It’s All Beautiful

Pink Beds Loop, Pisgah Forest, NC

Think of how often we say something is beautiful—a painting, a home, a young person, especially a young woman. But what is beauty? How do we define it? Is it a vista of pink mountain laurel or a sunrise over a calm ocean? Is it red cheeks, softness, or tallness? And if we are visual artists, is it bright colors, a specific form, smoothness, roughness or texture? Or if we are musicians or dancers, perhaps it is sound and movement?

It is easy to understand why there are so many ideas of beauty—whether we are describing a person or a piece of artwork or the natural world.

Looking for Perfection

While I was hiking the Pink Beds Trail in the Pisgah Forest this past weekend, I noticed the numerous contrasts in nature. I photographed early flowers like trillium, mountain laurel, bluets, and one or two rhododendrons. But I was most drawn to the beauty of the dead trees either those left standing as food and habitat for birds and those already fallen lying in the bogs or creek.

Perhaps I was attracted by the rawness of the visual or even the shapes and dramatic look of the dark colors against the bright green and the pale sky. Whatever the reason, they touched something in me. I found these decaying trees beautiful in their less than perfect form.

Recognizing Myths

In a recent “Brain Pickings” blog, Maria Popova wrote “there are so many kinds of beauty.” She was writing about love and living with purpose, specifically writing about Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator, which she called an empowering retelling of the Cinderella story—a story in which Solnit’s characters become their “truest” self—even the stepsisters.So, the limited view of beauty is certainly not the only myth expressed in this childhood story. There is also the limited view of love and what makes for a happy life.  

But perhaps if we can look at beauty differently, then we can also realize that there is more than one way of living a beautiful life.

When Technology Goes Bonkers

An abstract collage painting called "Earthshine" shows line, texture and some color though not perfect taken with my smart phone.
I took this photograph of “Earthshine” with my telephone (not an iphone). It’s not what I would use for a juried show, but it’s fine for sharing. It shows texture and line—though the color is bit off. I love the ability to see what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.

How do we respond as artists when the technology we have been depending on goes a bit…well haywire? While most of my artwork is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, I do depend on my computers, various programs, and my printer.

When You Least Expect It

This morning I watched my husband as he dealt with the Bluetooth in our car. He said he was riding along when suddenly the Bluetooth announced that it was changing the language to French. He swears he pushed no buttons and even tried to fix it by calmly asking the “French woman” to change the language back to English. Instead, he got a terse, “Pardon?”

It was not quickly resolved. Even with manuals, the internet, two telephone calls to different car dealers, and a plea to a daughter fluent in French, no one could offer much help (though the daughter offered a few choice words he could say in French when it didn’t work). So like any good American he went out punching buttons. The first punch got him another language, but it was Spanish. No problem, our other daughter is fluent in Spanish!) All he had to do was figure out which buttons he had pushed in which sequence. Finally, on the third try he was able to get the car to talk to him in English again. And incidentally, the only car dealers that called him back wanted to know if he would like to trade the car in for another one.

Obviously, the younger artists are most comfortable with technology, but I have seen a few of them get frustrated when something didn’t work “as advertised.” I guess the reality is that when it works, it makes our life easier and probably more creative even if we produce primarily with our hands. I know being able use technology to view and discuss the work of other artists influences my work. Videos teach me about new techniques, and the simple means of communicating allows me to share my own work with thousands of people even in other countries.

Our Art and Soul

In some ways adaptation to different circumstances is the heart and soul of art. I recently discovered that Matisse began his “cut-out” series after cancer forced him to use a wheelchair. While the work was a departure from his large paintings, critics often refer to them as among the best works of his entire career. 

While I would miss technology, I believe artists are among the most adaptable people in our society. Perhaps it would be a good idea for all artists to develop their “other left or right hand.” By this I mean develop more than one method of creating, challenging ourselves to go beyond our daily borders.

Stepping beyond what has worked for us in the past might open the door to even better work in the future.

When is a Workshop…Well Not a Workshop? Part 2 Surrealists

 

My mentoring week with Katherine Chang Liu also included “programs” that she developed for the group. For an hour each morning we viewed and discussed contemporary art. I found myself really enjoying the work of the surrealists, which was definitely not the case before. Perhaps what made me appreciate this art even more was the work another artist in the mentoring sessions—Judith Visker.

