Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Cabin Stories 4: weather

The tarps work well. Easy to pull out and put away, which is required since sometimes rain comes unexpectedly at 3am. I am quietly and ridiculously proud of this.

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It occurs to me that I haven’t been myself for some years now. That the strong, creative me, fully open to possibles and wonder is only just now beginning to stand up, be seen and look around again, in these past few weeks of Cabin.  She sings, draws and writes every day now.

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There was a glimpse of this me in 2014, but it was chewed up and diverted by small town commercial gallery egos (abetted by my own stubborn naiveté about the way things work in that world), by painful/ joyful diversions into and out of romantic love and by the increasingly heavy requirements of paying for culturally prescribed things. Things that, from here, I’m not sure I needed.

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Many of the things I did need then I don’t need, now. In retrospect, the psychological distance between those needs then and these now is a lot like the distance from the top of the dover cliffs to the rocks below them.

Down is where you look when fear runs in your veins. Down to the meeting place between Forever Sea and Rocky Shore (while your friend the little white dog tugs at your leg to pull you back from the edge).

And then if you look up, where fear has no place, you can see your old, embedded practicalities for what they are: just a few small options among a big-sky-full of others.

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As I surrender to the last hours of Day 29 after The Leap of Faith, I can see what I could not have imagined before I found my courage. 

My ‘friend the dog’ is the cat who joins me to watch the sun set each night. The place where rocky shore meets the endless water has expression as vast and diverse as any behavioural spectrum, but this inspires fascination, not fear. On every level I know I am stronger. 

When the beauty around me reaches impossibly generous levels of gentleness, I stop drawing/writing/reading/singing, and just witness.

Gratitude.

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There is strong emotional weather, to be sure. Beauty without shadow is nothing you can build a good path from. I welcome it – there’s always room for change. Change is all around, here – dancing with life. 

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During and while all of the storms pass over and through, the spiders spin, the birds forage, The butterflies do their impossible, the waves sculpt the shore, and the trees drink both sun and rain, stretch themselves steadily upward and down. 

The clear sky remains the same, regardless of weather, full of options. I trust the sky.

I’ve landed well.

 


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Coming to

I’m in my socks on a quiet street in the old section of town, pulling goutweed out of the garden.  It’s early on an idyllic spring morning, full of bees and growth, flowers and a gentle cool breeze.  A starling, harsh and insistent, comments on my weeding.  I explain that in the ecosystem of my tiny garden many things grow, and that the manifest destiny that is Goutweed’s nature would change all of it into a monoculture. This is why I must, however reluctantly (I’m not feeling reluctant at all, not even shocked that this is so), do my best to kill or maim Goutweed.  I tell him I prefer his sweet starling voice to this rasp.

my lawn.

my lawn.

Muttering about invasive plants and the more tender, solitary ones I seek to protect, I feel myself ease into the beginning of this three-day inner working space.

The mornings early articles were about artists – Kahlo, O’Keefe, Yayoi Kusama – specifically, their struggle to give artistic voice to the particular forms of madness they’d discovered in themselves.  Our relationship with others; our relationship with our own minds – maybe the greatest challenge in being human?

I found myself writing about strict ordering of colour, the music and the muscle of line, the often oppressive heaviness of form.  This was somehow inside of thoughts about the utter sanctity of solitude, the necessity of it.  It’s here I build fortitude, here where I can examine and own my relationship with crow-darkness; my internal, eternal desires (lust even?); my old, creakingly reliable rigidity.

Scratching the surface, but then this is day one of three.

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The goutweed surrenders to my will, stem by stem, and as I stoop mutter pull I hear the sound a badly injured animal would make if I were in the bush.  It’s coming from a largish man in spring coat and backpack. He’s standing at the end of the street, not five houses away.

He and I are the only ones visible. I instinctively give him space, content in my goutweed campaign, not looking, but listening. He moans again.  Mutters (to himself),  You shouldn’t have done that.  It wasn’t right and it’s not okay.  You’re not okay, you need help.  You need to get some help.

I know he knows I’m listening.  In fact, he called me to listen, with his moans.

I think to myself that this is a shared moment of something unnameable but infinite.  I think that every human everywhere works this way, all the time, every day.  We do our best to make friends with our madness.

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My talkative neighbour has seen me – as I hear the creak of his side door I hear myself too, muttering not now not now…  But there he is, coffee in hand, ready to chat.

Startled by the interruption we run with our minds, the largish man and I, to seek solitude again, where the fragile thought-threads can be followed, observed, even understood a little.

