Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Hamilton Residency 8: Manifesto #1

Loud country music/talk radio and potty-mouthed men clear as a bell up through the floorboards, Mychael Danna’s soundtrack for Life of Pi here in this room – amazing how Danna wins.

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In collaboration, of course, with my golden chair and my 1956 singer, my cello and all the love in the world all over the walls: drawings of old doorknobs, rusted chains, chain link and barbed-wire fences, train tracks in one point perspective over what appears to be spirit goats, female weight lifters and scrooge-like, chicken-like nature spirits.

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It is in this context that I dip back into my beloved “Theories of Modern Art” (1968, UC Press), purchased while in art school in the eighties, and find rich thoughts about art written by futurists, cubists, fauvists, expressionists, impressionists. Thrilling as always to read articles written by Klee, Kandinsky and Marc, as published in Der Blaue Reiter. This time I want more. I want to read what women artists felt, thought and wrote.

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It is apparent that, for the 1968 editors of my long-beloved book, women artists didn’t write anything even footnote-worthy. Really? Sigh.

I set my jaw and dig through journal articles, 1st 2nd and 3rd wave feminist literature, new studies of historic groups of women painters (…the Beaver Hall Group developed no manifesto? You’ve got to be kidding…).  Eventually I’m led to Kate Deepwell’s 2014  Feminist Art Manifestos: An Anthology (available only on Kindle).

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In the first intro paragraph, Deepwell defines the term “manifesto”:

A political programme, a declaration, a definitive statement of belief. Neither institutional mission statement, nor religious dogma; neither a poem, or a book.  As a form of literature, manifestos occupy a specific place in the history of public discourse as a means to communicate radical ideas.

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I realize that I’m new at this, at least in this lifetime. So I’ll sit with the idea for a while, and trust the process of crafting a credible, rooted manifesto, distilled from my experience and, like an arrow, aimed at where I intend to go.

In this moment I suspect it has something to do with my ability to listen. To pay attention to what’s in the negative space.

more to follow…

 


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Hamilton Residency 6: connections


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Hamilton Residency 4: rhythm

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

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

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

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

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

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The Portrait Project grows, here.

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

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

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

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 3

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

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

There’s a lot of trust in the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 


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Hamilton Residence: 2

Wasn’t expecting a day of psychological paralysis after I moved in to the apartment-for-January. All I could see was a massive knot of project-and-task-ropes too tight to unravel – there behind a thick glass wall. I was not feeling intrepid, in any way. More like a five-year-old left behind in a huge unfamiliar city with some gummy bears and a pat on the head, have fun kiddo and don’t let the Mafia get you! Mafia?

It’s been my habit to take all my willpower and run full tilt at that glass wall over and over again until I reach emotional collapse. A saner strategy yesterday was to maintain a steady awareness of the conundrums behind the wall while I read, wrote, ate well, organized the books left behind by Mac students and recovering alcoholics, moved furniture around until the space matched my rhythm, and puttered away at my christmas present (Dec 24 text: Hey mom, Raccoon or Horse?).

By midnight the knot had begun to unravel of its own accord; I found peace.

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New place.

Morning teaches me where east is; I can hear the complex conversation of starlings in the back yard. It’s comforting to know they are themselves here, too.

The man downstairs is a smoker; I woke remembering what that was like, ten years ago – my first waking thought of nicotine with my coffee. Amazing, how the smell permeates.

My street is near the hospital, where nurses are charged for parking when they go to work. They avoid this by parking here all day and all night and so the street is packed with cars.

It’s going to be quite a dance when I come home from the studio, but that’s just fine. I am moved in at both places now, and happy to walk. In fact I’d prefer to walk after the car miles I put on in November-December.

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There are eight weeks left now, for nine paintings, blog and book, for building good, enduring connections in Hamilton – this is the residency idea-rope, the one that glows with curiosity and promise. It’s right in front of me now, sleeping and still like a beautifully patterned snake, no longer tangled with the others.

The other conundrums: Patreon launch for funding (I’m half-way to my winter financial goal); where to live next month and after; redesign of my Masters research to include Hamilton Musicians; Artists talk about art and validity/function (and others about community); where to move my orphaned piano, desks and dining room table while I set up my life here – those are still slightly knotted, but now accessible and in a different room. They too will unravel themselves as I move ahead, I know.

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The reason the glowing curiosity project-rope was tangled is because we’re now down to the brass tacks,* i.e., this is no longer just a great idea, the Hamilton Portrait Project. I’m done my December gig work (that has funded January), and the project now requires steady, concentrated, sustained action. My painter self gathers for the leap:

Define dimensions with portrait-ees, then purchase, build and stretch canvases, or find boards to work on if I decide to work on paper (I’d love to do them all on paper, but framing is much more expensive).

