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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, October 28, 2011
  my artist residencies (part 2)
After my first residency (see Part 1, last week's post) seven years passed before I got serious about doing another. I was drawn back to the same place, the Centre D'Art I Natura. Hoping for a stay without catastrophic events at home (the dates of my first residency coincided with September 11, 2001) I scheduled my residency for September, 2008. (Though alarming, the major stock market crash during my first week there was only a minor distraction.)

During this residency, I stayed for three rather than two weeks, and found that to be a perfect length of time, with a few days in Barcelona at the end. I noticed that I was able to dive more quickly into my work this time around, and to focus for longer periods of time...I already knew my way around, and was familiar with aspects of the culture and environment that on the first trip had overwhelmed me. I had come prepared with specific ideas for my work, and with more appropriate art materials and other supplies than the first time. On this second stay, I recognized the value of returning to a residency more than once--many artists do go over and over to the same location. (Usually, an initial acceptance allows an artist to simply sign up again according to availability of space, rather than having to re-apply.) Coming back to a place I knew and loved allowed me to go deeper into my work, and I found that the painting I did there opened up ideas that remained with me all during the following year, and continue to this day.

While I did not have the kind of breakthrough insight that I did on my first stay (see Part 1), I did end up understanding more about how my abstract imagery evolves in response to the landscape and my experiences in it. This was an unexpected discovery, not something I'd planned to explore ahead of time (as so much of what happens during a residency is unexpected!) It came about as I spent part of every day out hiking, photographing and sketching--observing closely what was around me in a way that travel always stimulates in me. But back in the studio, I painted as I was accustomed to doing at home, allowing the work to develop intuitively, trusting the process of layering paint and seeing what emerged. It was fascinating to see the close correlation to the landscape of texture, color and form that came through without conscious direction-just by taking in the surroundings and then allowing intuition to have its way. The small painting above reflects the experience of being inside one of the old barns that could be found in the surrounding countryside, with a whitewashed wall. (For illustrations and further description of what I mean, see my book Old Walls and Lost Paths, published in 2009.)

The third residency I have been to, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan, Ireland, is very recent; I've been back for only a few weeks. I know that as time goes by I will have more insight into its impact on my work. For now, I can say that I was grateful every morning to wake up in a place in which my sole purpose was to do exactly what suited my creative impulses...to walk, to paint, to photograph, to hang out with other residents. I could also see the same process at work in the studio as I'd noticed in my 2008 residency. What was coming through intuitively in texture, color and symbol bore strong connections to my experiences in the landscape and especially to visits to various megalithic sites such as Newgrange (the world's oldest known existing structure) which is located not far from the Centre. In my studio since coming home, I am still feeling a strong connection to Ireland, and can see added richness in my textures and colors.

I found Ireland so compelling, and so welcoming, that I'm planning to return next year, and possibly the year after--there are at least two other residencies I visited during my travels there that interested me (Cill Rialaig, in County Kerry, pictured above, is one) and if they don't work out I'd be happy to become a regular at Tyrone Guthrie. (For posts about Tyrone Guthrie, see my entries from September.)

Recently several colleagues have asked me if I believe that artist residencies are worth the time commitment and expense (some residencies charge the artist, some do not) and what I feel I have gained by going. While in this post I have spoken from my own experience, I've met many other artists during my travels who seek residencies out on a regular basis, and believe them to be an important aspect of their creative journey (as do I.) Residencies do not have to be expensive or far from home, by the way--I'd say that any location that provides a fresh experience, contacts with other artists, and time away from daily life to completely focus on creative work is potentially worthwhile. For a listing of many (not all) artist residencies worldwide click here.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
  my artist residences (part 1)

Many artists have been curious about my experiences at artist residencies in Catalonia and Ireland, so this is the first of two posts describing how I ended up at these places and what they meant to me. Every residency location and each individual stay is unique, of course--that's part of the charm! But although limited to my own experience, perhaps these posts will be informative and inspiring to anyone interested in an artist residency--in my opinion, the perfect way to visit another country. (If you have already been to a residency, I'd love to hear your thoughts about that in the comment section.)

The first time I applied for an artist residency was in the spring of 2001, when the director at the Centre D'Art I Natura, in the Catalonia region of Spain, contacted me via my gallery inviting me to submit images of my work and a proposal. I was pleased and surprised, but a bit skeptical. I had never considered a residency abroad as a possibility for myself, and I knew no one who had gone to one. Not knowing quite what to think, I put together a proposal and slides and filled in some fairly random dates for my stay, and sent it off. The whole thing seemed more like a daydream than a reality.

Then came the reply, which I opened as my older son, who was then 13, stood by. I read through quickly and then started to laugh at the line, "...we shall expect you on the 7th of September." It struck me as completely ludicrous that anyone could expect such a thing, and even more so that I could actually do it. But I'll always appreciate my son's response when I read that line to him--"Mom, you HAVE to go!!" When my husband and 10 year old son heard the news, they added the same kind of unconditional support, and I gradually soaked up enough of their confidence to send in my acceptance. At the beginning of the school year that fall, I headed for the Pyrenees--never having been to Europe before and speaking neither Spanish nor Catalan (the language of the region.)

