Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.


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Portraits 2: broken hearted?

Time teaches that there’s more to this story we’re in now than ‘broken heart’.

So many other hearts are broken, badly and beyond repair, in this world, across religion, family, geography, faith and belief, music and art, that there’s no room now for any one person’s ache and wrong. We are in an ocean of ache, still buoyant on the impossibly, miraculously resilient raft of human love and ridiculousness.

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I write here to fully claim my personal online voice that emerged almost a decade ago to release the pressure from the daily relational muzzle I’d learned to wear. To accept full responsibility for the effects of the choices I made in response or reaction to events, traumas and pressures in my life. All of what I’ve written has affected people in ways I cannot know – I hope positively, but I cannot know.

I was harnessed by both the impossibly restrictive muzzle, and the resulting survival-need to release internal pressure, from age zero. Thankfully I was given art, not guns, as tools.

Oh, Christchurch New Zealand. Oh world.

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This is the blog and the time that requires me to be wide open, fully responsible for my choices and the effect they have had on the people I have held close in my life, as well as the people I affect without even knowing. My choice, my works, my notes and paint – all of it.

I’m no victim.

In the final estimation, I believe those affected by gun violence aren’t, either. Nor do I believe that the shooters can claim immunity from inflicting pain, because they themselves are in pain. I, too, choose to make change with the tools I have learned to use, learned from pain, and thankfully, also love. So, I am also a perpetrator, since I choose action.

We are both victim and perpetrator, all of us. We all inflict pain and damage; we also heal. We all have the capacity to choose something larger, something generous, something warm and impossibly, miraculously resilient.

It’s NOT a cliche, it’s conscious action:  soft, gentle, firm, tender, shaking, shuddering love. You choose to risk your heart, and you DO this.

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Difficult things matter. They are never, ever easy, but they matter.

Please – we need to learn how to go where it’s not comfortable to see ourselves reflected, to handle this drowning extremist wo/man in their panic, all of us – well before they open fire. They are us. We are we.

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I don’t know what to do, here in the second day of my apartment with next to no furniture, with too much work to do in too short a time, my heart all in yearning for peace, for integrity and connection and miractulous human impossibility.

I’m sorry, human and non-human world, that we can be so harmful to one another. Please, please. Let’s find another way to be here together.

 

 

 


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Portraits 1: Hubbard Squash

It’s been a long transition, seems like, from Artist-in-Residence to Resident, at The Cotton Factory, and as of this week, in Hamilton.

In fact it hasn’t been long, considering the details sorted and schedules set, leases signed and accounts set up. Futons purchased and assembled, movers booked, packing strategies set in motion…

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Two weeks. I’ll admit the first eleven+ days have been dented fairly seriously by some intense emotional rites-of-passage. I felt strapped in, then jettisoned, like a hubbard squash at Kemble’s Punkin’ Chuckin festival, off the safe warm planet I know and sailing through the air into deeply unfamiliar territory…

It takes me until mid flight to realize that I am NOT a hubbard squash. That I can control how and where I land.  A good time and place to reunite with your objective self, is mid-flight.

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Mid-flight’s an excellent place to realize that others have gone this way before, and landed well. I’m glad some wrote their stories, glad some were to hand.

A good time, as it turns out, to pull an all-nighter, as the newly arrived guest-house neighbours fight at top-voice and Melbourne Nat from downstairs texts at 3am: I don’t know what to do! It feels like it could turn violent… Nat and I both wide awake, both triggered, trying to read.

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Still time, the next night, to toss and turn on the red studio futon (away from the fighting) while the traumas and the memories dance their processing dance around the birth of nine new paintings and a brand new Fairy Tale.

As Marina Warner writes in Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014),

Even a writer as dreamy (and privileged) as the German Romanic Novalis defined the form as a way of thinking up a way out: “A true fairytale must also be a prophetic account of things — an ideal account — an absolutely necessary account. A true writer of fairy tales sees into the future.’