Define symbolic content and focal point subjects in collaboration with Portrait-ees. This will be mostly online, but also with scheduled in-person meetings with collaborators who will come to Hamilton, bless them. Since we’re down to the wire now I will use Proust’s questionnaire as a template for all portrait-ees, then devise more specific questions (myth, curiosities, symbols) for the second interview.

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someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to make a hooked-rug out of the Coat of Arms of Canada, which hangs in my kitchen.

 

It has occurred to me that since these nine pieces will be in a show together, they need to be connected somehow, visually. I like this part of the ‘puzzle a lot. As I work through the preparations (above), I will ‘play’ with the pieces I worked on in December, and experiment on paper. That will happen today, after I’ve got these things in motion. I can’t wait to get at it.

I’m grateful for and fascinated by the wall adornment in my bedroom – that it’s here, and that the most challenging of the pieces are those I will wake up to every morning.

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These pieces were perhaps started and finished within an hour, then sold at market. The authors were incredibly prolific painters who had figured out the cost vs labour equation, and how to make painting a viable source of income. You need to see the work up close to appreciate the skill level – just enough finesse to get the idea across, then on to the next piece. You need great imagination and confidence to do this kind of work.

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Such fast fast work. See the plane in the middle ground? That’s five or six brushstrokes. Amazing.

These painters had made themselves familiar with the effects of light on water, and also what tourists want – a narrative of place, time, and moment. Fantastical illustrations, grounded in observation of places where shore meets land, but most likely made up in their heads.

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Sky first, blue wash for water. Then pallet knife, brush and finger. Are those people in the boat?

I do not paint this way, and I do my utter best to avoid nostalgia. But I do admire the efficiency of these pieces. Glad they’re not the puzzle I’m working on.

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So, as social media quoted to me this morning, get curious, look around you, and work with what you’ve got. I find myself thankful that a) there are no velvet paintings here, b) that only one room has garage sale art,  c) that I have absolutely no desire to smoke cigarettes and d) I have a beautiful studio with clean air where my heart sings joy. I will go there as often as possible, knowing I have bath bed and kitchen here to take breaks in. (Oh, and reliable high-speed internet, which I did not have these past ten days while dog sitting.)

Will brew coffee number two in said kitchen now, and attend to the next task – a detailed list of specific new ways for us all to connect and collaborate.

ONWARD HO!

 

  • Down to the Brass Tacks.. The origin of the phrase, dating from the late 1800s, is disputed. Some believe it alludes to the brass tacks used under fine upholstery, others that it is Cockney rhyming slang for “hard facts,” and still others that it alludes to tacks hammered into a sales counter to indicate precise measuring points.


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Springboards

All ten portraits but one large one, spoken for. Incredible, since the Portraits Project arose out of the Hamilton Arts Council’s Cotton Factory Residency offer, announced only eight weeks ago. In the meantime, seven gigs in three different cities, 3,000 km and six different family Christmas gatherings. In the most recent meantime, Westley the Bernese Mountain dog and I become fast holiday friends…

…and the snow falls, then melts, then falls again in Grey County, Ontario, Canada.

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As I watch it fall I find myself in wonder at how time can compress and stretch, how it can split as it did this past December into many parallel timelines, each one as full of healing moments as with tasks, events and connections. I’m not the only one whose life went this way – folks every place I’ve been have their own version of crazy and wonder-filled weeks.

What a world to pause in, here. As Westley snores on the floor beside me and Fezick the fighting fish soaks up the music I play (how does that sound from inside a fishbowl?!?), the snow falls like sifted fragments of memory.

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I think about the marvel that was Wassail, at Heartwood Hall, three days before Christmas, and one day after a solstice evening of reading & music with Anne Michaels and david sereda in Toronto. Never has there been a better entrance into the holiday season – poetry and song so gracefully offered in a tiny, mid-metropolis church, then the next night a hall packed full of voices raised in full-throated song  – both breathtakingly beautiful and boisterous (some downright badassery by the Wassailors).

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Thank you, Anne Michaels, for your language and your strength; I continue to be guided by who and how you are in these complex times. david sereda for your love, your sincere and powerful intention, and your true voice for and of the world. Thank you J Scott Irvine for sponsoring Wassail – it was important and valuable to many, as you are important and valuable – to many. I am honoured to call you friend.

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Thank you Kim Dutfield, Tessa Snider, Jim Howitt and Ted Stewart, for showing up to the Wassail workshops and dreaming up impossible, improbable and brilliant versions of songs we all know – and manifesting them beautifully in performance. Thank you Coco Love Alcorn for being exactly right, for knowing just what to do, for your great soul.