You just missed me!  I say to coffee-cup-neighbor.  Too bad!  I need to go in now and get back to my work.  He says ya sure that’s ok. Inside, I can feel the door as I close it.

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I feel happiness.

 


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Colour Pages #2: Green, like breathing

Aggression is the other side of green.

AgressiveRed

As a 14-year-old downhill racer I was trained to attack the hill, to ski not just on top of it, but in it. At the same age I was also developing my approach to cello. My first teacher – a passionate violinist who adored Kreisler, who played always from inside the music – would beseech me to ‘stop playing like a girl’.  He deliberately invoked my rage- so I roared.

Bless him.  I might have remained a mouse, hyper aware of my environment and expert at invisibility, had he not prodded the carnivore in me.

GreenlikeChagall

So Mouse found her power.  From there I developed card games in which I could dominate, energetic ways to push and pull inside a debate with family, and learned to love the exhilaration that came with playing the bass line in string trios, duets, and as principal cellist in two orchestras.  For a deeply introspective kid it was a wobbly but decent way to explore my urge to join.

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Later this approach became more sophisticated with my Uni friends and their fine fine clever minds. Even though my intuitive self felt heavy inside the quick of their conversation I could pull and move the feeling in the room with my cello ‘sensibilities’ – anchoring where I chose, releasing when I chose, pulling and pushing the ‘dance’ of it all – though I was not conscious of my manipulations.  I didn’t know I was flexing my silent ‘roar’. I remember inflicting wounds, and feeling bewildered from inside my own invisibility.

I had an understanding that it was proper to be ‘mouse’ when not playing music.

You could call that naive, and it was.  In retrospect I could also call my naiveté an abuse of personal power, since I was – unconsciously – manipulating the human ecosystem without regard for the effects of my ‘flexing’.

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We all have this story, or a version of it; we travel into our powerful selves only by increments, we learn temperance through experience.  I tell mine here not as a confessional but because it’s a way to feel what green is.

I offer the idea that green is the colour of naiveté, of newness and innocence.  It grows into the colour of strength when tempered with awareness, and nourished by tenderness.  I think we breathe green like forests do, and like leaves do, to filter toxins from the air and drink the sunlight- to feel the deep joy of spirit at peace.

taken September 27th, 5pm.

I offer too that green is the breath that supports the roar of red.

moss like this reminds me of lungs

Some painting notes, then – a technical application of Green in 2-D  painting.

Both green and red are essential in my practise of painting.  I tend to overlap yellows and blues on the page or canvas to make my greens, but the result is the similar, somatically. If I need to I use Hooker’s, Sap, or olive greens, but I avoid opaque greens completely.  (Too many institutions were painted this flat, bad-tasting colour in the ’50s.  I do wonder why.)

Here is a little green artists’ pigment history  – (for more link to this excellent page here).  It’s interesting that for me Emerald Green acts more like crimson on a canvas if used in it’s pure form – and the pigment used by Van Gogh and Cezanne was extremely toxic.  A ‘not-green’, if it’s also rat poison.

Sap Green
Derived from the unripe berries of the Buckthorn shrub. It is highly fugitive, as is a sister-pigment, Iris Green which comes from the sap of the Iris Flower. During the Middle Ages, Sap Green was reduced to a heavy syrup and sold in liquid form. Today’s synthetic Sap Greens are lakes obtained from coal tar.

Emerald Green
Also known as Schweinfurt Green, Parrot Green, Imperial Green, Vienna Green, and Mitis Green, this beautiful but poisonous of pigments was also marketed under the name Paris Green as a rat poison. As a paint-pigment, it was prone to fading in sunlight (an effect which could be reduced in oil paintings by isolating the pigment in between coats of varnish) and also reacted chemically with other colours. For instance, it could not be combined with sulfur-containing colours, like cadmium yellow, vermilion or ultramarine blue, as the mixture resulted in a deep brown colour. However, it had a brilliance unlike any other copper green known to modern chemistry. It is said that Emerald Green was the favourite pigment of the Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne. In some of his watercolours, thin washes containing the colour have browned, but thicker applications have remained bright green. Van Gogh was another avid user. Modern imitations include “Emerald Green” or “Permanent Green”.


