Keirartworks's Blog

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


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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?

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More to come!


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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 keirartworks@gmail.com, 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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 15: A shedding

The bowl is close to full with impressions, gathered from this place through me.

Loon songs, shore waves and tree frogs singing in alternate – major second, minor third, major fifth, unison.

Owl, just after twilight. Snarls of nocturnal hunters as they chase then meet their kill – the unforgettable, intense charge of those screaming moments.

Squirrels, smaller critters: scuttle, collect, stash, prepare, and inspire me to do the same.

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Smaller and smaller sounds: a snail, crawling. A caterpillar, chewing. A nuthatch’s claws, scaling bark.

Trees, breathing.

Me, breathing.

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An astonishing variety of spider web, from filagreed net to flowing gossamer fabric. Replaced within a day after a wind storm. Not replaced, now, in the pathways I travel regularly.

The ongoing, astonishing concert of mushrooms pushing up out of the blanket of mycelium under my feet. My feet step differently now.

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Cedar branches curved lovingly around the trunk of an old ironwood, or in an upwardly repeated pattern like ribs grown out of a spine. Growth and decay in the same place; death and life seamlessly connected.

A battered, heart-shaped rock that smiles so lovingly that I smile back, each time.

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The surprise of sunlight through the leaves onto a new place I’ve never seen, rich with old story that I begin to be able to read and feel.

Rain like a steady healing balm. Rain like violent aggression, roaring thunder.

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Huge pounding waves that spit rocks at my shins, just as easily as they spit my body when I crawl toward land, then suck it back hard to pound and spit out again.

Those same waves that hold me safe and cradled, clear me of grit and stain – when I release myself to them, away from shore. When I am out of my element, trusting.

Such fierce tenderness, from this great lake.

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Wind, that comes through here from around the planet, from Oscar this last time, spreading news from the sky. From my upstairs window, eyes closed, I felt sure I was on a ship traversing the sea, carried by that wind. I sang into it like joy.

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Breezes from no specific direction, like intriguing, surprising suggestions. Invitations-  to collaborate.

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I realize I have been learning (re-learning?) a language here. I know also I’m just beginning to find the place where my own rhythm fits, in a strong, dignified way, within it.

As an artist in this time and place, I have a strong feeling that my task now is to find ways to translate, to intersect what I’m learning with the quick, blaring, bright (also soft, compassionate and supportive) places where people gather. To re-learn, through the older lens of this graceful, growing place, the language of human.

This week I venture forth. Like the fool of the world, I take my simple understandings (bread and cheese wrapped up and tied to a stick) out there – to find a good place to bring my bowl of treasures and begin to sing them into form – music, art, writing, performance.

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..to seek my fortune. A story as old as the hills, and possibly something that many women in their fifties need to do in these times of shift and change, to shake off the effects of old contractual assumptions that no longer serve.

The quest to find a winter place includes all of you who read this blog, of course. I’ll be out there talking and connecting, but I also travel here, where I write. I invite you to connect with me if you know of a place that might work for this, if you hear an intriguing suggestion on the breeze.

It can be anywhere in the world where people gather, in a people ecosystem.

 

 


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Cabin 10: inspiration

If the mycorrizhae can do it, so can I.

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If I can do it, so can we.

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White filaments just under the surface of a healthy forest floor that connect plant roots to nutrients, and also to one another.  Like the internet, but infinitely more healthy.

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We do the same thing, we humans, with music.