Keirartworks's Blog

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


Leave a comment

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?

IMG_2265

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’.

IMG_2269

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.

IMG_2266

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.

IMG_2268

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.

IMG_2262

More to come!


Leave a comment

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.

IMG_2233

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.”

IMG_2255

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.

IMG_2256

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.

IMG_2257

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.

IMG_2259

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.

IMG_2244

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.

IMG_2202

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.

 


1 Comment

Hamilton Residency 9: Manifesto 2

Manifesto woman does not know what to do next.

IMG_2191

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.

IMG_2203

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.

IMG_2213

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.

IMG_2208

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.

IMG_2199

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.

IMG_2215

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.

IMG_2200

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.

IMG_2202

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.

 


1 Comment

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.

IMG_2157

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.

IMG_2155

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.

IMG_2144

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).

IMG_2147

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.

IMG_2177

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…

 


Leave a comment

Hamilton Residency 5: connections

Three things that are good: 1 the cast iron legs are back on the black studio table that david sereda gave me ten years ago (what is IN that heavy heavy thing, ds?), 2. I have a new kettle and all the equipment to french press the coffee that fuels my morning write, and 3. Sun is melting the cold clamp of arctic crunch that has been squeezing the air out of us all this past week.

IMG_2057

Oh yes, and the walls of this room I will read, sleep and write in for the next month are painted a cheerful, many-varied naples yellow. Makes me smile, though I’m not able to articulate why in this moment. Something about the subtle effects of ongoing displacement…

IMG_2058

I am happy beyond telling to move into the space that will house me and my work for the next three years at Cotton Factory.  SH242 is now my studio – just down the hall from the residency space I have been working in since December 1. Both spaces sing the clear bell-tone of time and permission to grow beyond what I can currently imagine. GO! They ring, each time I walk into the building.

IMG_2033

As I emerge from my anticipated mid-residency slump I can see that new artistic directions have appeared in the Hamilton-inspired work. The drawings and painting are very much in their ugly stage, but I can see where they’re going, and I’m happy. They answer for me both my inspiration and sorrow over the state of some old broken places here, which have been buried under the effects of neglect for too long. Signs of renewal are there though, if you look, like grass growing through the pavement in an old industrial yard. Growth and fertility after decades as a desert.

Anticipated date for the Cotton Factory residency artists’ talk are Tuesday February 26, 6:30pm. I will confirm this on all social media, and Hamilton Arts Council will also announce – stay tuned, and I hope you can come. These talks and the work will be provocative, insightful and good for long-term conversation chewiness.

IMG_2045

I continue to research, listen and plan these collaborative co-missioned portraits which are the vehicle that got me to Hamilton and through this residency. I had no idea how the complexity of this show and book would challenge my abilities and experience. The work is complex and exciting – well worth enough time to do us all justice.

I turned the corner this week, from struggle to clarity when Ashley the fabric artist two studios down gave me her huge canvas. She had laboured to draw the geometric pattern for the seed of life over the entire surface, then lugged the thing around for two years. I accepted her work as a starting point for more exploration from me – a first collaboration in the Cotton Factory –  and realized it is the painting of my own ‘becoming’, effectively making me the ninth person represented in the Portraits show. A door opened, then, into what connects all of us in this experiment. I’m writing through each morning to find my articulation of it, but it’s there now; I can feel it.

IMG_2022

Our new projected culmination date is mid-spring, enough time to make give this project the arc it requires. In the meantime, the nine of us populate the new studio space at Cotton Factory – just us. When I’m in that room I feel as though I sit in the midst of a copse of eight other mixed-species trees. Watching and listening to their stories, observing my own, there, antennae stretched to pick up warmth – between this one’s experience and that one’s observations.

I sit still and fully present as I did at the cabin this summer, to seek connections and patterns in the complexities that connect us all as humans, us Nine. They are subtle, but they are there.

IMG_2039

And finally, O, Faretheewell, Emerald Street at Barton, where I’ve stayed for a month. Glad to have landed safely in your arms, glad to have listened to your complicated and often dark stories, as they came through my window each night. Glad to lock your door for the last time, too.

The next tenant is a medical student from overseas who will also be there for a month. Hope he doesn’t slip on the steps and land in a puddle, as I did.

Happy February, all!

 

 


1 Comment

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.

img_1976

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.

img_1989

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.

img_1777

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.

img_1722

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.

img_1992

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.

img_1986

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.

 

 


Leave a comment

Hamilton Residency 3

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

img_1965

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.

img_1954

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.

img_1956

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.

img_1967

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.

img_1970

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.

img_1971

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.