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After some ridiculous walking in circles, some determined but fog-shrouded reading and drawing, a 6km walk, some Netflix, more drawing, I finally find a full night’s sleep at the guest house. At 5am I wake, blinking and grateful beyond words to feel articulate again.

Somewhere in mid-flight, in my non-panicked heart-brain, the new fairy tale is formed and performed – with frogs –  to friends, family and the Wilfrid Laurier MACM panel.

Feels like prophecy, to me. Also feels like I need to write a hubbard squash into the story now.

I really do hope you’ll come, and be part of it.

April 30 and May 2 @ The Cotton Factory. May 4 or 5 in Owen Sound:  Portraits, and a Fairy Tale. With frogs.


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Ten portraits to self-study Capstone

On the eve of a research plan presentation with and to colleagues at Laurier, I surface from my muttered scribbled reading of journal articles to stare at the lamp…

Okay, figure it out. Where do yellow roses, portable solar panels, flights to and from Dublin, camel trains, artists’ talks, nine amazingly diverse portrait commissions, Community Music practice and study, art as mycelial connection, skunks, great lakes industry, my badly broken but mending heart, and autoethnographic methodology meet?

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Turns out they meet here in my third floor Hamilton walkup, where all available surfaces are covered with books, pens, pencil crayons and sketchbooks.  Just the tip of the iceberg, as they say.

This computer, stuffed full of journal and blog, photo and video, scratchy songs with wooden frogs in them, is the rest of the iceberg.

For the purposes of research, book, and journal article at the end of April, all of this is raw ‘data’.

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Of course all of these threads have come together. Of course these madly overlapped worlds will find voice and fulfilment together in the course of the next two months.

Of course they will. Do I sound a tad overwhelmed, though, I wonder.

Some of the threads that seemed so separate until I took a more objective look: my Community Music masters, begun in 2016; my broken but mending heart; my beautiful off-grid cabin; my move away from the town I’ve lived and loved in for 25 years; my daughter on a camel in the Sahara; my parents who now navigate advanced age with great dignity; the three funny, provocative artist’s talks I will offer up next month in this new place where I was born…

…this new old place that hugs the shore of a great lake, reclaiming itself at the end of the industrial era; this place where I meet new tribe members every day, where we cook up intriguing and important new projects …. for July and for three years ahead.

Inside and outside of so many worlds, all at once. What an amazing time this is.

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conversational drawing, end of Feb.

I feel as though I’ve been in a birth canal for the past six months. As though all of this will blossom as planned (of course it will) and I will wake to find myself ‘born’ and on a plane to Dublin on the eleventh of May.

The past six months and for the next two have been/are full of a lot of DOING. Oddly enough, though, the ‘doing’ time has felt profoundly peaceful, if that makes any sense. Feels peaceful now, even in this moment (I’ve been overwhelmed before, it always goes away).

I’ll be delivered back to my cabin at the beginning of June, where I will soak up Love of the Big World, maybe fix up the other cabin, build a bonfire, share a scotch, stare at the lake, laugh, and breathe.

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I must say, in the meantime it is odd to have Howard Stern with me, through the floor boards in my studio every day.  I’m hoping he and I can come to some kind of ear bud new schedule agreement. Surely, yes…?

It is excellent to have the company and constant support of good friends on this trip of change. You know who you are: thank you. I love you, and always will.

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More to come!


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Hamilton Residency 10: Manifesto.

Lightning: it is wise not to make a target of yourself.

Enlightenment: what you feel as you walk away, unharmed, if you successfully apply this to any dangerous situation.

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My Manifesto, then, as informed by the following list of encounters, ideas and experiences, as far as I can name them in the moment:

J.F. Martel, Guy Laramee, Brian Eno, Kate Raworth, Rebecca Solnit, Greta Thurnburg, Werner Herzog, my Masters study of Community Music, Rutger Bregman, hundreds of conversations and encounters with the valued people in my world, Nora Bateson and warm data, Donna Haraway and ‘making kin’, Carl Jung’s Red Book, Wassail! 2018, my nine portrait collaborators, the Cotton Factory Artist’s residency, Hamilton, Emerald Street, Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, trust, love, betrayal, trauma, and four decades of good and bad artistic choices

To all artists, in all media and discipline, everywhere:

Do not ever paint, write, act, dance, direct or sing  for money.

