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Saturday, 24 January 2015

THE SUBMERGING ARTIST

Here is an interesting article in the online journal Bmoreart about how to define the different stages of an artist's career.  Three labels pop up time and again: emerging, mid-career and established.  According to this article, I have probably been emerging for over 35 years.  

I'm like a worm stuck in clay.  The stuff is packed down so damn hard that it's difficult to squeeze through, no matter how wet and saturated it is.

I'm leaving my day job in a few days.  It's a time of great, exciting turmoil, a passage riddled with calculated risks.  My business side is transforming.  As an artist who can now produce art "whole hog", I am possibly fated to a life of crass, shameless self-promotion.  Interestingly, I've been coaching others on how to do this for almost ten years, helping professionals who have lost their jobs market themselves to find hidden opportunities.

Ah how easy it is to preach!  Now I have to put my money where my mouth is.  Yikes!

The art market landscape is changing, appears to be more democratic. People are actively peddling their wares on the web to make a living, often disregarding galleries or the grant systems in place.  According to an excellent article in The Atlantic, artists are becoming far more entrepreneurial, although in so doing, inadvertently changing the definition of what an artist is.

I have a lot of thinking to do.  Forgive me while I submerge for a while.




Saturday, 17 January 2015

BRUNCH

I don't have any pets.  

The only ones allowed to share my life as a child were cats.  My mother didn't like dogs. 

I dressed my pretend babies in doll's clothes, placed them in a miniature carriage, and wrapped them snugly under warm blankets. They objected to my intense mothering and leapt wildly out of the carriage in no time flat, claws blazing, after which an an energetic pursuit by me ensued. In retrospect, it offered a novel way to get aerobic exercise.

After years of exposure to felines, I decided when I became a mother, to let my kids care for (ha!) a variety of pets; cats naturally, dogs, horses, rabbits, turtles, guinea pigs, and hamsters. 

Then about ten years ago, I had an "aha!" moment! 

NO MORE... 

  • picking up pee and poo, 
  • vacuuming hair balls, 
  • purchasing rolls of tape to lift unwanted fur off my black dress pants, 
  • expensive designer food,
  • vet bills and kennel fees, 
  • aromatic smells of ammonia and crunchy bits of litter on the bathroom floor that stuck to my bare feet in the middle of the night after a visit to the loo.

I often muse that if aliens from outer space were to observe our relationships with pets, they just might wonder who runs the show around here. Dogs in particular wear stylish outfits. People walk them, make certain they evacuate, bend over, pick up and put the precious doo-doo in little bags.  Yup, we love to serve!

My needs for animal companionship are met in other ways. Mammals and amphibians continuously pop into my life regardless of my pet-less desideratum and require little or no commitment on my part.  I have had many encounters with various species over the years but last weekend's was particularly memorable. 

My partner and I were invited to a rather eventful brunch. 

As we crossed the threshold, the first thing we heard from our host (let's call him Robert) and hostess (let's call her Claire) was that a mouse had just been seen scurrying about the kitchen. Wow, I thought!  Imagine that!  A mouse brave enough to venture out during the day!  (At our house, we have had multiple penetrations by field mice, the cute ones with large pink ears, but they normally sneak into the kitchen at night when it's dark and quiet).

I thought for sure that the said mouse would not be seen again given our vibrant conversation.  But lo and behold, the beastie suddenly appeared, a peculiar little thing, torpedo-like, almost black, with a rather stunted tail.  A loud female shriek bounced off the walls (not mine) and the mouse made its way across the living room floor to hide under a toasty radiator.  




Our host wanted to find the invader and prepared his gear for battle. Particularly well-equipped, he donned gardening kneepads, thick black suede gloves, and what looked like a miner's light atop his head.  I secretly thought that perhaps he was a tad overprotected but the old adage "better safe than sorry" probably served him well in this case.



