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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.


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. 

 
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       Rebecca Crowell