Big, Bigger

When we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) we were fortunate to see an exhibition by German modernist painters. It was a delight to see the work of a particular favourite,  Anselm Kiefer. These paintings are BIG. “Big paintings” are a particular hallmark of modernist art. I’m talking about physically big paintings, and not the quality of the work, though in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, those two things were often conflated.

Seeing these paintings kicked off a desire to make large paintings ,again. When I was a student in the 1980s I created some very large paintings. Big Red, below, is 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide. The piece was created entirely of bits of paper and spills of acrylic paint. These paintings had no backing and you can imagine what a nightmare they were to hang.

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Big Red, 1987, collage construction, 8′ x 4′

When I began to paint in encaustic, my work became smaller in size. In Progress,  2013, encaustic on panel is about 40 x 30 inches.

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In Progress, 2013, encaustic on panel, 30″ x 40″

This week I finished this egg tempera painting. It is bigger than the sketchbook, and alterbook works I’ve been showing you, but nowhere near as large as In Progress.

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Pointless, Iterations series, egg tempera on panel, 20 x 16 inches

 

One more thing. A loyal reader, Regine, commented that the altered book paintings I posted  last week made her think of quilting. I don’t quilt, but I’ve long recognized that my work has an affinity with quilting. Here are two collage paintings from the 1990s that show a strong link to piecing quilts.

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You know what’s funny? Size doesn’t matter with digital work at all, at least not in the three dimensional way.  If you have enough pixels you can see the work any size you want. Think of an iMax screen and your cellphone screen.

Making Poetry When You Havent a Clue

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I’m sorry to leave you with so little today, but I’m about to leave the frozen north and I have very little time to write.

I want to you know that I haven’t a clue how to write poetry, but I do know that a certain ambiguity and wonderful words are part of it. This week I created another altered book page, and I “Austin Kleon’d” it. Austin Kleon is a young writer who, among other things, writes poetry by redacting newspaper or magazine articles. Look him up. He’s a very wise young man.

Lord Johnnie, the adventure novel I’m altering was published in 1949. The language is florid in comparison to our current tastes, and somehow I ended up with this rather dark bit of writing. Since the images I’ve made have taken on a dark tone, I decided to go with it.

Out of Control

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Pestilant Sun, 1990, collage and acrylic on canvas, 65″ x 18″

 

It’s not yet the end of January, and I’m already feeling a little behind. Yes, that’s right, we’ve barely begun the year and I’m out of control.

I write this in all seriousness, and then I think for a bit and laugh. When is a creative ever in control? Creative people scale high in the trait for openness. Everything is always negotiable until the painting is hung or the poem published, or the music played, and even then, we think: “What if we’d done this, maybe this, and…”

Now, add to that bit, the usual January goal setting. Yes, I know, I told you that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions and I didn’t, but for me, there are two times in each year—January and September—when I can’t help thinking, “New beginning.” And with that thought, I’m flooded with delight at all the possibilities. Soooo many possibilities, so many things I could make.

Three weeks later, I’m overwhelmed and out of control.

What to do?

You can make lists, calendar plans, take webinars on how to better manage your time, and so on, but the single best thing I do is to take a big breath and hear the word STOP in my head. Then I let my shoulders fall. It’s amazing how relieved I feel.

For creatives, out of control is who you are, embrace it, take the day as it comes knowing you’ve been here before and you did okay.

 

 

(I’m not sure why I named this painting as I did. I’m a big fan of the sun.)

The Effort

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Last week I talked about looking, seeing and inspiration. I offered you a video on the art of Anne Bachelier. If you watched the video, you’ll hear her talk about her interest in illuminated manuscripts and she shows us a book that she has ‘illuminated’.

I find all her art fascinating. Her facility with oil paint is astonishing, but the part that inspired me most were the grittier works in the book she made.

I don’t know what sort of book Anne used. But my instinct was take an old book from my book shelves. My husband’s Grandfather used to buy boxes  of stuff at farm auctions that held all the things the auctioneer expected no one wanted. Often these boxes held books and the books were passed on to us. We both have a hard time throwing out books.