Thank you Tyler Wagler for your excellent voice, your beautiful guitar, and your fine, fine sensibilities in music and in life. The sound of your laughter is up there in my top 20 favourite things – it’s always worth hearing what you are finding hilarious in this world.

Thank you Christopher McGruer, for your perfectly toned rendition of Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales; thank you Lauren Best, poet laureate of Owen Sound, for your buckets & sticks, and being game enough to join us on the last possible day.

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Thank you Suze Laporte and Mary Flynn for tolerating my annoyingly list-driven parallel selves through the months of November and December. You have been so so generous with your space and time, and I could not have done without your help.

Thank you family, thank you all the full-throated singers, thank you Heartwood Hall, Nathan Wagler and dear Lisa Koop – I’ll talk chicken with you anytime.

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I promised to write about my patreon site (now up and running, but no, you’ll have to wait just a bit more for the link) and how to climb on board with the arts projects in my world, but that post will have to wait until after this one.

This post is about good friends, gratitude, springboards.

When I was in gymnastics as a kid we called it a vault – or maybe that was the action, I don’t remember. You run full tilt, then leap and land hard on the wider end. It compresses then releases, lifting you in a kind of explosion, up and through the known laws of gravity.

The sensation is like being propelled, higher than you could ever get on your own steam, by euphoria. During those long impossible moments in the air you can sumersault, twist in a pike, flip like a dolphin, and vault yourself onto and off the ‘horse’.  The landing can be tricky, but there’s always a padded cushion, a spotter, and a good sense of humour waiting there to soften it.

With good friends, and gratitude, you can defy the laws of gravity, and find ways to land well, with laughter. Thank you, and all my love to everyone for 2019. Lets do this one together.


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Hamilton Residency: 1

Third day is a charm. The first two have been about moving in, setting up, getting my bearings – where does the paint go, need a bookshelf, is there room for the sewing machine, where the heck is the gel bucket and why on earth did I bring a guitar …

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This circus of a December has me back and forth from my gig work in Owen Sound and the residency in Hamilton – often requiring pre-dawn drives up or down the highway, trips into the cabin, re-arranging storage compartment to gather stuff I need, which has entirely made up for the Y workouts I’ve missed.

Sleep schedule is well distorted, so I often pass out somewhere early in the evening then wake at 2am & get to work – writing bios, planning workshops, curating music (for Wassail Dec 22 in Owen Sound). I’m blessed and grateful to have friends who are cool with texts like this one:  ok, I’m just walking around in aimless circles, need to crash for a bit. Is it okay with you if I come over & crawl into your spare bed now? 

Thank you, Mary, Suze, Christoph, and everyone else who has offered to be part of this process with me by offering a spare bed and bathroom, joining me in workshops, rehearsals and email threads, interviews and painting collaborations. In this way, with shovels full of miracle and wonder, the December mountains are actually moving where they need to go.

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Turns out there IS room for the 1956 Singer, yay. It’s a part of my process, the non-expert sewing of quilts – when I need distraction from the pieces in front of me I can zone into this production work and clear my head for the next go. The finished ones will help me with the draft here beside my chair this winter, too…

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The hole is for an air conditioner which I’m sure is essential in the summer months…

Portrait work has begun – I have met with three of seven collaborators, and begun the process of determining format, content, research and development of their pieces.

It’s still possible to jump in with the Hamilton Portrait work: two $500-800 collaborations are available, there’s room for $100-$1000 collaborators who would like to contribute funds and curated input towards the final two large portraits of artists of my choice, and I’m now seeking writing and funding collaborators for the printed book.

I’m in the process of setting up a Patreon site to make it easier for folks to jump in – I will add the link here on this post, and write another that’s devoted, in full gratitude, to a personal exchange between me and you, around art, process, music and collaboration.

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I’m warming up my practise here in the meantime – playing with paintings from the Bells series, now that I have a wall I can get back from to see. I like the darkness, and the hope in this one & look forward to hearing it ‘ring’ when it’s done. Maybe today….?

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While I stare at that one I’m messing around with these small pieces on raw silk. They’ve been hanging around for a while waiting for me to play some more. Acrylic wash over stretched silk, then gel, now dry media – china marker, pencil crayon, chalk pastel. It’s on the wall now with a second layer of gel on it – drying. I’m liking the texture of gel and silk with the dry media. Not sure if there will be a recognizable image on these – if so it will have to wait, since I can’t find my vine charcoal …

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I’m loving this.

Thanks for all the support, folks. Big love to you from the Hamilton studio!