Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Recalibration

The piano room is the only space I’ve yet to spend decent working time in, these past three months. It calls me today, teasing out some soundtrack to the observations, the tectonic shifts of spring 2019.

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Gulliver, pinned – on a walk to Old Dublin. There was a narrative series of these set into the wall of a new-ish building along the way.

I’ve spent the last three days going through two months of correspondence I’ve not had time to properly respond to. It feels good to take time for this.

I find myself Printing out photos, too – how strange a thing, now! – of the Ireland chapter, the Lyon Chapter, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. 

 

Transitional moments as well – the wing of each plane I flew in, dipping into sunlight or through cloud; mountains, fields and neighbourhoods through train windows; the great metal sweep of airports – one (Brussels) with its hallway grand piano, open and waiting to be played.

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For an abundance of reasons I want the memories of this trip to become tactile. I learned this from my artist friend Wes Ryan, who has taught himself to consciously keep the memories he needs to keep alive after a serious concussion made it necessary to do so.

Do I claim an awareness of my own deliberately displaced self, this way, I wonder. Is this a philosophical act. Is this research and preparation for the 2014 painting that awaits transformation into the world of now, in my patient studio? I felt so, when I was there two days ago. I’ll go again this evening.

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Inner travel while unmoored from the familiar took me farther into uncharted territory than I knew was possible. 19 days gone was just enough for me to see the possibility for still more discovery in a longer trip, with the potential to turn my known world inside-out.

I’m still coming home.

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Garden in Montelupo, Tuscany. We trained it into Florence from there.

I took luggage – a masters completed, rich notes from my generous panel to digest; my father’s dignified, graceful passing and all that he taught me in the last hours we spent alone together; a book mostly written; a talk about the book forming itself out of five months of momentum; some deadlines in the comforting future

…questions about why and how art in this time, where are the resonances that will speak in a bell-tone, what is a good portrait; curiosity about solo travel after 10 years of staying put, geographically speaking. All of this was packed, then unpacked and laid out, then re-packed. Some I used, all I carried. I did find answers, but also more good questions.

I’m still unpacking, likely will be for years to come.

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Entrance to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. A great gallery, full of questions like this one.

Music has the tenderest of beginnings. I’m much better trained to hold fragile visuals in place until I can play with them on paper than to catch the ascending pattern of a new, humming thought. For this little project though, I’m doing what I can to hold a safe and welcoming space for the shy notes to enter.

Am I compelled to this because through all the old and layered of UK and Europe that I saw, there was so little live music? A band of young and old guys playing american dixieland in a city square. A young guitarist playing pop tunes in a Lyon street. The silent grand piano in Brussels Airport.

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One of the astonishing mosaics in Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon.

Thankfully, blessedly, some amazing jams and performances in three Edinburgh pubs that nourished my soul and made me wish I had my cello. (A young cellist did offer me his to play but by that time I’d had three pints). Thank you so very much for this, O Generous Soul, outlaw cousin Nick T!

(the vid below features Nick himself and musician Doug Downie, who later sent me an excellent song he wrote by email – great lyrics, a haunting tune. I’ll make a Canadian version of it & send it back to him)

There was the invisible young man singing softly beneath the vaulted ceilings that hold up 13th Century Palazzo Vecchio, Oh my love, my darling… I need your love… Perfect notes that traveled like whispers along the arches.

We all heard him, the harried tourists, the tired shop keepers, guides, security guards and ticket sellers. I swear even the stone lions smiled.


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Late in the afternoon,

Alright, I’ve given Paglia a fair shake, but alas, no. The energy required to sift through her self-aggrandizing provocations to find nuggets of meaningful insight is more than I have to spend, especially when other books beckon. Let it be known that I approached her latest with goodwill and open curiosity, and made it through a full third of the essays and interviews printed therin.

I like the paper the publisher chose. It felt like crisp linen sheets on my fingers as I turned each page. A first for me; the quality of paper upstaged what was printed on it.

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I could not overcome a growing distress over the state of the world as seen through Paglia’s judgemental lens. For me, she misses an interesting examination of the rich complexities of what it is to be human by directing our gaze again and again back to herself, as a kind of Queen of Opinion. I suppose that’s the game of (mostly white) pundits and politicos, as paid by the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, FT, etc… to divide and distract us.

