From two Artist’s talks given on November 24th in Owen Sound Ontario, about my upcoming collaborative portrait work.
I feel a need to establish some background, to support the foreground of this talk…
I remember staring at the flower in our Dundas garden for a long time before I drew it.
Mom asked me later how I knew how to do that. I said, “The tulip taught me.”
Fifty years and a few life changes later, I spend a summer alone in a twelve acre forest.
This time it’s the forest that teaches me about my work as an artist as well as a human: about learning to see what’s actually there, rather than what I believe to be there.
Dad and I went away and painted watercolour landscapes together every summer when I was in my early teens. Bless you, parents, for that experience, which established a fierce joy in me for the act and sensibility of making art from life.
…which led me to art study in Toronto… which led me to wonder, “where are the women artists? There seemed to be only five of note in the last century, at least as of 1982 –
– Georgia O’Keefe, Emily Carr, Mary Pratt, Freida Kahlo…
…and Käthe Kollwitz. This is also the way I felt, then, in a visual art class full of posturing males who defended their haphazard final pieces (painted while drunk and stoned past the point of clarity the night before critique) with claims that they were examining abusive relationships with their mothers…. The (CIA- funded) gods of abstract expressionism were fully present in those years, in that studio.
I clung to the women artists, and to Ms. Carr in particular.
She travelled on her own to Europe and England to study art. She was self-reflective and wrote good books. She had at various times a cabin in the woods, a tiny house on wheels, a good friend who was a monkey, and she told the men in the Group of Seven to Piss Off when they annoyed her.
While the neo expressionists were grandstanding in New York City, Ms. Carr said
“I must go home and go sketching in the woods. They still have something to say to me.”
thirty five years after painting class, I spend a summer alone in the forest.
Is it ironic that this experience of isolation from humans gave me a new love and appreciation for humanity?
It took me a full five weeks of living alone in my cabin to slow myself down enough to hear the tree frogs, to observe the incremental changes in that place which have been happening steadily for 100 years and more. There was a great deal to see when I learned to slow down and pay attention.
The forest teaches me to open and hold an empathetic connection to my chosen subject, get the heck out of the way of what I’m looking at, and allow myself to be surprised.
But of course the human world is not slow. There’s a great deal of change and stress in these times, for all of us. What to do? How will we keep ourselves and each other safe and sane, alive and aware, in the mess of these times?
Ms Carr whispers in my ear, points out what is happening to my kindling pile after a only year on the ground.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time, now.
If mycelium and mycorrhizae connect entire forest ecosystems by symbiotically extending the roots of each tree and plant, and in so doing also build healthy soil, what connects and nourishes us in human ecosystems?
Of course, we know that Love connects us. But what is the action of Love? How does it deliver nourishment and connect us across race, gender, politics, economics, AND ALSO back to natural ecosystems?
If you can forgive my clumsy photoshop illustration… my theory is that Arts connect us, internally and externally: Music, painting, poetry, story, film.
I think we’re often not aware of the extent, or the strength of these connections we share, through art. Maybe if we were we’d be more discerning with what we ‘consume’, and it’s effect.
My work at the Cotton Factory residency December 1 to Feb 28 will be a mini-experiment in connection through art. Through collaborative ‘portraiture’ I will endeavour to build and grow a mini human ecosystem in which ten to twelve collaborators are connected through the work we do together, and the paintings I produce as the result of my artistic collaboration with them.
I invite you to consider becoming part of this little human ecosystem – who knows what we will discover together!
This post is already long. In the next post I will outline how to become involved, on whatever level you choose. I salute the six people who have jumped in without hesitation to collaborate with me, and also all those who will jump in soon.
Hooray for art!!