Keirartworks's Blog

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

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Artist statement: Hamilton Work

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…


Käthe Kollwitz
Self Portrait, Hand at the Forehead
1910, published c 1946/48
Etching and drypoint

…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.


this mushroom was like a dessert plate with baleen whale gills.



This cedar is over 100 years old, leaning out to cut the wind for those behind it

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.


… trees gather their nutrients and water via their roots. However, these roots need to be in direct contact with the soil surrounding them in order to take what they can. As such, the roots are limited in the number of nutrients and amount of water they are able to extract simply due to their size and reach. The mycorrhizae fungi act as root extenders. By attaching themselves within and around the tree roots, mycorrhizal are able to act as a transport system directly to your tree. This optimizes gathering of nutrients and water, which allows your tree to focus on growth in other areas apart from its roots.
By surrounding [a] tree’s roots the mycorrhizae also act as a first defense against toxins and potential disease. Not only do these helpful fungi bring nourishing food and water to [the] tree, they also provide a layer of protection! …
In truth, without the mycorrhizae, many trees and plants would not be capable of surviving. Roots alone are just not enough to feed … trees and plants on their own, they need additional assistance if they are to reach their full potential for growth. The mycorrhizae need your trees as well, without the trade of sugar and carbohydrates for water and nutrients, the mycorrhizae would be incapable of survival. (

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?

Two_PineSeedlings_art connects experience

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!!

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The resistance clue

If your residency application is successful, what do you plan to work on‘ … over the ninety days you’ll share a large studio with another working artist, in a building full of artists and arts workers, in old industrial Hamilton, Ontario?

Well,’ say I to me, while writing said application, ‘what have we never tried before?‘. A world full of things, I answer. ‘Then what, amongst the world of projects still undone is the one you most resist? The one you don’t want to consider because you fear to approach it?

The answer leaps into my mind like an outrageously dressed bugaboo jester, finger pointing exactly where I don’t want to look…

Commissioned portraits.


view outside my first couch-sit this month – a place I lived in 15 years ago. Thanks Christopher…

I’ve resisted commissioned work for two decades now because the whole business is rife with potential misunderstandings: client has a clear and fixed idea in their head about what they want – which has little to do with what I might envision or choose, which means that each step in the development of said painting will compromise both the client’s idea and my artistic integrity. It’s an old problem – it’s so easy for the artist to be perceived as a ‘stand-in’ for the client, who would paint the painting they see so clearly in their mind’s eye but cannot, because they’re not an artist…

The only way it works is if it’s collaborative, from the absolute beginning. Client/subject likes my work and approach, and together we build an intersected space of trust between us. This begins with a very clear confidentiality agreement – as an artist I will not share any information about my collaborator, other than what has been approved.

Client shares what he knows about themself – images, memories, traumas, insights, events, symbols, music, books, choices, yearnings, rages, curiosities… and I/we find imagery that resonates with these things. The resulting portrait then becomes partly the client, and partly my understanding of them: collaborative.


It’s intimate, this process. Relational. A respect for and a reaching across differences, to form a new understanding of both self and other. The resulting painting reveals an essence that’s both client and artist, if we’ve done our job right. It’s more than possible that it will be less about faces and heads than hearts and souls, though overlapping symbols and figures will be recognizable, or at least I anticipate.

And so, because following the thing I fear most in my artistic work always bears the most interesting results, I wrote “Collaborative Portraits” in my residency application.


In three months, with Christmas and a Masters capstone in between I think I can get ten portraits done at Cotton Factory. Four large ones (4’x4′ or the equivalent) at a $1500. entry fee, and six small (2’x2′ or the equivalent) at a $500. entry. By ‘entry’ I mean that I expect the final cost of the painting to be equal to that fee, but if the collaboration takes us down rabbit holes and onto a longer journey I may need to adjust for the final piece.

Folks who do not want their portrait painted may pay the commission fee for someone who does but cannot afford it – this might then become a 3-way collaboration.

These paintings will be shown together at the end of the residency, in Hamilton and in Owen Sound. I hope we’ll all be present to talk about the process, which I’ll also write about on this blog under the title “Portraits”, (with all confidentiality agreements firmly in place).  I’ll produce a print and an ebook as well, which will be available on this blog and likely other places.


