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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.

Thursday, May 28, 2015
  a creative loop
Last weekend, Janice Mason Steeves and I paid a visit to the Swedish city of Umeå on the opposite side of the country from where we are staying for a month at Ricklundgarden (an artist residency in Saxnas.)  While we both love the quietness and remote location of Ricklundgarden, a few days of exploring another location and being among flowers and greenery was very appealing. We thoroughly enjoyed the museums, shops and other delights of the city.

On our return, we stopped at Umedalens Skulpturpark, a sculpture park on the city's outskirts, and spent an hour or so wandering among the works on display, some by well known artists such as Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois and Antony Gormley. The sculptures are scattered around the extensive grounds of a complex of buildings, once a psychiatric institution, and today an office park and school. We had a map, but even so, we had to search for some of the sculptures, and a few fit into the surroundings so well--or were otherwise somewhat concealed-- that we almost passed them by. It was an entertaining sort of hide and seek to find and identify what we could. Some of the sculptures had an interactive element, including one of our favorites...

Cristina Iglesias, Vegetation Room VII, 2000

After leaving this immersion into a sculptural world, we both noticed that ordinary objects around us (trash bins, road markers) suddenly took on the aura of art objects. We had undergone a shift in perception that allowed us to notice the form and presence of things normally unseen.  I've experienced the same phenomenon after leaving the studios or exhibits of certain artists who caused me to see differently, or more acutely, at least for a short time--a particular focus brought on by the artist's interpretation of the visual world.

I've also noticed the same thing with my own work--that after a day of being immersed in painting, I see more texture, color, contrast and detail in the world around me. The act of putting down color and manipulating paint seems to open up my own vision, and I leave the studio seeing through a painterly lens. I suspect this must be a fairly universal experience for those of us who spend hours in the studio. It is certainly helpful for generating continued ideas and direction--a creative loop in which the work and visual experience feed one another.

I am thinking about how creative loop works for me here at Ricklundgarden, where I am surrounded by a spectacular landscape that changes every day with the melting of snow and ice and the gradual appearance of spring. I'm spending time outside every day, and constantly looking out my windows when I'm inside, given the incredible views I have of mountains and lake in a world that never seems to actually get dark (there are a few hours of dusk around midnight to 3a.m.) I take a lot of photos and soak in every visual experience.  But I notice that my sensitivities to the landscape are especially open when I go out in the evening, after a day of painting.

My work is not about the visual experience alone, though--it also comes from the emotions I feel in this remote, majestic place.  The power in the contrast of ice, snow and rock, in the changing weather and the flowing of the water moves me. There is also a sense of mystery about what lies beneath the surface of the snow and ice. Every day that moves toward spring allows rocks and plants emerge that we did not see before. The grounds around Ricklundgarden that seemed so smooth and gently contoured with snow when we first came are now revealing their rugged and stony character, and the accessible parts of the lake shore constantly expand. As Jan and I head out for our evening walks, there is a feeling of childlike play in exploring the woods and shore. There are also bicycles for us to use, which are really fun. I feel about 10 years old when I take one down the road to the grocery or to my favorite waterfall spot down the road.

All of this experience is important to my paintings, which evolve intuitively, based on what I feel about the surroundings here as well as what I observe. As on other residencies in beautiful, remote places, being out in the landscape--walking, photographing, and just soaking it all up-- is the other half of what makes being here worthwhile. The creative loop of allowing the landscape to feed my work, and my work in turn opening me up to the landscape, is a rich experience.

A photo below of an ice formation taken after a day in the studio that involved a lot of white paint...

Below are some of my recent paintings, that come from the idea of what lies beneath the snow and is now emerging, and the visual delights of snow and ice contrasted with stone and ground cover. Both are currently untitled--top one is 10"x8", lower one is 12"x12", oil and cold wax.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
  at ricklundgarden
Two weeks ago today, my friend Janice Mason Steeves and I talked and giggled our way through the Toronto airport (already anticipating a fun trip together) and flew overnight to Stockholm, Sweden. We spend one jet-lagged, lovely evening wandering around the oldest part of the city, before departing again the next morning on a tiny plane to Vilhelmina, in the far northern part of the country. Although we were a bit shocked by the amount of snow still on the ground (knee-deep in places at Ricklundgarden, an artist residency in Lappland-our destination) the striking beauty of the silvery-white landscape soon revealed itself. Within the first few days we were out on snow shoes and loving the experience of being out in the snowy world, with its vistas of lake and mountains. The warmth and green of spring at home has come to seem very far away.

