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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, July 28, 2006
  art supplies
Anybody who talks to me about my painting process knows I rave about certain art supplies. One is Dorland's Wax Medium, which I mix with all my paints to add brilliance, body and transparency, and to even out drying time. I'm also pretty crazy about R&F Pigment Sticks, with their soft, malleable, beautiful colors...they figure into many of my techniques. And finally, Gessobords made by Ampersand--I started using these a couple of years ago and haven't done a painting on canvas since 2004. Gessobords have this perfect surface--all you have to do is rip off the protective plastic wrap, maybe tape the edges if you are messy like me, and you are ready to paint.

In the midst of my enthusiasm for these products, sometimes a sour little inner voice informs me that I sound awfully dependent on these things. Must I really have this or that from the art supply store in order to make good work? To that voice I say, of course not...but like a chef who has found the perfect kind of olive oil for my recipes, these products are fortuitous discoveries. I'm quite happy to go on about their virtues, their "rightness" in terms of what I'm after in my work, and often recommend them to others.

Besides playing a supportive role, these materials also lead me into new territory, suggesting ideas and directions I might not have thought of otherwise. For example, the modular aspect of Ampersand panels pointed straight to the multiple panel paintings that I do so many of. The qualities of Dorlands Wax naturally led to experiments with layered textures that are now integral to my work.

And yet, all of this is highly individualized...100 painters supplied with Dorlands, Gessobord, a bunch of R&F sticks, and a couple dozen oil colors from various paint makers(I use plenty of tube oils, with special enthusiasm for certain colors)would produce 100 unique paintings, the result of each artist's finely tuned responses. On the other hand, when left to their own devices, those same 100 painters would likely make different choices of materials all together. It's really amazing how specialized and specific we all tend to become!

All this is on my mind because today I found out that an article about my use of Ampersand Gessobord is being featured in the just-published Daniel Smith catalogue. So I am an official spokesperson. (Ampersand also used my work in their product brochure earlier this year.) Who'd have thought? It takes an excellent product to entice me to such a thing, but there you have it.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
  on water gardens and art

This photo shows my latest work, a small water garden in my front yard. It's a lovely little place of water, plants and rock into which several frogs have moved and the movement of water makes rippling shadows. I'm going to add water lilies and a couple of goldfish, and have plans to expand the rocks and plants surrounding it. Is spending time on this project just a hobby, a diversion from painting and my "real" work, or is there something more going on?

This morning I'm starting to understand why the urge to make a water garden has been a minor obsession of mine for the past few years. In doing so I find myself thinking about certain aspects of the life of Carl Jung, as described in his memoir, Memories, Dreams and Reflections--a book that I read with intensity over 25 years ago. Near the end of his life Jung was driven to build a home (consisting of several towers, an inner meditation room and an outer courtyard) as well as to make several sculptures for the grounds. This project was all directed by strong inner voices that he followed. Only when the house was done did he come to realize the various symbolic, archetypal implications of his creation, which went far beyond those of a practical structure to live in. I've always loved that story--the way it speaks to trusting one's creative urges and that greater meaning will be revealed over time.

Anyway--sometime last night I woke up with the impression that I'd been dreaming about my grandmother's garden. This garden rambled beside the small house in which she lived on Cape Cod. In the garden was a round pool we called the "fish pond," the edges of which were all beautifully overgrown with iris and other flowers. An island in its center was a further tangle of lush growth. Huge bullfrogs lived in the pond, as well as koi, turtles, water bugs and other small aquatic creatures. At one end of the pond was a bench between the pillars of a stone arch.

For me as a child, the garden was more than just a place to play...it held mystery and magic. This place--the pond, the old stone arch and bench, and the house have been among the strongest images retained from my childhood. They exist not only as visual impressions but as smells, sounds, touches, atmospheres and emotions. And since my grandmother seemed impossibly old even then (she lived well into her 90s)I could sense things ancient, enduring and spiritual all around this place.

Although there might seem to be an obvious connection between these memories and my present desire for a water garden, no such thing was conscious to me at all until this morning, following my dream. Not once in the time when I was wishing for a water garden, nor when I was finally buying supplies, planning and digging, did my grandmother's pond come to mind. And in truth, my water garden is much smaller and rougher than my grandmother's...there isn't much resemblance other than its round shape (I was very sure when buying the plastic liner that, despite many other options available, round was the "right" shape.) But once my dreaming mind made the connection between the two, I understood what the garden means to me and why I felt compelled to make it.

And actually this also has something to do with art, I think. In a long email discussion this past week with the painter Anthony Falcetta, we talked about how meaning in art is often something that one discerns in the aftermath. That setting out with a consciously defined story or idea may stand in the way of deepest expression. The unconscious mind knows so much, and if allowed free reign it may come through in a painting or a body of work--revealing something that is hidden and unexpected. Often this happens best when viewed at a distance of time and perspective.

The water garden story seems to me to reinforce that message to trust in the creative process, to follow urges and ideas in art and life. We don't need the meaning defined ahead of time...and the "rightness" of what results can have pull and power beyond immediate knowing.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
  raku day

With today's weather (temperatures pushing 90 and bright sun) a trip to the beach would probably have made more sense than hanging around a hot kiln and fire-filled trash can all day. But that was nevertheless today's agenda, at the studio of potter Barry Weiss, observing the process of raku firing. Pale glazes were transformed by heat and burning organic matter to rich irridescent colors and textures.

My son has been apprenticing with Barry this summer and he and another student assistant were on hand to help in the process. In this version of raku technique, the pots are first kiln fired, then quickly removed with large tongs as the glazes reach a molten state, and then they are placed in a container of burning organic matter (Today that was a metal garbage can with dry grass, paper and other combustables.)The burning material creates a state of reduced oxygen in the container and through some kind of alchemy that I fail to completely understand, a metalic sheen is produced, as well as intricate and subtle textures.

Barry remarked that raku involves both knowledge and control of the glazes, and a large element of surprise...the end results are never completely predictable. The organic textures and colors are created through complex chemical interactions that could not be exactly replicated through technique alone.

Though my own studio processes are quite a bit less dramatic (no fire involved--and I somehow doubt I could entertain an audience on a hot afternoon) I see similarities in that balance of control and surprise. In my search for paint surfaces that evoke nature's complexity, I use some techniques that are quite random and unpredictable. For example--when I use brayers to layer colors, or purposefully unrefined printing techniques, or when I go into the paint surface with solvents and abrasive materials, I'm never exactly sure what will result. Sometimes I'm really pleased, sometimes I have a mess. At the same time, through experimentation and practice, I've learned a fair amount of control over the outcome. It's always a balance between the spontaneous and unexpected, and the controlled and chosen. Today I saw this creative drama played out in a media quite different from my own, and enjoyed the chance to just watch and be fascinated.


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       Rebecca Crowell