In spite of my inexperience, I had only minor (even laughable in retrospect) difficulties during my travel to the residency in Catalonia, via Barcelona. Then September 11th occurred, four days into my stay. It was hard to be so far from home and family at that time, but the isolation of the language barrier and location shielded me quite a bit from the horrible details of that day, and the people surrounding me there, especially the couple who run the Centre, were very kind. In fact I didn't grasp the real impact of 9-11 until I returned home at the end of the month...most of my time during that two weeks--hiking in the dramatic mountain scenery, painting in my rustic studio, meeting artists and others from around the world--was peaceful and focused, though of course I was also haunted and disturbed by the little I knew of what had happened.

The impact of this residency on my work was profound. For years I'd been going back and forth between abstraction and representation, but during my time in Catalonia, I found a commitment to abstraction that I've maintained ever since. I've joked that there must be something in the air in that homeland of Gaudi, Tapies and Miro--but what I really believe is that I was simply overwhelmed, and the unusually intense stimulation to my senses and feelings opened the way. The incredible beauty of the remote mountains, the excitement of a new and intriguing culture, the sadness and fear of being away during my country's great tragedy--I could find no representational image that was an adequate expression of this mix.

Yet I could sense that there was some essence of this place I loved, and of my own complex emotions, in the textures of dry grass and rushing water, the colors of slate, the clear light, the patterns of old pathways through the woods, the eroded surfaces of walls. This is what I paid attention to and worked with--the close up, intimate view of nature and its effects, focusing on rich colors and textures, and a sense of aging and weathering. Gradually, over time, working with this kind of imagery, I saw how to use these visual impressions as a vocabulary to express places, memories, and states of mind. This path developed over several subsequent years, all generated by what I began to work with during my residency.

(In my next post--my second visit to the Centre D'Art I Natura in 2008, and a few thoughts about my recent time at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.)
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
  ireland wrap up

I'm home after nearly five weeks on the Emerald Isle, and its true that there are at least forty shades of green, all of them rich and intense. But I was a bit surprised by the equal number of shades of gray and all manner of rusty browns and reds among the rocks, moss, lichen and fall foliage. The paintings I did there reflected this palette, and the textures of the landscape, which often manages to simultaneously be both gentle and rugged...the photo above, taken in The Burren, County Clare, illustrates this perfectly. Stone fences bordering softly glowing green fields, with a rocky mountain in the distance that appears smoothly worn.

Ah, I miss it already. I found both Ireland and Northern Ireland to be exceptionally friendly, welcoming, comfortable places to visit, and I'm especially grateful to have been able to live and work for three weeks as an artist-in-residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan. This length of time allowed me to relax into the ambiance and culture of this "epicenter of loveliness" as one of the workers there called it. (See posts from the past weeks for more description of my time there.) Below is the third of the three medium sized paintings on panel that I completed during my residency (Annamaghkerrig, 48"x36"):

I also worked on a number of acrylic paintings, most of which I brought home incomplete--but I'm sure the visual impressions of Ireland will be with me for a long time and help me to finish those and more. I'll be in a two person show at Elaine Erickson Gallery in Milwaukee in April (with Allison B. Cooke) which will give me the opportunity to exhibit some of the work inspired by my time in Ireland here in the US.

Below is a shot of the end wall of the gallery space devoted to my work at Gormleys Fine Art in Dublin--the show is still up for a few more days.

Exhibiting in Dublin gave my time at Tyrone Guthrie a focus--the show came at the very end of my residency. But fortunately this seemed to stimulate me rather than stress me out. I knew I'd have enough anyway, with work I'd already shipped over for the show...but it was a personal goal to have at least one decent sized painting that I'd done in Ireland on exhibit. Turned out I had two--the one in the center above, and this one, Faddan More, 48"x36":

A few more photos from the opening, and the exhibit:

It was a thrill to exhibit in another country, and I actually had friends at the opening so it was a good time--several people I'd met at the Tyrone Guthrie center, a Facebook friend from Dublin, and of course, Janice Mason Steeves, the friend who shared time with me at the residency.

What a lovely time it all was (people in Ireland say "lovely" a lot.) I will keep my memories and impressions of a beautiful, ancient and mysterious landscape, and the smiles and good cheer of the many wonderful people I met along the way. I expect that my thoughts and paintings will continue to reflect this experience for some time. I'll leave for now with one more photo from the Irish landscape, this one taken in Kilarney National Park in County Kerry:

Saturday, October 08, 2011
  stay tuned!

I'm still in Ireland, now touring around the countryside with my husband...when I get back home later in the week, I promise a lengthy post with pictures and thoughts about my time here, including my exhibit in Dublin and other art-related experiences. There has been much to see and process.

At the moment, we are off to drive the Ring of Kerry, hoping the fog will lift for some good views of the dramatic seacoast. Internet usage has been sketchy and usually not top priority, but I'll catch up with postings once I am home. I have the feeling this trip will be on my mind for a long time to come...


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       Rebecca Crowell