atlanta traffic and unloading paintings at the gallery. In the midst of all this preparation, it was hard to imagine the paintings as a whole, a summation, as a body of work. The scramble of small details and tasks obscured my concept of the big picture, beyond the faith that it would all come together.
|Lane, in progress...memories of walking the backroads of Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland|
|Lane, Thomas Deans Fine Art, 48"x40." Oil, cold wax, powdered pigment. |
Then came the night of the opening. As any artist who has exhibited knows, the moment when you see the work hung with care on the well-lit, pristine gallery walls can be almost surreal. Your scruffy, long-time studio companions--with whom you have argued and conversed and loved with all their quirks and charms--have suddenly turned into polished, dignified strangers. "Who are you?" you wonder. "Where did you come from?" And then, as you study them, and discuss with people at the opening, you become re-acquainted, seeing in them all the small details and moments that you spent together. And there comes a moment when you also see beyond their individuality to the whole. The separate paintings you've labored over for months, become a group, a community. They are interconnected; each holds a story that contributes to the whole.
Relating bits of their stories to Thomas Deans that night as we made our way through the gallery was the moment when the work spoke holistically to me. The various experiences of the past year that led to each painting came together. I thought about the incredible year I'd had, exploring rugged, ancient places, sensing their history, enjoying their culture.
Here is the story of the painting below, Icy Lake #3
. I painted it last May during my month-long residency at Ricklundgarden in northern Sweden. It's one of a series of paintings that I did rather quickly, without as many layers as are normal for me. But the immediacy of working like that suited me there. It seemed to connect with the act of going outside and walking by Kultsjon, the nearby lake, and with watching the daily receding and breaking up of the ice and snow on its surface as spring gradually made its appearance.
|Icy Lake #3, 12"x12" oil, cold wax and mixed media on paper|
Here's another story: as I worked on the painting below, its surface with its many layers and bits of underlying color coming through reminded me of the old boats and fishing piers I had seen at various small fishing villages on the Mayo coast in Ireland last fall. I titled it Porturlin
for one village in particular. The painting brought memories of a day when I was out along the coast with my workshop students. I thought I knew the area pretty well, but our bus driver asked me if we'd like to take a side road to a village that was new to me. Porturlin was a slice of coastal Irish life, the pier strewn with fishing paraphernalia--seemingly unaffected by tourism, as is that entire stretch of magnificent coast.
|Porturlin, 22"x30", oil, cold wax, powdered pigments. |
Of course, these are not literal interpretations of particular places. The stories come later, when I understand where the work has led me, not at the beginning. I work from memory, not just its visual imagery, but with all it entails--emotion, associations, connections. But the stories complete the circle. These paintings in their earthiness, layered references, and rich color remind me of particular places, but they are parts of the whole experience of traveling with open eyes and heart.