Not playin; I closed her book.

IMG_2631Popova now, in Figuring (2019) introduces me to complex, interconnected humans I’d never hoped to learn about and from in this way – Johannes Kepler, Maria Mitchell, Caroline Herschel, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Sophia Peabody in the first five dancing chapters alone. I will happily carry her bright yellow book with me until it’s done and my mind is fully changed by it. Likewise with Shotwell’s Against Purity (2016), Tsing et al (Ed)’s Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017), Berger on Landscapes, another on synesthesia, another on natural soundscapes.

 

 

 

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Like a spring filly released into the field, I am without academic harness for the first time in 2.5 years. I can read whatever I want to.

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With gown and hood, I graduate from my masters program, then drive around Southern Ontario (as we do) for 17 hours, to deliver, pick up, visit, revisit.

Before that a week of family and friends, to celebrate the beautiful complexities of my Dad and the resonances he leaves with his passing – another kind of travel, through time and story.

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Before that, 20 days of a journey in and through Dublin, Lyon, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh and all the related airports, train stations and car rentals, going backwards through the history of my ancestors, taking note of the ideas and economics and systems that formed their world, centuries ago, in four cultures and three languages.

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May feels like a long run-on sentence I have yet to punctuate properly. It sits in a pile of boarding passes, maps, brochures, museum tickets and restaurant receipts on my dining room table.

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But I am Home, where the plants and the windows, the kettle and the bullet-strong coffee, not latté, cafè latté, espresso or cappuccino, much as I love all of those.

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The park and my patient, glowing studio, the now-opened books, my excellent bed and windows in all directions. My cello out of his case and ready for ritual every morning, the starlings singing through the bathroom window.

Home which feels different because I am different after these journeys that still need punctuation, these travels I still need to claim sense from. All in good time.

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The horizons have been pushed far far beyond what I imagined; the world is impossibly, curiously new. There is plenty of good work to be done here which I’m happy and eager to begin.

…after I read just a little more.

 


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Artist residency in Hamilton: highly recommended

I cannot imagine my life without the experience of the Cotton Factory artist residency. On all levels – personal, professional, academic, philosophical and physical (since I have now moved my work and my life here) – it continues to enrich, expand and amplify my world.

Residencies are transformative things, I’ve learned. In some ways, contradictory, since you come in to them with a clear, proposed plan for the work but also with an intention to engage with completely new surroundings and people which influences your practice, your insight, and thus, your work.

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The Cotton Factory hosts a mid-length residency. In retrospect, I can see that three months of absolute focus on visual art practice is both a blessing and a challenge. For me, the first month included Christmas and music gigs, all in cities outside of Hamilton, and so I spent what studio time I had establishing momentum for January’s work.

This was satisfying; I was able to stretch my art muscles, and take two pieces that had floundered in my last studio to a new level.

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In January I settled into my proposed plan, which was ambitious: ten collaborative portraits of folk from three cities (none of them Hamilton), a book that explored process and insights gained about art and portraiture, and an artist’s talk/performance.

I settled into Portraits, yes, except that my powerful response to Hamilton and the Cotton Factory community and space was impossible to ignore. It became imperative that I respond also to where I was, that I explore the rich history and culture of industrial Hamilton (which included both of my paternal grandparents, emigrants from Glasgow, Scotland), in my work.

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Pavement II: Gate. oil pastel, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn bottom edge. Improvisation meets structure, and a narrative emerges.

Within the first two weeks of January – seven weeks after the beginning of my residency,  I realized that my work in The Cotton Factory and in Hamilton needed to be extended. I signed a three-year lease on another studio down the hall.

Now I had two goals fighting for priority in the seven weeks left of my Arts Council residency:
1. Portraits Project, and
2. a conceptual series on paper which explored the human spaces of industrial Hamilton.

Gates and fences, ways through and in to working spaces. The imposition of an idea (human industry and progress based on profit/ ownership) on what was once a thriving natural environment. The growing sense I had, that the natural environment – the spirit of the land – was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to reclaim the space through natural growth – with or without human collaboration. Vines using barbed wire and chain link to climb on, trees still growing beside junkyards, grass breaking through pavement.