According to her bio, Judith had a career as a nurse before studying art. She painted in stylized representational style for a long time, but is now “more concerned with where the materials take me, with color relationships, formal design and surface quality.” She has exhibited in museum shows, galleries and exhibitions and has won awards. She is the Gallery Director at The Wham Art Center in Surprise, AZ where she has her studio, shows her work, and teaches classes. She graciously allowed me to share a few images. You can find more at her website: http://www.judithviskerart.com/

Enjoy.

 

When is a workshop…well not a workshop? Part

I just spent a week in Arizona working with Katherine Chang Liu, an internationally recognized artist and teacher. Katherine calls what she does mentoring, not a workshop, partly because she does not demonstrate techniques.

Katherine does not dwell on an artist’s deficiencies, instead she identifies each individual’s strengths and guides them by building upon these strengths to form their personal visual language. Her ability to discover the essence of each artist’s work was amazing. At least in my own personal case, it was positive reinforcement.

Although my work space was totally mine to organize and set up, I was fortunate enough to be near two incredible abstract artists, Nancy Dini, and Jackie Roliardi. Nancy was working with texture and Jackie with shapes. Observing the various artists and how they worked was an added benefit of the week. You can find Jackie’s work at https://jackieroliardiart.artspan.com/

No Destination

borderlandwandering
“Untitled,” 16″ x 20,” mixed media collage on deep panel

The week has just started and I am tired. To say it has been difficult to concentrate on art the last few weeks is well…an understatement. Illness, my own upper respiratory infection and my elderly mother’s increasing anxiety, has consumed me.

Finding myself the bad guy is not a new role, just one that comes and goes. And no matter how you feel at the moment, you really don’t want it to return. You want all hatchets buried, all peace pipes smoked. But usually, life doesn’t work that way even with the most optimistic outlooks. To keep my own head about me, I paint.

Lately, I have been working on paper, which doesn’t create my usual amount of texture. But it still allows quite a bit, just more visual than tactile. And because there is less preparation, I can work in the moment. Luckily, most of the layers also dry a bit more quickly as well.

This one, as yet untitled, is likely part of a new series. I feel myself moving a brush, a pencil over the paper as if it is a landscape I want to explore—even though there is no definite destination.

Do we need one? Can’t we just begin a journey and see what will happen, where we will go if we follow a line?

 

 

Purple Deceiver

Where paintings take us

purpledeceiverside
“Purple Deceiver,” 16″ x 20″ x 3″, mixed media on deep wood panel, https://www.artsicle.com/artist/art/purple-deceiver/details

On an early morning hike just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, my husband and I noticed a purple mushroom. Several photographs later, I thought I might paint a simple abstract landscape, but alas, paintings take us “where they want to go” sometimes. And this one took me many places.

Before I started anything, I really wanted to identify the mushroom. I was so excited when I found the name purple deceiver, but a few minutes later a less amusing name appeared: purple cort or cortinarius iodes. So I stopped there because I really wanted it to be a purple deceiver and to take on the complexity that denotes a con artist. After all, this little beauty had definitely misled me. And being here in the middle of a political season that will not be discussed, but can certainly be defined as full of “deceivers,” I decided that no matter what, this painting was “Purple Deceiver.”

Nothing about it is particularly clear. Everything is suggestive.

Setting Boundaries

settingboundariesweb
“Setting Boundaries I,” 12″ x 12″ x 3″, mixed media on deep wood panel

Who doesn’t love a beautiful stonewall or a wrought iron fence? It makes everything seem contained, more civilized, safer. But do boundaries always keep us safe, or does they simply separate us?

Robert Frost in his poem “Mending Wall” questions this notion with his neighbor as they do a spring mend on a stonewall, each on his own side. The narrator considers this repairing an “out-door game,” since there is no livestock to contain. But his neighbor seems serious about the boundaries and quotes the proverb: “fences make good neighbors.”

As houses get closer and the noise louder, I too want to set boundaries—to live within a walled garden. I get up early not to hear the sounds of construction. But will a wall, garden or not, make me more tolerant? Will I sleep better at night with a 6-foot privacy fence? Possibly. Or perhaps it is more about what a fence symbolizes, because boundaries can be so many different things.

If boundaries alienate us from each other, can we name the boundaries? Are they simply differences in looks or opinions so that we draw lines of exclusion to feel more comfortable? Are they differences in values or religion? Or are they what we imagine of our “neighbors”? Frost says, “my apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.”

So I ask myself and you, does setting boundaries benefit us or keep us from crossing lines that might make a difference?