Get paid, yes. But the primary objective of your work can not be financial compensation. In fact financial compensation is the least significant objective in making art.

(Read J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015). He’s right.)

Never starve for the sake of your ‘art’. That’s an old trap of an idea, and it never applied to you. Starving’s a waste of your time; figure out how to live and thrive, so you can work. Keep a weather eye on your ego; you need less than you think.

Werner Herzog put it this way:

“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.”

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Do your work out of love and respect for your human self, and all other human & non-human selves who struggle, fail, make wrong choices, and right ones. Paint for the dangerously passive-aggressive narcissist in his fortress of victimhood; for the seventh generation Welsh sheep farmer who calls out Peta on social media for denouncing the use of wool.

Sing for the young girls and boys with multicoloured hair who are entering a life in which their bodies are commodity, where there is no such thing as physical, emotional or psychological safety.

It is all “We”. You are not separate from any of this; it is your job to include, to speak for.

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Artists are the ‘voice’ of a natural ‘We’, which includes all living species.

Write, for the clearcut trees, the hurricanes and the fires, the floods and the traumatic, catastrophic changes in this world. Paint for all refugees, of all species.

Act, compose, direct, for the bully boys and their muzzled wives who get elected so they can take an axe to our carefully crafted, compassionate safety nets. This too, is human, they are also “We.”.

Make art that supports indigenous voices that speak for and to the land – people all over this planet who claim their integrity and walk their talk, through centuries of genocide.  Learn how to be a good ally, on your own steam, without entitlement.

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Go direct. Look beneath the surface of things, then widen your gaze to see the larger context.

Take a straight, objective look at power and its misuse, at how abusive behaviour always always always originates in deep private, personal insecurity, unhealed trauma, fear. Paint the humanness of that. Hold difficult space for change.

Mind your tongue and use your ears – the ones in your soul as well as the ones on your head. Use your anger to find and name the difficult beauty in all that you see. Paint that.

Learn to walk away when nothing more can be done; always forgive as you do this.

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Stand in your truth, then express that truth, through action, through art. Understand that your truth is not a weapon, it’s a shield – for you and for those in your care.

A corollary:  Some people do not have a truth to stand in. Accept this. Forgive their choices, support them as they search. Do not let them borrow your integrity and claim it as their own – that is not a kindness.

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Do all of this, but also: connect, find relevance. Find ways for people to discover themselves in what you do, what you make, how you choose, what you choose. Articulate with clarity why any of it is important. Art is relational, connective: provoke and make space for honest discussion.

A corollary: divisive, abusive work is not art, it is propaganda. Do not indulge in easy smallness, or the exclusion of anyone.

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As Rutger Bregman, Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Rebecca Solnit and a growing ocean of people have realized, the “Us” of this world is endangered.

So. Find what you value, build ways to name and present the difficult beauty that We are.  Do this with love, and with hope, inclusively.

Make your work count.

 


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Hamilton Residency 9: Manifesto 2

Manifesto woman does not know what to do next.

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Baffling. Maddening.

Humbling. Ego-flattening. Intensely educational. I’ve made at least twenty clear plans for these pieces in the past three months of this residency, and the only one that has lasted the duration is Surrender.

I’m thinking this is at the root of what’s happening here.

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The first page after the Table of Contents in J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015) is entitled, “Manifesto”. It reads like a list of  ‘knowings’ that he has captured while circling ‘Art’ through time and his own experience. I recognize his fierce contemplation, his guard-dog reverence for the integrity of great art, his grateful surrender to the unsolvable, radical mystery of it.

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The first two pages of text are provocative, as manifestos are intended to be. He quotes Wilde,

The work of art is apolitical and free of moralism. “The Artist”, Wilde said, “is free to express everything.”
It is precisely the absence of political or moral interest that makes art an agent of liberation wherever it appears.