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The first of five pieces on paper I presented at the artists’ talk for the 2018-19 Cotton Factory Residency. Pavement 1: door and chain. A response to my month-long stay in a student apartment at Barton and Emerald Streets in Hamilton. Pretty disempowered neighbourhood – I found myself walking there with eyes down, was warned not to go out at night.

My impression – of impossibly overlapped stories from 100 years of european emigrant workers who had been imported from their original cultural homes and offered ‘a better life’ in the new world. Enticed from their homes by government-supported businesses, they populated that treaty-acquired, previously populated land, which soon became unrecognizable to itself. They came for wages and in exchange became the visible backbone of the Big Industrial Dream of constant, unsustainable growth – my ancestors, transplanted here, to feed the perpetually growing, industrial profit/ownership machine.

The same machine that slaves from the south had been picking cotton for for a century or more, in chains, without wages or anything remotely approaching autonomy. These people – not enticed, but forcibly removed from their villages and homes, then commodified and traded –  were the true, but invisible backbone of the cotton industry. For more insight please see this excellent PBS series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”, available to rent or own. Here is PBS’ news release announcing the series.

Oh, the damage done. How much wrongness and entitlement can we own, as white people, in the origins of this story?

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Pavement III: Stairs 2019, conte, oil pastel, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn edge. Overlapping stories, up and down the back factory stairs.

The effects of all of this are all clear and visible now, in old industrial Hamilton. The shores of Lake Ontario, once forests populated by indigenous people, is now dominated by abandoned factories, populated by immigrant settlers and the descendants of slaves. How do we address this, as artists?

In three months, I could only begin, with fences, locks, chains and gates. Trains. What I knew of my grandparents.

[NOTE:  I have received some pointed and negative feedback on my original blog post that I believe is warranted. I want to address my error, as pointed out by a reader, whom I have thanked for her input. 

Here is the offending paragraph, as originally written:

Gates and fences, ways through and in to working spaces. The imposition of an idea (human industry) on what was once a thriving natural environment, and the growing sense I had, that the natural environment was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to reclaim the space in collaboration with humans. My impressions, that 100 years of emigrant workers had been just as harnessed and used as ‘natural resources’ by industrial design was part of the story – my ancestors, transplanted here, to feed the same machine that slaves from the south were picking cotton for, a century ago.

My point about the industrialists’ abuse of the natural landscape for use in the development of factories and suggesting that the immigrant workers were “just as harnessed and used” was awkward and without proper reference points, and this I believe is the beginning of my error. The land was acquired through Treaty between the government and the indigenous peoples (see treaties No. 3, ‘Between the Lakes Purchase and Collins Purchase’and Brant Tract 3&3/4 here. See also the website Native Land, an ongoing indigenous- run project which maps indigenous territories and nations on several continents. Be sure to read their ‘about’ page). The immigrant workers were paid, in exchange for the ‘harness’ of daily work, and so benefitted from the possibility of a new and more prosperous life in Canada. This is not at all like slavery, and though it was not my intention to imply so, the effect on my reader stands, and I take responsibility.

My point should have been absolutely clear, that I  feel that the Cotton Factory building is full of overlapping stories, none of which would exist in that place without the people who picked the cotton that arrived by train. The (white) emigrant workers – my european ancestors – were in fact beneficiaries of the work of enslaved people, through the wages they earned. The toil of slaves and that of white emigrant workers should not have appeared in the same paragraph, without clearly distinguishing the extreme differences between the conditions experienced by them. I have corrected my post to reflect my intended point, with gratitude to AMR for calling me on it. This note will remain embedded in the post as well, for clarity.

My work and my reading actively inquires into the generational, cultural, physical and environmental effects of colonialism and industrialization, white privilege and entitlement. I sincerely apologize for any offense taken as a result of my lack of clarity. 

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Pavement IV: Fence 2019 acrylic, oil pastel and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn lower edge.

I wrote this poem in response,

Song for the Workers

 

If I stood on the street where you walked to work
every day
If I asked what you thought what you remembered what
would you say?
Did it take, what did it take from you
Did you break, how did you remake yourself
again, and then again and then, and then
How many miles of pavement
through the long working years?

