‘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…
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 email@example.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.
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!
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,
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.
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.
Smaller and smaller sounds: a snail, crawling. A caterpillar, chewing. A nuthatch’s claws, scaling bark.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Breezes from no specific direction, like intriguing, surprising suggestions. Invitations- to collaborate.
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.
..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.
If the mycorrizhae can do it, so can I.
If I can do it, so can we.
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.
We do the same thing, we humans, with music.
For those of you who have endured the mess described in the past few posts, I salute you. It’s not easy to travel with someone who finds herself on a foggy path of confusion and vulnerability, and stay with it. My pain is no more or less important than anyone’s; we all deal with terrible loss and betrayal. And yet this is just what I needed from you.
I’m through the worst now, patched up mostly and moving forward again, through the (marvellously dented) corner and into comedic relief. It turns out Ugly Keira can be very very funny, if you give her some love. She digs the Cabin, and asks better questions than I do.
We had a great discussion with Nora Bateson, Aretha Franklin and Donna Haraway the other night that was, at points, hilarious. Sadly Virginia Woolf couldn’t make it, but I know she’d have had a great time.
Huh. Who knew?
I believe very strongly that we all share in each other’s journey, that telling story from these journeys is a fundamental human act of trust and love. I have no idea, of course, but I hope that someone I’ve never met among those who read this blog has found a spark of helpful self-recognition, or at the very least, a chuckle, even if it was at my expense.
Both writing and reading are acts of intimacy; all heart-felt human stories are worth telling, and hearing. This is one real way we look after each other.
Thank You for reading. Onward ho!
All’s well that ends well
A comforting thought which all too often loses its deeper reference point when used, finger-waggingly, as an I told you so. All situations, human and otherwise, are complex and so fundamentally unknowable.
Platitudes and clichés can function as important touchstones that evoke deeper wisdom. They can also be poorly applied, like band-aids, over a gaping wound which will then be covered up and never properly tended to.
After a particularly gut-wrenching weekend, I am philosophical. I think of first impressions, and last impressions and how oddly similar they can be, even if years have passed between.
I think of real need, and wonder at how some can sense it and respond from a place of true humanity and courage. How others can so tangled in their unclaimed projections and external referencing that they meet real need with cruelty and resentment. Bewildered, afterward, perhaps; What did I do to deserve this, why do people misunderstand me? I’m trying so hard…
How still others see need and meet it with cold judgement. Not my problem.
I am messy, in the aftermath of a deeply painful and humbling change. My careful corners are badly dented, my wisdom has gone away to seek a more generous place. I am not graceful or beautiful; I do not feel loved.
In the aftermath, this is a place to sit. To be aware of the size and shape of the world.
(I do not feel misery, or despair – please don’t be alarmed that I might consider opting out. I neither fear death nor seek it; life holds great fascination for me.)
I do feel that it’s important to mark this particular end-point, though, and to understand all of its implications. To fully claim all of the choices that led me to this pivotal now. To see and own my ugliness, without judgement, in this deep, painful, human mess I’ve made.
There is real and extensive damage to assess; I am response-able.
John McCain just died – a steady, complex rock-of-gibraltar man who spoke his truth and respected his (worthy) opponents as much as he did himself.
I do think integrity has a great deal to do with my assessment of this mess I’ve made; it’s more than possible I’ve sold mine too cheaply, so far, in this lifetime. It dawns on me also that there’s nothing heavy about integrity, contrary to what I’ve believed.
I have the strongest feeling that integrity is about self respect, openness, light-heartedness and damned good boundaries.
While I build the strength I need to conjure the the sea change I know will come, I’ll sit in kindness with My Ugly-Unloved-Keira, here. We’ll play some string games, write some stories, draw the trees, sing some simple songs.
We’ll make up some mopping & sorting out games, and play some more.
We’ll write some letters, pile some rocks, build some research, ask new and curious questions, all the while keeping this gentle touchstone in mind:
You’ll never know till you try.