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I am in a state of surrender again, after another bout of contrivance and manipulation has passed (what Martel calls ‘artifice’). I’ve caught myself again imagining, then planning the end result of each piece so as to define clear, scheduled steps to take me, bathed in glory, to the finish line. Those drawings are always bad, forced, lifeless.

How many times have I erased them now? Doesn’t matter.

When I stop to think and write about it, I can see that it’s odd, the way I increasingly trust this process as the deadline approaches. Artists’ talk for the Hamilton Cotton Factory Residency is now three days from today. Every time I erase and re-draw, the pieces make more sense, the story is clearer. They’re better, so I’ll go with that.

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It is not my will that gives these pieces life. It is me getting my blessed ego and my busy mind the hell out of the way. Yes my hands, my eyes, my cello and my spiralling around and through the studio – read, write, hum, sing, sew, pace, meditate, curl up into a fetal position on the floor – whatever it takes to get lost to myself.

My training, my love of form and colour, media and texture – yes, with these things all in play I am active in my surrender to a larger thing I can’t name or see, like a midwife, listening for signs, ready to act in support.

There is no sense of time, I only know when I’ve got no more good energy to work with. That’s always later than sooner.

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Quebec artist Guy Laramee is tormented by the search for this place of ‘active peace’. His fine fine mind wants to write the treatise, first, to define what it is that he explores, and why. To name its function before it is formed. In his TED talk, Laramee, who for eighteen years has been sculpting exquisite landscapes out of old books, describes his experience of completing two masters degrees at the same time, one in Anthropology and the other in Visual Art. I can see him, bouncing like a ping pong ball between academic rationalities and emotion-based artistic sensibilities.

And yet his experience of making these pieces is like neither.  There is a third state of awareness that encompasses all things, which is where art is formed without artifice.

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Elizabeth Gilbert (famous for her book Eat Pray Love), maintains that this is the opened state where genies can connect the work, through you, to the wilder, more elemental world. This is, as she maintains in her TED talk, the origin of the word genius. We mistakenly apply this state to humans, as though they can access that heightened, elemental state whenever they choose – say, between cooking dinner and taking the kids to school.

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I like what this work teaches me, what Hamilton teaches, in odd and delightful tandem with the forest at my cabin on Georgian Bay.

When I began the residency in December I had an inkling that I would emerge from it transformed, but I could not have imagined how deep and radical the changes would be in me, and the way I understand and do my work. I do know and trust this: in three days time I will share the story, without art-speak and in the space of twenty minutes, to whomever wishes to hear it.

I’ll leave the last word with an excerpt from Martel’s 2015 Manifesto:

Art opposes tyranny by freeing beauty from the clutches of the powers of this world.
True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the facade of the everyday, a sudden
revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.

Only the revelation of beauty can save our world.

 


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Hamilton Residency 8: Manifesto #1

Loud country music/talk radio and potty-mouthed men clear as a bell up through the floorboards, Mychael Danna’s soundtrack for Life of Pi here in this room – amazing how Danna wins.

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In collaboration, of course, with my golden chair and my 1956 singer, my cello and all the love in the world all over the walls: drawings of old doorknobs, rusted chains, chain link and barbed-wire fences, train tracks in one point perspective over what appears to be spirit goats, female weight lifters and scrooge-like, chicken-like nature spirits.

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It is in this context that I dip back into my beloved “Theories of Modern Art” (1968, UC Press), purchased while in art school in the eighties, and find rich thoughts about art written by futurists, cubists, fauvists, expressionists, impressionists. Thrilling as always to read articles written by Klee, Kandinsky and Marc, as published in Der Blaue Reiter. This time I want more. I want to read what women artists felt, thought and wrote.

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It is apparent that, for the 1968 editors of my long-beloved book, women artists didn’t write anything even footnote-worthy. Really? Sigh.

