“It’s Something Else Now”

After Time, © Patricia Steele Raible, triptych, 9″ x 24″ x 1.75″, mixed media on board


Space Is Limited

It’s getting crowded again, but not in a bad way. As I look around the studio, I see a lot of unfinished work, but I also see what may be politely referred to as “reworked paintings.” Does this say something about my current work habits (well perhaps) or does it also say something about many of us who just enjoy creating. Artists are finished when they are finished. But after living with a artwork for a while they may simply feel the need to change it a little, or change it significantly.

In a 2014 article in ArtNews, author Ann Landi wrote, “choosing when to stop altering a piece can be a highly individual decision, as idiosyncratic and personal as style, and there are instances in which a work is never fully done, at least in its creator’s mind.”

I lean in this direction, but I am also afraid of a painting being “overdone.”

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

In Landi’s article, she describes sculptor, Nari Ward, (http://www.artnet.com/artists/nari-ward/) who recycles pieces of one sculpture using it in another. He says “simply changing a venue for a particular work can mean it has to be re-formed to fit its site.” And he admits that sometimes the original artwork can disappear. When a gallery asks if a particular original work is available to sell, he often has to admit, “no, it’s something else now.”

Does the Art Change Or Is It the Artist

I believe that unfinished work and work that is being recreated  may actually be a sign of changes in our own lives—not just in our art, but in ourselves. We are not the same person at 30 or 40 that we were at 20 and different events change us. We don’t even stay the same when we are much older, so neither should our artwork. Our artwork would or should reflect who we are in that moment.

The artist is the real story here, that and their ability to put it on canvas, or metal, or wood, or whatever materials they converse with. And if that conversation changes over time (as surely it must), we the listeners are the richer for it.

 

Church Can Be An Art Blessing

I’m really glad I went to church today. I discovered an incredibly inspiring artist who painted more than 7 decades ago.

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Helene Schjerfbeck, Self portrait 1942

I’m really glad I went to church today. Yes, it’s always a comforting place where I can find friends and words that normally uplift me in this crazy, confused world. And today, I found an incredibly inspiring artist: Finish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946).

I guess I should explain that in our Unitarian Universalist Church we use art, music and poetry every Sunday. When we removed a hand-made tapestry from behind the pulpit several years ago and added a large projection screen, I was concerned that we were becoming too computerized and maybe a bit cold. But they use this wide-screen to project poetry, words of songs, and yes, art every Sunday!

An Artist That Inspires

My newest artist that inspires painted more than 7 decades ago, and while she is best known for her early realistic paintings, the ones that mesmerized me are her later paintings that are nearly abstract images.

While unknown to me, Helene Schjerfbeck is a Finnish national icon. Her early style was very naturalistic, honed during her studies in France. Her talent was recognized early and she was widely traveled However, in her later years she spent much of her time in a quieter atmosphere.

Next year (2019), the Royal Academy of Arts will exhibit over 60 of her portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Their exhibit publicity calls this a “long-overdue survey  that traces the evolution of her remarkable career.” They plan to highlight a sequence of her self-portraits, which they believe reveal her “lifelong fascination with the physical and psychological process of aging”—what lies beneath the skin and bones.

Influences of My Current Work

I too have found that as the years pass, I am simplifying my paintings. While a lot goes in at the beginning, much gets covered up and painted over. I am finding I must be honest and clear about my intent, and I must spend a lot of time journaling and observing. It is not linear, but rather a process that allows for overlap—a back and forth, a push and pull, an addition and reduction approach.

In particular, I am observing women artists because I believe they are best at distilling ideas and objects to their essence. This is a challenge I have given myself: to find what means the most to me and to simplify the imagery until only the important elements remain.

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.

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.

 

Covering Everything With White

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“Seeing In A Different Light III,” (detail of 4-sided painting 36″ x 8″ square), mixed media on wood

As I painter I know that if there is an area I don’t like in an artwork, I can cover it with white and begin again, another chance if you will. Here in the South of the US, January seems to be symbolizing that chance—a bit of a “do over” if you will. But the interesting thing is that no matter how much we cover, what is underneath is still there. A snow-covered roof may look beautiful, but if it leaks; it leaks. There is only so much covering you can do.

In my artwork I have found that after a while the paint won’t stick very well, and you have to dig deep and sand carefully to get solid surface on which to build. Perhaps it’s time to take stock, to use this as an analogy for my life as well as my work.

Leaning In

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“Setting Boundaries III: Leaning In,” 14″ x 11″, mixed media on deep wood panel

 

We hear so much these days about how divided the country is, how one group is just so very different from another. It true, we are different; yet, we are the same. I personally believe it is not either. It is both.

The problem is fitting it all together. How can we “be an individual” if we are like everyone else? How can we support each other despite our differences? How can we trust each other? How can we bend just a bit to keep the structure whole?

Leaning in is not a weakness. To me it takes incredible strength. Just as the structure of a building depends on every component working together, community is also about support—even when we don’t agree. It’s about leaning in—both to get support and to give support.

Leaning in is not about destroying the differences and making everyone and every group the same. Without the differences, without the sameness, and without the leaning in, the picture would not be nearly as beautiful or bold.

Setting Boundaries

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“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?