Since I began to talk about this last week I’ve received three commissions – two smaller ones and one large. That means four small collaborations are available, and three larger ones [I can’t do this with family or exes – that’s my only rule. This is not because I don’t love and value these friendships, it’s because my story and yours are too entangled for me to have any real objectivity – make sense?].

If you are interested in working with me on this December to January project, please write to me at, with “Portrait Project” in the subject line. No questions are dumb questions – all are welcomed, so ask away!

I’m also planning an artist talk to introduce this in person on November 24, 2018 in Owen Sound. Some of my existing work will be on display there as well – I’ll be posting photos of those pieces on instagram and facebook in the days leading up to the artist talk.


Nobu the cat has been a great advisor

In some ways I can see that that this project has the potential to build a human equivalent of the forest I lived in this summer. We share stories as trees share soil and sun. I have a growing suspicion that art for us is like mycelium to them – a connector across species that nourishes and enriches.

This is a good idea – I can feel it in my bones. Fun, challenging, intriguing – and fast. Three months begins on December 1 and ends February 28. I encourage you to consider coming with me to Hamilton, as one of ten collaborators.

Woot!  More to come in the days that follow!



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Cabin 21: Poets

It took this tree about 100 years to grow and I’m burning it, piece by piece, in four months. It was the one mature tree I cut down to make room for this cabin – a twinned birch, now half gone.

Every time I put a new log on the fire I’m aware of this – my territorial claim a year ago, my use of a once living thing to keep me warm. The math – our part in climate change.

Human in a place of trees. Over five months they have made peace with, and in me.


This November forest song is not one I’ve ever heard so directly. I’m listening now because I can – my house is strong and warm, my belly full, and my heart (relatively) at ease. A sense of poignancy gives me added insight – in three weeks I’ll be making art work in an old cotton factory down by the dockyards in old industrial Hamilton, Ontario.

Which is nothing like here, at all.


What a gift – to witness November here, day by day.  If leaves are like memory and wind like change they dance together, all around the cabin. Is the music then Time? Whatever it is, it feels dangerous, spins them faster and faster, past and beyond the known, remembered moments, the assurances, the conversations, the collaborations.

Birds are gone, toads buried, squirrels vanished. The trees twirl and bend and dip into swift certainty that all of what has happened here will soon be gone and buried, in snow.


The young maple still gleaming gold against cedar green disappears in real time before my eyes, leaf by leaf.  Just branches like bones, now.

This morning I could see earth on the pathways, now, above has become below.  I walk on what lived in the sky above my head, three weeks ago.


Branches like ribs, trunks like spines, but this feels nothing like death. There’s a beautiful economy to it, a paring down, a pulling in. I can feel the trees bowing with the wind, with infinite dignity to acknowledge what has been, to welcome what comes. Yes, they’re 100 years strong here, together. And yes, every winter some are unable to withstand the wind, and fall to the ground. Some fall into the arms of another.

I’m now part of the ecosystem here, so these still-aloft but fallen trees are the ones I bring my chainsaw to. These are the ones who will feed my fire, next year.

…which burns low, I notice.


I’m thinking about this state we are all in, on some level. The state of becoming our older selves, while we shed the things that once were important. The gauge of this is perhaps that we notice things that were always there, but have never been apparent. The wonder of that.

I want this to be so – that the trees also gain a new viewpoint every year, as they reach their branches upward, and their roots down. They participate differently as they grow stronger, wider, steadier – they become protector trees, anchors for all the others.  Some grow more quickly, dominating the canopy in places so undergrowth doesn’t flourish – but these also have shorter lifespans and so build soil for the others.


What do we do for one another, we who grow so quickly, take without asking, consume so much, are so afraid of dying?

I’ve just come out of a weekend of poets from across Canada who’ve met here  – impossibly and powerfully  – in some combination of truth and humour, compassion and rage these past fifteen years. Thank you, Words Aloud.

These are some who are not afraid, these poets, or at least they’ve found some good cathartic things to do with fear. These humans call us all out to a place of attention, honesty and grace. They walk along the edge of pain and find beauty there, dare to dance there, for all to see. They give us their compassion, their rage, their insight and their tricksiness, but most of all, they call us to our own depths with whispers of courage.

Truth to power. Grow beyond what you know. Find Love –  love Love.  Leap.


Poets double-dare me to claim my becomings, to walk softly on what once lived above my head. To honour my future, whatever may come. I’ll take that dare.