I set my jaw and dig through journal articles, 1st 2nd and 3rd wave feminist literature, new studies of historic groups of women painters (…the Beaver Hall Group developed no manifesto? You’ve got to be kidding…).  Eventually I’m led to Kate Deepwell’s 2014  Feminist Art Manifestos: An Anthology (available only on Kindle).

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In the first intro paragraph, Deepwell defines the term “manifesto”:

A political programme, a declaration, a definitive statement of belief. Neither institutional mission statement, nor religious dogma; neither a poem, or a book.  As a form of literature, manifestos occupy a specific place in the history of public discourse as a means to communicate radical ideas.

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I realize that I’m new at this, at least in this lifetime. So I’ll sit with the idea for a while, and trust the process of crafting a credible, rooted manifesto, distilled from my experience and, like an arrow, aimed at where I intend to go.

In this moment I suspect it has something to do with my ability to listen. To pay attention to what’s in the negative space.

more to follow…

 


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Hamilton Residency 7: mark the trail

It seems to go like this: three or four intense 12-hour days working with huge wave of images connections paint insight epiphany, then a long day – like today – of disorientation.

I think the undertow is strong. It feels like being pulled backwards, so I can go over things again, integrate what they mean. This way, if someone asks me, I’ll be able to articulate what’s at play.

Feels like a dance.

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Roaring like a Snowdragon lady out there since first light, later spitting hard rain on a sharp east wind, splatter on the window louder than the beeping of backing-up-trucks next door. Shoes not boots so wet socks for the first hour. Printer pooched mid-page while working on a reference photo I need to draw from. Two hours cajoling him according to online hp instructions then a trip through foot-high road slush to get a new printer, since apparently five human years is 120 in printer time, and old faithful is not worth another $80 for a new print head.

Another hour or so of tech-drain before I get a good reference print out of New Printer, by which time my reference point has migrated into the recycling bin, as they do when they’re not caught and used immediately.

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Drawing board now but my heart’s not in it. I’m tech-tired and caught in a small, humbling moment of grief: I loved that old printer. We lived through a lot together; he printed many many cello choir parts, many journal articles (2-sided), without complaint.

I look at the painting I thought I’d be finished today and decide that I wrecked it last night just before I went home. It’s probably not true, but it needs a new solution now, so drawing board.

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It’s Tuesday, says the calendar, nod goes my head and up again to build the next strategic plan. Two weeks until show time at the Residency Artists’ Talk on Feb 26 (6:30pm). I’m looking at four of seven planned pieces, fully aware that they represent a tunnel I’m about to enter.

I asked someone last week whether it was a bad sign that I’ve written the talk before the pieces are done. Apparently not – it’s the reverse, she said. I agree. The paintings themselves feel like improvisations around my understanding of what I’m doing here and why I’m doing it. As they continue to emerge my understanding deepens – like a dance.

Music emerges into an understanding of ‘moment’, too.  A piece of cello music I’ve been playing for thirty years is always a variation of itself, reflected in and by the context of it’s sounding- Courante from Bach suite I, on a murky Tuesday in Hamilton, after my old hp friend signed himself off into the land of recycled parts.

What a layering of things that is!  JS Bach and Hewlett Packard, accompanied by the spitting, hissing Snowdragon Lady outside.

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I always have ten people with me now; I begin to understand that I always will have this particular ten. I’m aware that increasingly I yearn for a gathering of us over a slow meal, perhaps, or on a walk together through old trees. I wonder at the levels of curiosity we each carry – how they would ebb and flow, rise and find rest through conversation fragments and simple gestures, how we would weave ourselves into a fabric if we were all in this room together, painting one another, laughing and listening.

I write notes to them through the day. Curiosities – about connections between them. I’m not quite ready to send these, yet. Which is strange, but I trust the process as it unfolds.

I think about kind mirrors and critical mirrors. I wonder if our internal mirrors are always stronger than the external ones.

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Composite sketch for Pavement II, who dances differently. We approach one another in earnest on Valentine’s day.

More to come, from the tunnel…