Robert crawled about on all fours and hunted for the mouse.  No luck so we continued feasting on croissants, crusty bread, various cheeses, and cold cuts.  We figured our dark visitor had probably disappeared for the day but I still glanced at the radiator every so often.   

I suddenly noticed a dark, gray sausage shape behind Claire's chair and nonchalantly mentioned its location to everyone.  Carried away with the wind of an EEEK worthy of any horror movie scream, Claire found herself on the other side of the wall while "Tiny" turned around in circles before disappearing for a second time under the radiator. 

Another search was foiled once again.  We tried to keep eating but by now my head kept flipping back non-stop to see if the mouse would grace our presence once again.  We stood up and I went to examine Robert's rodent hunting gear.  

Suddenly we saw the mouse slip under a nearby cupboard door and Robert finally managed to catch it in a clear plastic container.  We soon discovered that it wasn't a mouse, but rather Northern short-tailed shrew

have heard of women being called shrews but were you to ask me what a real shrew looked like or why it was bad to be a shrew, I would have been at a loss to tell you.  I have now learned that shrews have elongated pink noses, stunted tails, and rather nasty characters.

Why are women called shrews?  Beats me!  Initially, the term applied to both genders but eventually we got stuck with it.  Seems these varmints are really aggressive AND their teeth are venomous.  YES IT'S A VENOMOUS MAMMAL!  Whoa!  

National Geographic has a fascinating video of fighting shrews.  

I think the term is not a particularly nice designation for anyone.  








Thank goodness Robert wore those gloves.  He tried not to hurt him (her?) but unfortunately the shrew either suffered from shock or got accidentally whacked by the container.  

Now I ask you, who needs pets when life hands you a venomous shrew?


Thursday, 1 January 2015

THE MOMENT

Excitement!  Joy!  

Discovering and learning often bewildering yet spine-tingling digital tools in 2014 opened up the possibility of keeping up with my racing mind (almost) and stimulating or documenting (sort of) a deluge of wild ideas. It all bodes well for the upcoming year although it would be the height of absurdity and incredibly naive to make plans or predictions.  


Ergo, I have no clear resolutions for 2015; I revolve in the spirit of "NOW", zigzag like sperm with crappy motility; climb mountains of texture with cameras and emboss tools; clone like a frenzied scientist enamoured with sheep; split wrinkles and patterns into harem veils; collage, smudge, add splatters of colour and blow gusts of wind! 

I write in the present, wallow in a potent bubble bath of peace, sing with wailing cats in heat.  I'm in Québec...can you hear cold wintry gusts penetrate the silence of this early New Year's day?  Feel my icebox feet as I type these words?  It's positively hypnotic. No egg-spectations!  Have a wonderful year and thanks for reading my blog.  I"m off for a hot cup of lemon tea.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

FESTIVE WISHES OF A SORT

Happy holidays!

"Anticipation"

In the spirit of this celebratory season, I wish (in the immortal words of beauty pageant contestants) for "world peace"...as if peace on our planet could ever be possible.

Is my derisive side showing? I usually try and squish surfacing cynicism; who needs all that negative energy?  


It's just that things don't seem to get any better when it comes to achieving peace, regardless of how enlightened and educated we are. The idea of a global village sounds great in theory, but we are a tribal bunch. If Joe wears pink shoes and Bob doesn't, which one is weird?  Depends on what their respective tribes wear. 


When viewing Chris Hadfield's stunning photographs of earth taken from space, it quickly becomes apparent that we are not especially important, merely infinitesimal specks on a dazzling grain of sand in one of countless universes.  

Tribes belong in a parade.

Drip, drip water blue,
rinse the blood red rage adieu.







Monday, 22 December 2014

KING ARTHUR

His name is Arthur, pronounced "R-ture", a sizeable, declawed, yellowish-beige cat. 

I always thought that clawless cats were at a disadvantage when left to roam the wild blue yonder, but Arthur and his cohort, Oreo, a black and white mouser (also clawless), wander the neighbourhood in wild abandon with no negative consequences. 