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Cabin 20: falling up

The lake is gentle again.

I’m back home after a week of travel, grateful to be working outside on the upper deck where I can drink in this soft shore-song; I’d expected snow, but it was quiet rain instead, as hushed as I am, in this memory of warmth.

Oct 26_Evening

I write solstice songs, work out the final details of fall music workshops that will weave our stories together into song.  As Wes Ryan, the performance artist I will work with this coming Friday says,”we stitch together niches of resilience into tapestries for change”.

This work – in part the final practicum for my Masters – requires honest reflection. ‘Where and who did you come from, to make your way here?  How do you own these choices?’. These questions that have been dogging me for a while now, a faithful, tail-wagging reminder to listen to what I’m remembering. To notice what stirs me, and how my body tweaks, aches, stretches and contracts in response.

Some that rise for me are the very thoughts that once triggered fear, heartache, confusion, trauma. They’re softer now, like the rain this morning.

Where do I come from? What led me here?


Every one of my choices has been a fierce attempt to give, receive, make and understand love, in all it’s levels, all of its forms.

This is where I’ve been. This is how I got here. Now is the place where it’s become crystal clear that the person who most desperately needs love from me in this lifetime is Me – on all my levels, in all of my forms. From this and only this can love of an other flow.


What a relief, to know this in my bones. My 55 years (the last 4 in particular) – have led me without stint or fail to a place where there is no possible other way to be. The forest around me so generously reflected just how that kind of love works, these past three months.

We all have wounds – early ones inflicted by imperfect parents and siblings, later ones (if we’re lucky) self-inflicted so that we could understand, then heal the first ones. Our biggest responsibility is to consciously claim and deal with our own garbage so we can stand with integrity and help each another. Gotta say, in these times, the choice to live this kind of love, this kind of fierce joy, is political as well as human.

To say this summer has changed me is to understate. I know I’ve got a long way to go, still. Change is a-foot – an announcement re same is forthcoming.  I have only a month left here at the Cabin before I launch myself into the kind of busy-ness that would have terrified me twenty-five years ago.

Bring it on, I say. But I wish for good focus, good friends and gentle weather in these last weeks of Shore Time.


Birch and maple hold two thirds of their gold and glorious against the grey of up, the other third dresses the forest floor. Tree frogs are weeks gone, though I can hear them by memory – I will never forget slipping into sleep and waking each morning to that chorus.

Crows, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and a great flock of wild turkeys stay to forage in the dwindling daylight and again I am warmed, beyond expectation, in the generosity of this world, and this place.


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cabin 19: rhythm on the shore

We had a lick of brilliant sunlight early in the week, golden trees against a rich blue sky – a day the fauvists and Tom Thomson would have rejoiced in, had they been here to witness it. Since then the lake is has been relentless, grey and broody with the wind whipping off James Bay and into the Carolinas where Hurricane Michael chews away.

Here there is a strong rhythm on the shore. Steady and powerful, like draught horses that pull hard through day and night. It is the pound and pull that permeates my work, my sleep, my writing, my awareness. It is not peaceful, but I have settled to it, accepted it as the sound of change.


Oh Michael, you make our fall so brief!  From sun-soaked joy to the scent of November in mere days. Now golden leaves carpet the roads and the astonishing architecture of tree trunk and branch is again revealed. For a long moment I remember the barren taste of last winter, then shake it off.

Oh, my gratitude for a steady fire in the woodstove, warm socks and good slippers to hand. I sip coffee beside the opened window in the hours before dawn, and let the wind-pushed waves inform the content of my residency applications for January, February, March.

Away from here, where the lake sings in my dreams.


I love this place, and will be sad to leave for the winter, and perhaps longer.  The people I work with and know here are like family. After twenty-five years here I am grateful to have bonds that can stretch around the planet if need be. These need to be honoured and celebrated.

So here’s a little pre-announcement, because I’m really excited about this…


Warming the heartfires there will be david sereda, Tyler Wagler, me, a fine string quartet, an awesome pick up band of community musicians, some surprise guests,

…and you,
to sing with.

More details on Monday October 15 – will post here and on all the other regular hubs.  In the meantime, mark your calendars, folks.


In the meantime, Hurricane Michael pulls us into change, and the shore sings me through the third of three applications, all due this week. I take breaks to practise cello and put another log on the fire.

