Hamilton Residence: 2

Wasn’t expecting a day of psychological paralysis after I moved in to the apartment-for-January. All I could see was a massive knot of project-and-task-ropes too tight to unravel – there behind a thick glass wall. I was not feeling intrepid, in any way. More like a five-year-old left behind in a huge unfamiliar city with some gummy bears and a pat on the head, have fun kiddo and don’t let the Mafia get you! Mafia?

It’s been my habit to take all my willpower and run full tilt at that glass wall over and over again until I reach emotional collapse. A saner strategy yesterday was to maintain a steady awareness of the conundrums behind the wall while I read, wrote, ate well, organized the books left behind by Mac students and recovering alcoholics, moved furniture around until the space matched my rhythm, and puttered away at my christmas present (Dec 24 text: Hey mom, Raccoon or Horse?).

By midnight the knot had begun to unravel of its own accord; I found peace.

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New place.

Morning teaches me where east is; I can hear the complex conversation of starlings in the back yard. It’s comforting to know they are themselves here, too.

The man downstairs is a smoker; I woke remembering what that was like, ten years ago – my first waking thought of nicotine with my coffee. Amazing, how the smell permeates.

My street is near the hospital, where nurses are charged for parking when they go to work. They avoid this by parking here all day and all night and so the street is packed with cars.

It’s going to be quite a dance when I come home from the studio, but that’s just fine. I am moved in at both places now, and happy to walk. In fact I’d prefer to walk after the car miles I put on in November-December.

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There are eight weeks left now, for nine paintings, blog and book, for building good, enduring connections in Hamilton – this is the residency idea-rope, the one that glows with curiosity and promise. It’s right in front of me now, sleeping and still like a beautifully patterned snake, no longer tangled with the others.

The other conundrums: Patreon launch for funding (I’m half-way to my winter financial goal); where to live next month and after; redesign of my Masters research to include Hamilton Musicians; Artists talk about art and validity/function (and others about community); where to move my orphaned piano, desks and dining room table while I set up my life here – those are still slightly knotted, but now accessible and in a different room. They too will unravel themselves as I move ahead, I know.

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The reason the glowing curiosity project-rope was tangled is because we’re now down to the brass tacks,* i.e., this is no longer just a great idea, the Hamilton Portrait Project. I’m done my December gig work (that has funded January), and the project now requires steady, concentrated, sustained action. My painter self gathers for the leap:

Define dimensions with portrait-ees, then purchase, build and stretch canvases, or find boards to work on if I decide to work on paper (I’d love to do them all on paper, but framing is much more expensive).

Define symbolic content and focal point subjects in collaboration with Portrait-ees. This will be mostly online, but also with scheduled in-person meetings with collaborators who will come to Hamilton, bless them. Since we’re down to the wire now I will use Proust’s questionnaire as a template for all portrait-ees, then devise more specific questions (myth, curiosities, symbols) for the second interview.

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someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to make a hooked-rug out of the Coat of Arms of Canada, which hangs in my kitchen.

 

It has occurred to me that since these nine pieces will be in a show together, they need to be connected somehow, visually. I like this part of the ‘puzzle a lot. As I work through the preparations (above), I will ‘play’ with the pieces I worked on in December, and experiment on paper. That will happen today, after I’ve got these things in motion. I can’t wait to get at it.

I’m grateful for and fascinated by the wall adornment in my bedroom – that it’s here, and that the most challenging of the pieces are those I will wake up to every morning.

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These pieces were perhaps started and finished within an hour, then sold at market. The authors were incredibly prolific painters who had figured out the cost vs labour equation, and how to make painting a viable source of income. You need to see the work up close to appreciate the skill level – just enough finesse to get the idea across, then on to the next piece. You need great imagination and confidence to do this kind of work.

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Such fast fast work. See the plane in the middle ground? That’s five or six brushstrokes. Amazing.

These painters had made themselves familiar with the effects of light on water, and also what tourists want – a narrative of place, time, and moment. Fantastical illustrations, grounded in observation of places where shore meets land, but most likely made up in their heads.

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Sky first, blue wash for water. Then pallet knife, brush and finger. Are those people in the boat?

I do not paint this way, and I do my utter best to avoid nostalgia. But I do admire the efficiency of these pieces. Glad they’re not the puzzle I’m working on.

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So, as social media quoted to me this morning, get curious, look around you, and work with what you’ve got. I find myself thankful that a) there are no velvet paintings here, b) that only one room has garage sale art,  c) that I have absolutely no desire to smoke cigarettes and d) I have a beautiful studio with clean air where my heart sings joy. I will go there as often as possible, knowing I have bath bed and kitchen here to take breaks in. (Oh, and reliable high-speed internet, which I did not have these past ten days while dog sitting.)

Will brew coffee number two in said kitchen now, and attend to the next task – a detailed list of specific new ways for us all to connect and collaborate.

ONWARD HO!

 

  • Down to the Brass Tacks.. The origin of the phrase, dating from the late 1800s, is disputed. Some believe it alludes to the brass tacks used under fine upholstery, others that it is Cockney rhyming slang for “hard facts,” and still others that it alludes to tacks hammered into a sales counter to indicate precise measuring points.

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