Arthur and Oreo aren't mine, they belong to a neighbour.  Felines being felines, they really couldn't care less that technically speaking, their home base is next door.  They have a "mi casa su casa" attitude and wait patiently at my entryway to scoot inside at the first opportunity. Once across the threshold, they scrupulously examine every corner, nook, cranny to ensure that there has been no recent invasion of field mice....OR lay at my feet writhing "pet me, pet me"...OR seek out the most comfortable chair in the house for a 10 minute nap.  

It is said that dogs have masters and cats have staff.  A few days ago I was busy painting in my studio and highly focused!  My mind was oblivious to the outside world and actively problem solving; things were really coming together!  

Arthur slipped in when my friend opened the front door.  Did the cat think it wise to request HIS attention? OH NO!  Puss was way too happy to come and disturb me.  As if wound up on a very tight spring, he undertook a frenzied rub against my left leg, then turned over and plopped his entire body weight atop my feet.  After no reaction from me, (I tried to ignore him in the hope that he might take a hint), he used his very hard head as a heat seeking weapon to repeatedly bump my right shin.  It was all I could do to keep myself from falling!

Meanwhile any semblance of fine brush control I had summarily disappeared. I could no longer paint unless Arthur, like Elvis, left the building.  I suggested very gently, and then more forcefully, that he might want to visit the other resident of the abode to fulfil his needs.  But King Arthur had another idea and was quite adamant that I should be the one to make him purrrrrrrrrrr.

I'm a sucker for a pretty face so I stopped what I was doing and yes, pet him for about 10 minutes.  After that, he grabbed the chair I like to sit on in my studio and took a satisfying nap.  I am convinced that Arthur is not just another demanding cat, but rather a frustrated alien artist from outer space determined to sabotage my efforts.  


HA! Take that Arthur!



Sunday, 23 November 2014

LOOKING AT EINSTEIN

I like to plan. It perpetuates the illusion that I have some element of control over what happens in my life. BUT when unexpected incidents wreak havoc on my forecasts, a surprising emotional whack of anxiety shakes my tired psyche into reality mode. I am forced to ponder why I am arrogant enough to believe that I have command over anything.

A bit of wisdom should be starting to pierce my brain cells. I imagine a minuscule syringe filled with the liquid of experience and knowledge. Penetration has to be done under a microscope as the needle is way too small to be seen with the naked eye. 

Frustration grows with the collapse of anatomical parts and failing memory.  Gatherings with friends and family become a festival of complaints. This is something we feel an urgency to share.  We clamour in unison, "Hey, what's happening here"?




Will physical pain and emotional anguish dominate our verbal exchanges for the next twenty years (assuming we all live that long)?  I am hopeful that intellectual/creative stimulation and exposure to new things will be key in avoiding this continuous loop of vagrant exploration.  Right now though, explore I must!

When my father reached his eighties, he went through a subtle transformation, from a vibrant, opinionated man to a quiet philosophical soul who no longer seem to worry about much of anything.  The clock kept ticking and eventually a young woman had to come to the family home and help him bathe.  As little strokes continued to whip him with greater frequency over the subsequent two years prior to his death, he became increasingly dependent on strangers to meet his needs. Ultimately, he couldn't avoid the institutional experience.

A large poster of Einstein hung in the corridors of the hospital ward.  My sister and I would push his wheel chair along the circular trajectory of the hallway.  We repeatedly passed Albert, and every time, dad became very animated.  He could no longer speak but his eyes grew big, awash with energy, and his lips spread into the widest of grins as he pointed at the poster.  Einstein made dad happy!  My appreciation for the acclaimed scientist grew for reasons other than his achievements in physics. 