Life is good, and I am fortunate, in all ways, to be here.

And seriously – mark your calendars for Saturday December 22, Owen Sound. It’s gonna be good.


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Cabin 18: breathe

The sun emerges as I put together the pieces for Wassail!, a Solstice event this December in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.

My hope is that every one will feel welcome and loved there – it will be a gathering of us around music, respect, laughter and community – just one of many possible sane answers to the appalling political choices we’ve all been witnessing.

We always have a choice to be our better selves, together. To support each other, expand our understanding, and grow stronger. Together.


In the forest where I’ve been living, on the lake where I gaze, there is no gender, no division, no skin colour, no greed. It’s easy, when immersed in words and social media, to forget that such places exist. That this is, in fact, our natural state, too.

When the fury of these past two weeks was no longer sustainable I woke up, tempered, stronger, clear.


I am skinless, boneless, without living organs

you put yourself into me and call me white

you lay yourself onto me and call me woman


you fill me with your need, which is what I learn to be

I think that this is what life is for

and so we continue,


until your need becomes far greater than I can fulfill and

You try to eat me. You try to kill me, to fill your greed.

That’s when I wake up.


That’s when I begin to understand what I’ve been feeding.

That’s when I take back my skin and my Self.

I choose to make music, instead of feeding you.

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Cabin 17: trauma and old trees

Ah, Dr. Ford, I believe you. In my bones I believe you, and all the other women our age who were used and abused without remorse or acknowledgement. I’m one of them, a few times over.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, thank you from my heart for speaking your truth; I am humbled. Galvanized, to listen and hear more.


The mother apple tree who sheltered my old studio cabin, twenty five years ago. I ate her wonderful, sparky apples every fall.

I have read and read and heard and felt and re-lived then re-re-claimed, re-re-built so much in myself this week. I’ve deepened my understanding of the legacy of those times, and found other voices born out of that darkness like Martha Wainwright’s, among others.  The experience has been like grasping a lightning rod in a raging thunderstorm – trigger after trigger, jolt after jolt.

I thank the universe I’m planted firmly in a good place, now, stronger by far than I was just two months ago. Strong enough to take it all in, and then breathe it on through me. It had to go somewhere safe, this rawness.

Re-living trauma – is the only way out back through? Through me, along with my heart-felt forgiveness, into the ground, where it can transform into something clean.


Nobody can heal if you do not release resentment and anger, since rage cancels love, and only love heals. Survivors need to forgive (but never forget) so that abusers can then heal their own damaged selves. Perpetrators need fierce, firm, but loving help from all of us, since accountability in this culture is a difficult thing to own, and truly atone for.

So trauma through and out of me, into the same clean ground where trees find nourishment and connect to other trees. Where they share nourishment and news at the rate of one pulse every third of a second.  It’s enough.

Humbled even more, I can turn away now from my deliberate, focused witnessing and releasing of this week. I can walk forward, relieved, into love and expansion in both my work and my life. My heart knows I will not get pulled backward, again.


I feel deep gratitude for this older, familiar place. I thank the old apple who fed and restored me a quarter-century ago, who now feeds the soil with her body.  I visit the willow I planted near to her, who now towers over hawthorn and cherry to dance with the sky.


The forest at my present cabin is one hundred years old, steady with good healthy growth. Over this past century the trees there have learned to buttress each other against the prevailing, ever strengthening westerly winds. It’s beautiful to see.

Human lives are so quick, by contrast. I build a tiny house in mere months, race my busy self around the place, and only gradually notice how much more I notice, when I’m still. I come in to an urban centre for supplies and watch myself join the inevitable human fray: we gulp our news and nourishment at hyper-rapid rates, pause rarely.

Maybe this is why music. We do tend to touch roots together to drink in music.


If we are going to heal ourselves and each other, if we are going to reach a point of acknowledgement and atonement – both in our human ecosystem and with the natural ecosystem that sustains us – we’d better learn to actively expand outside of our quick narrow worlds.  To do this slowly.  Listeningly.  To notice, then respect what we’ve been moving too fast to see.

To learn, finally, how we can respectfully and lovingly buttress each other against the wind and weather, which, as we know, will only get more difficult to withstand.


*Some good reliable sources, if you are interested in reading more about these #MeToo related issues: I recommend you start with Solnit, (this is a facebook link, but she has published many informative reliable essays), and continue from there.