Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields is a ghostly, but enriching landscape that leaves me feeling very large, yet very insignificant at the same time.

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Graveyard Fields, 36″ x 48″ x 3″, Mixed media collage painting on deep wood panel

This new painting was inspired by a hike in late August along a trail called Graveyard Field in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a flat mountain valley just off the parkway surrounded by mountains like Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and Sam Knob. The day we hiked the goldenrod was already evident as were the wild blueberries, and many people left carrying overflowing hats, pails, and milk jugs.

It was an easy hike except for the climb to the falls, but I was most fascinated by the boardwalks that keep the trail elevated in areas that tend to flood—and the flatness even though you are at 5,000 feet elevation. The Park Service history says the name may have come from a windstorm fell that downed hundreds of trees or extensive logging in the early 1900’s. Either way the stumps eventually resembled moss-covered graves. Later fires devastated the entire valley, apparently heating the soil enough to sterilize it so that plants had difficulty growing. Now some trees, shrubs, and grasslands are slowly thriving.

It is a ghostly landscape, but an enriching one as well. Like most of my trips into the woods I leave feeling very large, yet very insignificant at the same time—and very much at peace.

 

Connections

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Detail of “Fight Song,”mixed media on board, 36″ x 24”

This past weekend was the second time in as many weeks that I visited my mother and she did not know me. There are many possible reasons for this—medication, the progression of her Lewy Body Dementia, the fact that she is waking from a deep sleep.

It saddens me in many ways, but once I tell her who I am and help her connect, there is lucid conversation. When I tell her about my four-month-old grandson’s crying and tummy troubles, she remembers my brother (who died in August). Then she says: “You were no trouble, always happy.” Of course, this is not what she said while I was growing up or what she would have said a few months ago, but it is lovely to hear. I have to fight the tears because I want us to talk about happy memories, and I want to keep her connected to family as long as I can.

So how does this relate to art? I think it has to do with the layers that I texture, paint, and collage. I was reminded of this when teaching a workshop this past weekend. My paintings have so many layers, some of which I like and some of which I don’t. I may bring one to the surface and then decide I don’t like it or don’t like part of it. Or I may create a layer that is a combination of what is below and the new elements I add to the top.

Putting something new on the surface doesn’t change that initial layer; it just adds to it, making it richer, more complex.  The layers connect each idea, but allow me to focus on what is most important. Life is like that too.

The Rewards of Sharing

"Dual Duty," 16" x 20," mixed media on deep wood panel
“Dual Duty,” 16″ x 20,” mixed media on deep wood panel

Sometimes I forget to share. I stay in the studio painting and don’t enter shows, teach classes, or volunteer to talk to groups. It becomes a bad habit.

Yesterday, because my husband promised, I gave a short artist’s talk to a group of seniors like myself. It was meant to inspire them to share their own life stories and changes in their lives, but I think it inspired me more.

I only talked and answered questions for about 30 minutes and took three of my recent paintings. The talk was mostly about my love of art, how it had been part of my life since my twenties, and more important in the last 10 as a full-time artist. But I also talked about process and how I painted these three pieces in particular.

As I was driving home one of things I noticed was that as I talked I got more excited about my work. Talking about my art seemed to stimulate me. It was as if talking about these paintings in a new series not only gave me more confidence but also clarified what I was doing and nudged me forward. I wanted to go directly to the studio.

I think sharing is important no matter what you do with your time. You would be surprised that so many people are interested. “Show and Tell” is not just for kindergartners.

 

Positive from Negative

 

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Unfinished paintings making positives using negative space.

“What do you do with everything that is cut away?” she asked Tilman, thinking now about the negative space of stone sculpture, the stone that is discarded, thinking too about how she had thrown away huge pieces of her own early life…”
from The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.

 With both my only parent and only sibling ill, there is a lot of sadness in my life right now, weighing me down, making it hard to focus on anything—even art. But because art keeps me sane, I have turned to it in bits and pieces, usually ending up in a mess of color and movement. For days I let these paintings on paper lay around, but this past week I decided to find out what if anything was important in these painted, collaged pieces.

So I started with grey paint and the basic rules of visual composition, reminding myself that positive space was the primary focus of a picture and the negative space was the background or the space between objects. I had always thought of negative space as quiet space, but obviously less important than the positive shapes.

But the more I painted, the more I wondered: Should there really be a difference between positive and negative space in importance? Can you have one without the other? In order to tell a complete story, don’t you need both? None of the pieces that are pictured are finished or may never be, but the exercise reinforced to me how critical negative space is in my paintings and how it can highlight the positive.

 

 

 

Effort Not Attainment

“It’s about effort, not attainment.”

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“No Going Back,” 14.75″ x 14.5″, Mixed media on deep wood panel

 

You know how you hear something, but don’t fully take it in. Then some time later, you finally really hear it. Yesterday in yoga class this happened. As encouragement the instructor said, “Its about effort not attainment. I wish I could tell you I was focused on my yoga practice, but all I could think about was my art.

You see, rarely do I start a painting, complete it, and know it is finished. And many times I “beat myself up” because I can’t just get an idea and execute it perfectly. Many times in many paintings I make two or three tries and not just at one area, but two or three entirely new beginnings.

The one pictured above may not be finished yet, but has been “completed” at least four times—wrong colors, image not right, texture not right. It started in my journal, went to paper, went to board, went to board again with numerous changes between. During my session with Katherine Chang Liu in April, I shared this “problem.” She immediately dismissed it as a “problem” and encouraged me never to give up on a painting. She said she continues to work until she knows it is right.

Art can be “play” because it is so engaging, but it is also work that requires study, skill, and most of all effort. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over and Over

Changing just one thing can make a difference.

Over and Over, 18" x 24", Mixed media on paper
“Over and Over,” 18″ x 24″, mixed media on paper

You know how a tune gets locked in your head, an “ear worm” they call it. I am particularly susceptible to any kind of “worm” whether a tune or a behavior. I seem to get locked into action or inaction.

I have been trying to discover how we free ourselves from repeating behavior that we know isn’t good for us, whether it is obsessing over a problem or just painting in the same way we always have. One suggestion was to change just one thing. In my yoga class the instructor often says something similar. She suggests moving the right arm out as you lift the left leg or putting the arms in front rather than behind in “child’s pose.”

I normally paint on deep wood cradles with a highly textured substrate. So I decided to paint on paper. It appears to me this one change has made me focus more on markings, which may well be a good thing.

Oh, I guess I did change two things. Instead of my classical or new age music, I listened to a bit of country. Go figure.

Perhaps you might try changing just one thing in your art or your life—or two?

Truth?

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study, 18″ x 24″, mixed media on paper

 

I read the phrase “a child’s truth” in a book recently and began to think about what it meant. Internet research detours you through a discussion of when a child begins to lie, but that’s not where I was headed. My own interest in the phrase had more to do with emotional truth. In a world where a child is seeking to connect actions and reactions, they often think they have caused an event that they had nothing to do with.

As adults we sometimes do the same. We take responsibility or blame ourselves for things that occur, but are often accidents or mere oversights. And worse, we often take credit for causing something beneficial for which at best we had very little agency.

Truth for a child is all knotted up with innocence and trust and a very “if/then” perspective of the world in which they live. It is naïve, but in my mind far less complex and far more factual than what we as adults deal with.

So truth is a grey area like so many other things, a mixture of fact and fiction, fantasy and reality, memory and illusion.