As the mind and body deteriorate, an intriguing thing happens.  Every uttered thought is perceived to be new, spoken as if for the first time, even though a particular chain of words may have been voiced in exactly the same way minutes earlier.  Perhaps as our bodies begin to fail us, we transform into beings that exist in a state of perpetual wonder, ready to discover Einstein and Bach time and again. 

The optimist in me is looking for the good things that happen during the aging process.  I see subtle changes in those around me and within myself.  I keep reciting Mad's Alfred E. Neuman mantra, "What, me worry?"

Yeah I worry.  My 100-year-old mother is now in pattern behaviour, repeats the same things, asks the same questions again and again because she doesn't remember the answers I gave her in an earlier breath.  She remains alert and lucid, but her short term memory now resides in a parallel universe.  With a bit of input, she still manages to permanently etch some memories for speedy retrieval during a later exchange. 

Someone washes her everyday (usually a man), meals are ready on a regular schedule, and she burrows into a warm bed with clean sheets for long periods of time.  She feels safe.

So what about plans and planning in general?  Revisiting priorities on a minute to minute basis would be a heck of a chore.  Although it's cold outside, I'm going to open a window, throw out all my plans, and enjoy looking at Einstein.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

BEIGE



I kick them, kick them hard, then harder still, over and over, and all they do is rustle with laughter as they fly through the air. The imps lie in piles, inviting me to fall on their beds of prickly beige, a colour I hate for its blandness. What would happen if I let them seduce me?  They might lull me to sleep, to those beige dreams that inevitably end up as nightmares. 






Their dried up skins enthral. "Come lie on us.  We will wrap you in dryness and caress you with the sweet smell of death." 


November is "le mois des morts", the month of the dead, a gray month with spots of beige.


















A neutral colour ceases to be neutral when it ends up looking like this.


"One never tires of beige," my mom always said. (I've got news for you mom!) 

"He is beige (meaning boring)," a friend often repeated.




Soon there will be frozen leaves. 
Maybe beige isn't so bad after all.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

THINGS END THEN START AGAIN

  • McIntyre Gallery located in Regina, Saskatchewan closed its doors at the end of December 2012.  They represented me for over 20 years.
  • Claridge sold much of its collection last year including one of my works.
  • Galerie Harwood in Hudson, Québec ceased to exist last week.
So many years have gone by. People are tired, closing up shop, retiring. This must mean that I have been making art for quite a long time... 


...but I'm not done yet.  I still have lots to say!

When I first became part of McIntyre Gallery's stable, their direction seemed wild and funky, quite unlike the fare I saw at the time in Quebec. Then slowly, after ten years or so, the artwork shown began to change, became more traditional, most likely adjusting to a changing clientele or global political sensibilities.

As the owners prepared to return the paintings I had on consignment, they informed me that they were interested in purchasing one last work. "Camouflage" stayed behind in Saskatchewan. 


Camouflage

Early in my career, parting with what I had created was difficult. My works weren't just a commodity to sell, they were akin to babies that had grown within me. It was necessary to change the message that was on replay in my head. I made a conscious decision to view those who purchased my work as adoptive parents who cared deeply for the images they chose to live with. The passionate connections buyers made with the work were fuelled by their own history, which was often unfathomable to me

What originated in my psyche went through a strange metamorphosis at the receiving end, somehow transforming into universal archetypes. 


Now how cool is that?

Last week, I picked up most of the drawings I had at Galerie Harwood. Like a reunion with old friends, I embraced the experience with joy and let waves of the past wash over me. It's a revelation to see my work again after it having been on consignment for long periods of time. The images are loaded with secretly coded memories that stir up old emotions.  

The drawing below reminded me of fun times I had with fellow artists during a model drawing workshop. We always liked to add interesting props and on one particular occasion, had the model pose in rubber inner tubes.

  
This drawing led to a painting, which is presently on consignment at the Artothèque de Montréal

The environment surrounding the figure has changed. She now sports a blue tinge and bobs within an equally blue ocean on a yellow inner tube as two rubber duckies float by. Pollution is not always ugly on the surface.



