Keirartworks's Blog

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


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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…

 

 

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 6: connections


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Hamilton Residency 5: anchoring

Yesterday I slipped on the bottom step and landed in a puddle. Full soaker from my lower back to my knees but the books and laptop were fine; I kept going to the car, to the studio, to the cello, to the paintings then to catered ramen for lunch, which turned my day back in the right direction.

Factory life.

 

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Factory life here among artists and arts workers is not so dissimilar from how it works in the twelve acres of forest where my cabin is. Each living thing there takes ownership of its space according to the conditions of nourishment available to it. Some need direct light, some indirect. Some grow best in the lee of things, others push out west into the prevailing wind, and so provide shelter.

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All are connected in a system of shared growth that does not privilege strength or size or ability of any one kind, but instead demands and supports difference, so long as there is fair exchange of nourishment. Tree, critter, lake, wind, insect, sun, rain, snake and amphibian all require each other’s full active presence, in order to thrive.

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Oh how I miss my toad friend, and that singular, complex world! Even as I remember the daily surprises of living and listening in the woods last summer, I meet another resident here in the complex and overlapped worlds of this old factory/ new arts building, and I feel… a resonance. Carlos and Avery build and restore, now the new boardroom, next the floors downstairs; Avery also runs a weekly life drawing class and paints beautiful figurative pieces on burlap. Carissa runs a kind of creative dispatch for the owners and is also a singer songwriter. Glen does interactive sound installations and books live music, Warren does any number of things and is generally awesome; all are fully, actively present.

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We meet at lunch upstairs, tenants, staff, owners – like critters at the watering hole, thirsty but also curious. More names to memorize and pin to stories. Another reference to part of the building I’ve never heard of or been to… I learn more of the shorthand every day. Who are the guardians, who the connectors. Who the generators, the observers, the part-timers who come like bees do to a meadow full of flowers.

Tenants are active and connected, come downstairs now! Someone’s moving studio and giving away stuff (I find a good stretched canvas and a vase, which I fill with flowers and put in the shared sitting space.) Hey Keira, don’t you like to work large? Ashley’s giving away a huge canvas – go find her, she’s right down the hall from you. Ashley tells me the story of her unfinished 2017 piece, and how she turned to sewing instead. I tell her what it will be used for and invite her in to make some marks on it, which makes her happy.

Mycelial exchanges.

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I carry My Eight with me in my head through the halls, through studios and conversations. Spread them out on pages of newsprint and toothy paper, measure them on the walls, sort and rearrange their answers to Proust-inspired questions. Serious, then playful, I’m less and less overwhelmed by the task of shining some kind of light on what is becoming in me, and in them.

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Though they have never met one another and may never meet in person, I imagine us sitting at table together and playing an obscure board game after dinner. These Eight who have commissioned internal portraits from me are part of this ecosystem too.

More and more every day.

 

 

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 4: rhythm

The overwhelm subsides into a kind of rhythm as I begin to understand what my new job is; what feels unfamiliar but is actually okay.

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As the illusion clears – of pitfalls and boobytraps at every misstep – I can see that the floor I walk on every day is sturdy, reliable… and beautiful. The walls are well built and practical, the beams and posts resilient and strong. Built to carry workers, materials; to support dreams of steady slow progress in reward for daily, hourly persistence.

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So many have carried their private stories through here, many more will do so, now that this factory has been so lovingly snatched from the jaws of disuse and abandonment, launched like a ship into the ocean of now.

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The big building loves industry and honest work; I can feel it.

I imagine, self-indulgently, that it loves the current industry more than the one that built it, and to some extent Hamilton, in 1901. These bricks were laid, these beams milled and bought thanks to the labour of slaves from the south who laboured daily in cotton fields barns and shipyards. A different daily, hourly persistence from that of the workers who laboured here. Did the industrialists ‘own’ them too, I wonder.

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The Portrait Project grows, here.

In the research process I hold careful space for the stories of what I now call ‘my eight’. I am quietly astonished, again and again, at this meeting place of diversity in story and self awareness, and how each disclosure connects, through my own experiences and oh so gently to another from someone else.

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They are strangers to one another, my Eight, but they are all here in the studio with me now, as I listen again to what I’ve been shown and told, and form the larger story that is ours together. From this I will make eight pieces that each speak to the other across difference. I’ve never felt more challenged by a visual art project, have never welcomed a challenge more than I do now.  So many languages to learn; listening is good work.

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I’m grateful to have been able to extend my stay by finding permanent studio space here, at the marvellous Cotton Factory in Hamilton. Not only will this give me the time to do justice to these portraits and my Eight, but also to build strong ties with the people who work here. A new kind of family.

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 3

My new middle name is Curiosity.  Like a little kid, mouth open: wow. huh? how come? really? Wow, really. Who?

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Strangely, it feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, living my brand new daily life in an arts hub in the old rather broken, semi-forgotten industrial sector of this big city where my Grandmother raised her children. Memory cells light up each night with twenty new names and connections, emails fly out daily from my computer to people I’ve just met, or want to meet. The work on the walls of my studio changes before my eyes as I try things I’ve never tried, make mistakes I’ve never made, sort through which ones to keep and which to release.

There’s a lot of trust in the air.

I’m deeply aware of my solitude, my autonomy, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to stretch myself well beyond what has become comfortable. In the sixth day of the first full -time week I’ve lived here, I can feel my thinking, my painting, my writing and my awareness shift as old belief systems dissolve. There are seven weeks left of this residency, and every one of them is glowing with promise.

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From school to studio; books to paint. It’s a complex shift in awareness and perception, I find.  The road from left to right brain is populated with circus performers and street musicians, frequented by students seeking their masters of illusion, lined with bright market tents full of tempting diversionary tactics. You quickly discover that only tourists stop at these, that it’s important to stay mindful and moving forward.

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It has taken a while to sort out who actually lives here, in the space between things predictably linear and things … shaped and sounded differently.  I’m finding that this right brain work is more about releasing what I think I know than applying any learned structure and experience to what I do, since the objective is to change and expand my understanding of what’s possible.

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Often the return to people and conversation is a shock. I’m happy to be reading the reader’s edition of Carl Jung’s Red Book (2009, Shamdasani, Ed.), which is providing some context for the conscious choice to enter transformative space, and be changed by it. A good ‘bridge’ book, as is Once Upon a Time, a short history of Fairy Tale (Warner, 2014), and The Heart of a Peacock, a collection of short pieces by Emily Carr.

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It’s been useful, occasionally, to dip into Art Lessons, Meditations of the Creative Life (2003, Haynes), or a bit of Emerson. Also to shut the whole thing down, go sit in a big chair at the Jackson Square cinema, eat popcorn and watch Aquaman.

Art heals, writes Sean McNiff. I agree, wholeheartedly. Nature heals too.

Now I’m surrounded by human nature, not my beloved lake and forest from last summer, and we humans are complex. Thank you Nora Bateson, for this 8 minute video, which inspires me to make my own, about what art work makes possible.

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In this place of broken sidewalks and boarded up warehouses we grow art, like sprouts push up asphalt. Slowly, bit by bit, but as surely as the sun rises in the east, artists take places like this and clean up old toxic abandoned soil, growing impossible things in impossible places because it is their nature to do so.

It is a reclaiming of health; I’m grateful to be part of the process.

 

 

 


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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.