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Earth Day, 2am

China, made from clay deposits in northern Czechoslovakia, close to the German border. From the earth, these fine, fragile things are fired, glazed and gilded, then bought by people who wish to make a ceremony of visiting over coffee. Add the story of the Paris Accords, then WWII, concentration camps, confiscation of shares, the Holocaust… intergenerational trauma.

These fragile, gentle pieces survive intact and still beautiful in the sunlight, half a world away from the little village where they were made eighty years before. This moves me.

Drawn to examine each one more closely. Where a hand slipped while drawing gold onto a tiny cup. What concentration! Essential, the steady steady hands and singular focus of each craftsperson in the gilding room. Was it a relief from worrying about what was going on around them, about what had happened to the jewish workers they had replaced? Was it a kind of defiance I wonder – making beauty in the face of death and abuse. I know, because now I am drawing their gilding work into my paintings, that their work could not have been done without love. 

Light in the darkness, love in the making of beautiful things for people to drink from, take pause with, to gather around in friendship. It was a business, too, and paid work at a time of great uncertainty.

My work here is also a business that continues through a time of  global uncertainty. I find myself isolated and in a city I don’t know, looking for new expressive work and surrendered to the fact that I cannot be in my studio to work on canvas. I think about how I love light and form – the singular focus of expressing this love, with whatever is to hand, on paper.  I find my dad’s travel watercolour set and some torn up bits, while drinking tea from an ornate china set I bought at auction…

As I draw them I discover my own fragility in the tiny cups, also my own worn toughness, my beauty. I think of trauma and how important things can happen even in the midst of it, especially in the healing of it. How we break and mend and wear through trauma, how we continue to function and grow. I think of what I’ve learned from Idle No More, and Black Lives Matter. The understandings that emerge still from The Holocaust, from post-colonial, post-apartheid cultures, from the American Civil War, the French Revolution, The Clearances in Scotland that sent my ancestors out across the sea, exiled from the land that once sustained them.

I think of time, and how as I work all of these things are happening NOW in my mind, interwoven and in conversation together. 

Some stories light up like a flash moment of insight. Others are more like a flush of colour, a scratched line. Gilding sits on the surface, a skill that improves only with practice and focus. A skill I learn now, taught by the hands and minds of the gilders in Poschetzau from eighty years ago. Steady, steady hands as their world changed, all around them.

Piece number 8, a cup and saucer; number 12 a sugar bowl and spoon…. a madness of elipses from every angle, curves and fluting, pin-stripe gilding flashing in the light, transparent white glowing blue in shadows. I am called to get it right, to honour the 80 years of dignified function these pieces have lived. How many lips to this cup? How many hands to that handle, pouring… In what country? In what language? During what conversations, and with whom?

I think of how much I miss gathering with others at table, at coffee shops, over breakfast. This hasn’t happened for over a year now, since the pandemic lockdowns began. I’ve made many little pieces on torn up bits and on a whim I lay them out on my dining room table, like puzzle pieces that connect through colour and line.

This is satisfying on so many levels – a gathering, of sorts, in my house. Now a large painting is made from eleven smaller ones, each representing a moment I would like to share, a person, or persons I would like to join with in conversation. Torn apart, but still one piece, reconstructed. Then two more large pieces, reconstructed – one dark, another light.

It makes more sense every day, this work. Each piece will be framed, and also printed in very limited editions. The reconstructed pieces will be printed on paper and possibly re-worked (we’ll see what happens), then sold in very limited editions as well. Working to get all of this happening and online for you by early June. Stay tuned here.

It is earth day, 2021. I draw and paint from pieces of china made from eastern European clay. China made eighty years ago by people with steady hands in the midst of chaos. With my own steady hands I do my best to honour them in paintings while in lockdown in my apartment, which is the top two floors of a house made a hundred years ago of red clay brick from just over there. The abandoned brickworks beside the train tracks that I walk past every other day .

All of this – china, house, paper, laptop, paintings, my steady hands, are made from earth.

And now it’s 5am; the cardinal sings outside. Happy Earth Day.