I have yet to put the work I picked up in storage. It rests in my studio amidst new paintings and sketches. I imagine the pieces conversing, exchanging stories about what was said by those who viewed them.  Ah to be a fly on the wall.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

CLIMBING THE DIGITAL ROPES

My "inbox" is full of email messages citing the benefits of keeping brain cells active throughout middle and old age. I have trouble getting excited about computerized exercises that are designed to combat impending dementia but yield no artwork. I only enjoy a very basic version of Tetris on my phone, which I occasionally use as a meditative tool or as an activity to kill time when I have to wait too long to see a medical professional. For some strange reason, placing little boxes in rows clears my head before I undertake something new. That said, I'm sure this game leads nowhere fast and I am merely rationalizing its benefits.

What puffed up my neurons in recent years was a return to university for a Masters degree and starting a new, stimulating job. Like all muscles in my body, my brain objected to the unaccustomed exercise. Higher education in particular, initially convinced me that the size of my skull was too small and prevented my brain muscle from stretching. Luckily that perception was proved wrong after a few weeks.

My present challenge is to find a new propellant that will keep my grey matter agile. As things become increasingly routine, the "jello" phenomenon often kicks in. The brain jiggles, turns to mush, and dexterous thinking becomes trapped in boxes of convention. Not a good thing for an artist. To achieve a level of continuous personal growth, one must continue to learn new things.

I downloaded a few art apps on my iPad, have Photoshop on an old dying PC laptop, and Gimp on my new iMac. Maybe I'm spreading myself too thin but I don't think so. Fundamentally, one app resembles the other. Some tools are easier to use than others but learning each one invariably helps me make precious connections. I often flip an image through different software to get what I want.

The computer screen tends to smooth out my technique. I can't feel the stylus or my finger dig into the texture of the paper or canvas. A continuing struggle is to recreate the illusion of traditional media on the computer screen. 


"Blue Character" done with Sketches on the iPad
Feels like watercolour and colour pencil but is still decidedly digital.

"Pink" done with Inspire Pro on the iPad.
Feels like pastel and ink

I have a long way to go. The terminology in Photoshop and Gimp is particularly mind boggling. What pray tell is a Gaussian blur (sounds like an alien culture locked in an accelerated time warp), or where will an Alpha Channel take me...will it turn me into a brassy wolf woman? I wish software designers would simplify their technobabble. 

Oh well, one must adapt! Time to sand the inside of my cranium to make room for some new savvy. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

SHADOWS

The sun creates cimmerian worlds of shadows. A six foot avocado plant in the corner of a sunroom can cast a sombre forest of gargantuan leaves on surrounding walls. I imagine myself penetrating this momentary universe. Would I find an ephemeral, floating, colourless mirage or a nightmare in black and white? I guess it would depend on my frame of mind.

The most dramatic distortions revolve around the angle of the sun in relation to the horizon. Early mornings and late afternoons provide the longest shadows. Clear skies yield high-contrast shapes, but sunlight diffused by light cloud cover delivers soft, wispy silhouettes.

















These shadow compositions materialized during a leisurely walk on a beach in British Columbia. I was hunting for interesting things to photograph when I suddenly noticed my shadow and that of my walking buddy. We couldn't help but play light games. As usual, I ended up with a pair of archetypal horns on my head. 

Seashells provided interesting textures, as did traces of unusually large footprints in the sand.




I decided to experiment with one of the photographs and doodled a gray, devilish-looking couple on my iPad.  Why not "run with" the horns so to speak? The process was not unlike the one I used for my "Tea Stain Mama" paintings. Transient shapes make fine catalysts for ideas. 

More shadow photographs clog my computer's memory; some of gentle moths dying on the windows, others of abstract shapes that appear from nowhere to land on fiercely etched stones.  

Parallel worlds deserve our sighs of wonder.