Lord Johnnie by Leslie T. White was published in 1949. The paper is pulp and fairly thin. I have no idea what the story is about. The cover has an embossed sword on it. Here’s a bit from its pages:

“I fear, sir, there is some mistake,” she said fridgidly. “I recall no cousin who–“

Abruptly her yes widened. She opened her mouth to scream, then stifled the outburst with her fan.

“Control yourself, madame! warned Johnnie. “A scene will be fatal!”

I’ve since found that painting in already published books is not my own invention. It’s a thing. If you Google Altered Books you’ll find images and how tos.

I learned some excellent things in creating art in someone else’s book.

  1. Because the paper isn’t pristine, it’s easier to make your first marks and be less precious about the drawing.
  2. Because text covers much of the page, you end up using the whole page for your composition.
  3. Though I haven’t read any more of the story in than what you see above, I found my images seemed to imply a narrative.

I suppose, if I had planned better, I could have chosen a theme and made the narrative clearer. I’m glad I didn’t, because as you can see from the work on this blog I liked to change things up.

The mediums I used were Golden Heavy Body Gel (as my glue), Golden Acrylic Gesso, various inks, pencil crayon, tissue paper and other collage elements, and gel pens. The figure with the wings was drawn digitally, printed and painted with coloured pencil and watercolour.

I needed a poem about ravens, and couldn’t find one that felt right, so I wrote my own.

Fledge

Above,

hunched in our tattered funeral array, we watch.

Soon,

the itch in her wings will lift her up.

Below,

scuttles her prey.

 

Looking, Seeing and Inspiration

Anne Bachelier: Artist from Erin Faith Allen on Vimeo.

Seeing things through another artist’s eye can inspire like nothing else.

In 2018, I joined Debra Eve in her The Artist’s Way Book Club .

I’d read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a long time ago. It’s what turned me on to writing Morning Pages, a practice I continue to this day. Morning pages are three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness writing. The reasons for doing these are many, including an aid to building a creative habit.

Debra Eve, who is the writer behind the website Later Bloomers, posed thought provoking questions, and offered encouraging words, images and video to aid our rejuvenation as artists. One such video is this one created by Erin Faith Allen with the artist Anne Bachelier. Great Video! Enjoy!

 

More Process

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Iterations #6, 2018, egg tempera on panel, 24 x 24″
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Iterations #16 this is the same picture as the one above, but in the dark.

Last week I showed you an image of a painting in process–I say process rather than progress because to me the meanings of those words are different. You can have process without progress, though it would be difficult to have progress without process. Either way, I showed you an image last week and today I’m showing the image farther down the process line. You could even say that there is  process progress happening here. Yes, yes, I know! I’ll stop.

While working on this I remembered that I had a tiny bit of phosphorescent powder.

Do you see how the two most delineated sphere’s in my painting almost touch? It’s a bit like Michelangelo’s painting, The Creation of Adam, where God reaches out to touch Adam. There is a tiny space between between God’s finger and Adam’s hand. Something amazing is going to happens in that tiny space. You can feel it. The potential for everything is in that tiny space.

What if I used the phosphorescent powder with my egg tempera medium? Would it work?

Oh my! When you turn off the lights you get a glimpse of the power in that breathless moment of creation.

Okay, okay, I know I’m getting carried away, but you see what happened above and it was such fun to make.

The next painting will no doubt continue the process.

In Process

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Iterations #6, 2018, egg tempera on panel

It occurred to me this morning, that no matter where we are in life, young or old, we are always in process. We never “ARRIVE”, we’re always on the journey.

Alright, you’re all smarter than I am and figured this out when you were five, but have you reminded yourself of it lately?

Thirty-year-olds think, that by now, they should know it all, have it all. And for sure you should have arrived by the time you’re 45, 60, 70…

Oh, wait, it’s all over when you hit seventy. Too late. No soup for you!

Except that you haven’t arrived. Still, you’re in the process of becoming. You always will be. You live all your life in the process of one thing or another. The wonderful thing, the amazing thing, is that we get to decide what we want to work toward. Hey, kindness is a good goal. How about that? We can work toward being kind, or courageous, or both and everything else too.

Above is the beginning of an egg tempera painting I’m working on. I don’t know what it will become. I have lots of snarling, buzzing thoughts that tell me it will come to nothing, but I’m excited by it. It has potential. Anything that is in process has potential.

I might be edging my way back into writing. Maybe.