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in the meantime…..

Late June 2020, Hamilton

…I discover the pleasure of wearing wet pants and t-shirt fresh from the washing machine – this gives me a good twenty minutes more of clarity of mind and focus. The constant burr of fans and the roar of the one window a/c unit is on a par with the scream and clunk of muscle cars and heavy trucks outside, but I’m more than happy to share my space with the inside machines, if they keep the air cool, and moving.

Grateful for drapes on the windows, for the plant mister I use regularly on my face and neck, grateful for the water I drink gallons of, bathe in, get drenched by in the rain that sizzles on the hot pavement, soaks the heatwave air and makes the world smell of green growth.

..an enormous amount of dumb, brute effort, just to maintain the smallest amount of momentum. It’s so easy to sink into the dystopian news cycles, to get despairingly, ragingly, heavily lost in all the ugly being exposed in our systems, in each other, in myself … which of course only compounds the effort required to get moving again, since now I’m running through and with extreme emotional heaviness, too.

Yes, it’s important to not look away from the ugly. But to do so knowing There’s green and good in the world, Mister Frodo.

Mid July, 2020, The Shore Cabin

It’s all green and good here, save for what looks like toxic bubbles on the surface of the lake, the day after a big rain. Oh, and Jet Skis.

Losing things, then finding them again just where I left them, and where I’d just looked. Often I have to ask: May I have my water bottle back now please? and then there it is, useful to me again. Reading Graeber on Debt, which is really a history and examination of slavery. Much appreciated, David. We really do need to understand the connections between economics and racism, slavery, and the misuse of people for gain.

I go to the lake several times a day for lessons in water behaviour. I’m reading the science (oddly spare and sidelined – apparently difficult to get funding for this. I’m thinking I know why…) I’m one of the lucky ones who can hear what the lake is saying, but it’s a process and boy, do I have a lot to learn. She’s happy to teach me, and always we finish with a long swim.

I learn I have exactly the right amount of fat on my body to float on the still lake without effort of any kind, eyes stretched up to watch the osprey, the swallows, the piping plover that just peeped its way northward. Sometimes an eagle, though not since the osprey.

New languages: Swan, water, wind, squirrel, Hathor: El, Ka, Leem, Om. I understand more every day & the drawing helps.

Early August 2020, Hamilton

…Not one cloud in all the soft, pale blue. Not much traffic either, on this Friday morning, sun-washed street. Dads and daughters walk home on the shaded side, dogs of all sizes and shapes on the other, toward Gage Park. They are reflected in the large front window of the house across the way. Here’s a pack of six sun-kissed, golden-white dogs drawn south toward grass, laughter, squirrels, bicycles, roses.

I love the parade of Gage Park roses, too. Each bloom a miracle of scent, each a unique transmission of shape that nods to the earth or gazes up into treetops, faces. Look what I have become! See how I am the sound of palest violet, of warm sunrise apricot, rich beating heart red. See how I have loved this world with my Self, opened wide and singing.

August 17, Owen Sound, at my favourite breakfast joint (Hooray!), my yellow mask handy.

The plan for my 3 year residency was always this: to spend the first year in experimentation (done), the second in development (had a great plan in January which took 3 months to CoVid-revise, started development late May) and the third a launch of the new work, in whatever format and vehicle I devise in the late second/ early third year.

I’m on track. This new work is really really exciting. I’m going to launch in pieces late fall with some teasers before then when I get a chance. There will definitely be ways you can participate and get involved. Do stay tuned.

My apartment in Hamilton is sublet until October, so I can concentrate on this work with water at my cabin, and bring the source material & sketches I gather there into the studio in Hamilton. There’s hardly any wifi signal at the shore, so my blogging schedule here has been difficult to maintain. I miss it! Will be very happy to get back into the regular ritual in October.

Along with the photography, video and drawing, the writing has grown in some intriguing directions…

I developed an allergy to making masks, but am on the mend from this. None in stock at the moment, but I do have 100 or so new ones in the pipe. If you’d like one, send me a note.

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that there’s an abundance of green and good in the world.

All my love to you.