 

Did you ever wonder
over a hundred years wonder
where it would all lead us?
Out the grey porch door
down the long street
over the train tracks
through the opened gate
through the big door          (with the others)
Up the long stairs               (with the mothers)
across the wooden floors to the chair,  to the treadle
I think of you now, when I push my gas pedal.
Ten million miles of thread,
fed carefully through your steady needle.

 

For Jeannie Brown,
and for Hamilton where she made herself fit,
like all the others, all the mothers,
the brothers, the daughters and sons.
Transplanted, harnessed,

 

In the name of God, waged.
In the church, when the bells.
Every Sunday.

Hamilton is a place of factories, trains and churches of every faith from every country out of which emigrant workers came. In some ways it is the most european city I have yet experienced in Canada, because of these hundreds of years of carefully maintained connections with ‘home’. I can find food from any part of the world in the grocery stores.

The City of Hamilton acknowledges that it is situated on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and directly adjacent to Haldiman Treaty territory. (Note: Haudenosaunee – This name refers to the Iroquois Confederacy comprising of these Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Anishinaabeg/ Anishinaabek/ Anishnabek/ Anishnaabeg – this name covers Ojibway, Odawa, Algonquin, Potawatomi, Nipissing, Mississaugas, Saulteau, etc….all the Algonkian/Ojibwa Nations.

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Pavement V: Three Crosses, 2019 conte, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper, machine sewn lowest edge.

Because of the Hamilton Arts Council / Cotton Factory artists residency, and this rich, complex history into which my own ancestors’ stories are woven, I have moved my work and my life to Hamilton. Portraits will open in the fall of 2019, and I will publish and tour a performance of my Masters thesis book, Seven Swans, Seven Rooms shortly afterwards.

There is a rich fabric of artists, music and community here that grows into future collaborative work and artistic exploration well beyond the horizons I could imagine in the fall of 2018, when I applied for the residency.

highly recommend that you – artist from any culture in search of a practice-deepening, perspective challenging, new friendship-building, pivotal experience – apply to the excellent Cotton Factory Artist Residency program. From wherever you are, in the world.

Here’s the Link.

(Write to me if you’re from away, and I’ll help you figure out accommodations. keirartworks@gmail.com – put ‘CF Artist Residency – Help!’ in the subject line.)


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Lamps and chairs

When I told dad I would present my final masters research (with some bad-assery) in ten days, all the terrible anxiety and fear vanished from his face. He smiled.

He is in the final, non-verbal stage of dementia, frustrated beyond imagining that he has no words and only emotion, no time, only an endless Now of waiting.

He aches for contact and love, is willfully strong in his child-like, impotent rage at the hospital and nurses and pushings around; time to get up now, time to eat now, time for your bath now, time to brush your teeth now, come one now, you can do it….

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Complex, these relational family stories, aren’t they.

I’ve just moved my work and my life to the city where he grew up – a twenty minute walk from Delta High School where he was a young football hero, the much admired alpha-male athlete, scholar and master of ceremonies at assemblies, funny, smart, beautiful in body and strong in integrity. He was a dreamboat.

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So often in my life I’ve been astonished by his empathy for those who struggle, his wrathful impossible judgement of people from cultures not his own. By his blind reliance upon others – mostly my mom- for the simplest of human requirements – laundry, house cleaning, the facilitation of travel, trips, makings-so.

He has uttered bone-headedly hurtful things to me without a hint of awareness or remorse. He has offered, with infinite tenderness, a perfect, graceful insight at the precise moment it was needed.

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He wrote poems to us, when we were small.  The Keira Lynn flower’s the one I love best… (i.e., more than petunias, snapdragons, and pansies). When things were sometimes difficult, we communicated in carefully considered, written notes. In these, he always, always told the truth.

He cried, every time I played or sang. I do this too, without restraint, when I’m moved.

In the past week I’ve visited him four times, six hours return from here. Each time, fewer words, more frustration. Each time, more moments of peace, and grace.

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He smiles because he knows that even though it was never my role in our family to be the academic one. Nevertheless, I will present this final bad-assery of a masters capstone in ten days, and it will be good.

It will be better than good now, because I have his chairs with me to write in, his lamps, for inspiration. He is helping me.

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My dad is an artist, these are his horses.

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Thanks for your help, Dad, it’s perfect.  I love you.