Now I can see it would have been a shame to have missed this end of winter display--the contrasts of dark stone and sheer white tundra, the ever-widening clear water on the mostly still frozen lake, and the first small flowers and birds appearing.  Some days, spring is in the air, the sun is warm and the piles of snow shrinking almost visibly. Others, like today are gray with light snow coming down.  From what we hear, real spring is still weeks away--probably coming near the end of our time here.

All last week we co-taught a workshop in abstract painting with cold wax medium, to a small but dedicated group who made the somewhat complicated journey here. Teaching and painting time were supplemented with other activities which added essential depth to the experience, along with some fun social times.

A highlight for everyone was our day out, when we visited a spectacular waterfall area not too far from Saxnas, called Trappstegsforsen, in the morning.  There were places where we could get right to the water's edge.

That afternoon, we drove to Stekenjokk, a region above the tree line on the road to Norway. The road itself which was closed to traffic at some point, as it is still being cleared of snow. We left the car then and walked through a landscape so sublime, it was like a dream of a smooth, still ,white world.

Now that class has ended,  Janice and I are enjoying the next few weeks as time for our own work and exploration; we have until early June here as artists in residence. I've been working in mixed media on various kinds of paper, mostly quite small, with visual ideas taken from the contrasts and textures of the landscape. I have especially enjoyed working with egg tempera, seen in the examples below. As always when I'm on a residency, I spend a good deal of time out in the landscape taking it all in, and then allow imagery to emerge intuitively in my work.

I'll post more images of my paintings next time. Painting, reading, writing, walking, exploring and visiting take up the days. Gerd Ulander, the director of Ricklundgarden, has been a wonderful resource and host on our various excursions, and she is ever gracious and spontaneous. Just this morning, a ride she gave us to the grocery store evolved into a drive to a vista point atop a nearby hill, and a stop at the local church that features a striking mural of the Good Samaritan story by the Swedish figurative painter Kalle, who spent time at Ricklundgarden in the mid-20th century. We shall miss her when she leaves tomorrow for an extended trip away, but she has helped us to plan several more adventures for our remaining days here.

To be continued...

Saturday, May 02, 2015
  decision making
I'm writing this in a transitional time, organizing and packing for five weeks in Sweden, most of them at Ricklundgarden in the far north of the country. That is where my friend Janice Mason Steeves and I will be teaching a workshop, followed by an artist residency for our own work. The trip is only a few days away now, and as always before a big trip, details and loose ends loom enormously.

My brain is tired from decision-making. Some of the decisions are pretty trivial--the blue sweater or the white one? Some seem more crucial, especially the ones about art materials--how much paper, which tubes of paint, how many colors of pastel? It all gets down to prioritizing space in the limited contents and weight of a suitcase and carry-on.

But of course, it's all in preparation for an opportunity I am thrilled to have, so I need to keep that perspective! And taking time out for my blog is a nice break from all the details of my to-do list.

The Silence Of Ancient Surfaces, 32"x48" oil and mixed media on panel

Interestingly, the brain fatigue from making so many choices seems very similar to what I generally experience at the end of a painting day--when I am often more mentally fatigued than physically. While I am perfectly able to continue putting down paint, my brain can take no more. Even though the choices I make while painting are intuitive and spontaneous for the most part, choices are still being made below the surface of my awareness. Somehow, these intuitive moves seem to be as consuming of energy as those pondered more consciously (and there are plenty of those as well.)

I'm often amazed at the number of decisions required to "make something out of nothing", to go from a blank panel to a finished work. Especially in process-generated abstraction, in which the journey shapes the work, every step along the way is a choice of direction. Countless decisions are made, over the course of one day, and over all the days it takes to complete a painting. Including of course, the final, difficult one of knowing when the work is done.

As with any project (including packing for a trip) the decisions begin broadly with choices of panel and general concept, and become more and more precise and fine in the stages of editing and revising. I have always been picky about the last phase--the fine-tuning of my work.  Adding bits here and there, standing back, living with it all for a few days to see what else might need a small tweak. I love this stage, when it seems that any small changes are all for the good. For me, this time for making small adjustments is crucial in order to feel the work is truly finished. I'm looking for the point at which nothing more needs to be added or deleted, and then I call it done.

The painting posted above, The Silence of Ancient Surfaces, is one I recently brought to completion. The final details, a series of dark markings with charcoal across the surface, brought a satisfying depth that I had felt was lacking before that step.

Now I'm smiling, thinking back to my packing-for-a-trip analogy. Today is the day for fine-tuning. Musing about the decisions involved in painting make packing seem pretty easy.

I'll be posting from Sweden next time, with photos and tales of the trip. I hope you will follow along!


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       Rebecca Crowell