 


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Capstone 1: in every direction, a window

The morning is introverted and full of stillness.

My ambition and drive are sleeping, I neither expand or contract, I am simple with my first coffee. Listening, in my purple slippers and with these six red candles, to the train, the starlings, the panicked robin, the traffic that sounds like wind.

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Cello is warm and awaits my daily workout upstairs, eight pieces of artwork still lean, a box of old cards from 1994 is there, still unpacked and place-less.

Already, the day claims a slow approach, deliberate and sensual. With my ambitions and yearnings still (uncharacteristically) at rest I have a different awareness in this moment of Morning.

As though the Moment bows to me, hand extended: a silent, respectful invitation to dance.

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I accept, on the condition (granted) that I finish the thought that whispers from behind me and a little to the right.

Research is like a dance with listening. The idea you begin with shifts as you move through space and time, in constant contact and conversation with the material you study. You and the listening moment, together then apart, in rhythm, sway, skip, twirl, in step. The dance changes your awareness, deepens the question.

Reading is also listening, from inside a warm blanket, tucked in with hot tea and soup. Active reading is like this too, save that the soup and tea are like elixirs that demand a body-response: speak, write, note, answer, connect.

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What is painting, then? What is making music?

It feels to me as though painting is about bringing all of these listening moments together with my acquired skill, getting my ego the hell out of the way, and allowing the moment to sing, for as long as it takes. Same with playing.

You show up, clean and ready. Then you surrender to the piece.

Sounds simple, but it’s not.

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Read, dig, collect, code, analyze, dance, draw, write, paint, sing, play. Oh ya, also eat, walk, sleep, connect, laugh, practice and hang the paintings. Use the phone with your voice to tell people you love them.

I’m going to dance with the rare listening moments, all the way to my Masters capstone performance on April 30.

I need a BUNCH of people to come and be an active part of it.

Please write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information, and/or stay tuned to this blog if you are interested. Details to follow.


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Portraits 1: Hubbard Squash

It’s been a long transition, seems like, from Artist-in-Residence to Resident, at The Cotton Factory, and as of this week, in Hamilton.

In fact it hasn’t been long, considering the details sorted and schedules set, leases signed and accounts set up. Futons purchased and assembled, movers booked, packing strategies set in motion…

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Two weeks. I’ll admit the first eleven+ days have been dented fairly seriously by some intense emotional rites-of-passage. I felt strapped in, then jettisoned, like a hubbard squash at Kemble’s Punkin’ Chuckin festival, off the safe warm planet I know and sailing through the air into deeply unfamiliar territory…

It takes me until mid flight to realize that I am NOT a hubbard squash. That I can control how and where I land.  A good time and place to reunite with your objective self, is mid-flight.

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Mid-flight’s an excellent place to realize that others have gone this way before, and landed well. I’m glad some wrote their stories, glad some were to hand.

A good time, as it turns out, to pull an all-nighter, as the newly arrived guest-house neighbours fight at top-voice and Melbourne Nat from downstairs texts at 3am: I don’t know what to do! It feels like it could turn violent… Nat and I both wide awake, both triggered, trying to read.

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Still time, the next night, to toss and turn on the red studio futon (away from the fighting) while the traumas and the memories dance their processing dance around the birth of nine new paintings and a brand new Fairy Tale.

As Marina Warner writes in Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014),

Even a writer as dreamy (and privileged) as the German Romanic Novalis defined the form as a way of thinking up a way out: “A true fairytale must also be a prophetic account of things — an ideal account — an absolutely necessary account. A true writer of fairy tales sees into the future.’

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After some ridiculous walking in circles, some determined but fog-shrouded reading and drawing, a 6km walk, some Netflix, more drawing, I finally find a full night’s sleep at the guest house. At 5am I wake, blinking and grateful beyond words to feel articulate again.

Somewhere in mid-flight, in my non-panicked heart-brain, the new fairy tale is formed and performed – with frogs –  to friends, family and the Wilfrid Laurier MACM panel.

Feels like prophecy, to me. Also feels like I need to write a hubbard squash into the story now.

I really do hope you’ll come, and be part of it.

April 30 and May 2 @ The Cotton Factory. May 4 or 5 in Owen Sound:  Portraits, and a Fairy Tale. With frogs.


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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!