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Colour Pages #1: Yellow

I’ve been ill and intensely insomnia’d recently – slowed down enough to obligingly revise my to-do lists from twenty things to one – or two if the gods are smiling.  In the in-between times, too tired to sleep or read or write or hold a thought long enough to notice what it is …. I’ve been bored.  This is no small thing and I do not make light of it. According to my upbringing and my deepest inclinations, boredom is a crime of the most serious nature.  A crime AGAINST nature, in fact.  It is absence of life and purpose.

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This is not the yellow that I see in the original before me. The violet / purple in the background is close, after much calibration in photoshop. Why can’t I get the yellow to read, digitally? what’s up with that?

And so I feel like I’ve been KO’d.  I over-react in a kind of panic by revving my engines when I can find & start them – HUGE waste of precious gasoline.  In those moments, roaring like an worn out F350, I lock myself into an intense but oh-too-brief road-race contemplation of mortality, choice, autonomy, risk, personal truth… and joy, both humbly small and thunderingly huge.  I know full well this is a form of madness.

In the midst of this I ask myself, ‘What do you think?

(Like I’m in sanctuary, on White Cloud Island.)

About Yellow?

(Seeking relief, which it is.)

I’ll call these the Colour Pages.

same photo directly translated into black and white (photoshop CS4).  I did try, in a filter called ‘colour balance’ to remove every colour:  (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta) and the result was close enough to be the same.  So, where is the black, or the ‘absence of colour’, in this hot yellow I see in the original in front of me?  What are my eyes  – our eyes! – seeing that science and technology does not?

This blog has always been about process – the articulation and the sharing of it, the practise and the primacy of it.  I’ve felt always that finished paintings are but a by-product of what happens on the road from concept to completion. This in no way diminishes the importance of paintings as living, resonant things.  In my experience the finished (by)product will  always ‘sing’ if the practise that leads to it has integrity.   In order for process to have integrity however, I feel that it must be the most challenging, transformational part of art-making.  Not for the faint of heart, if you’re serious and have respect for what you do.

I’ve noticed that my idea of what a ‘professional’ product is has changed – especially over these past two years.  My ear for intonation and tone has as well, musically, which is the same muscle. Turns out it’s a constant refinement of perception.

January 2016

January 2016

Yellow, then.   Hmmm.

Why do I associate yellow with a seeking of Knowledge?

Lemon, pineapple seem obvious but that’s not what I taste.  Why does it instead taste like cumin?

Why does it feel like yellow is not a colour, but a light?  Like the feeling of sunlight in April after a long winter.

Cold yellow feels toxic; I avoid it’s use.  (Curious that this yellow is often called ‘lemon’.  Huh. The manufactured colour is not the same as my experience of lemon, unless you can call a colour ‘sour’.)  Cadmium yellow is a colour I avoid using as well – it feels opaque, obliterating, like heavy, cheap cheesey food – doesn’t work well with others, or my belly. Naples, Windsor, Barium, Turner’s, Chrome… I’ve used all of these but they resist light and do not glow.

A little internet digging (here) offers some history of artists’ eternal inquiry into yellow pigment for use in painting…

Gallstone
Prepared from the gallstone of an ox and gives a reasonably dark yellow. Nicholas Hilliard found it useful for shading with miniature work. John Payne in the 18th century found that dishonest colourmen were selling an inferior substitute. He suggested in his book on miniature-painting that artists should approach slaughter-houses and that the men there should be on the watch for gallstones. In 1801 it was one of the top four most expensive colours, Ackerman’s showing a charge of five shillings a cake.
Gamboge
A native yellow gum from Thailand. A bright transparent golden yellow for glazing or water-colour, it is not a true pigment. It has been in use since medieval times. J Smith in The Art of Painting in Oyl, published in 1701, describes a method for preparing the colour, which usually comes in rough cylinders about 2.5 in (6 cm) in diameter. ‘For a Yellow Gumboge is the best, it is sold at Druggist in Lumps, and the way to make it fit for use, is to make a little hole with a knife in the lump, and put into the hole some water, stir it well with a pencil till the water be either a faint or a deeper Yellow, as your occasion requires, then pour it into a Gally-Pot, and temper up more, till you have enough for your purpose.’ (Pencil here would mean a small, soft, hair brush.)
Geranium Lake
A fugitive pigment made from Eosine that was in vogue during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Van Gogh used it in versions of his Sunflowers. Now obsolete.
Giallorino
A lead yellow pigment likely to have been Naples Yellow. The Florentine painter Cennino Cennini mentions that Giallorino is associated with volcanoes but artificially made. This coincides with Naples yellow, which in Antiquity was collected as natural deposits from Mount Vesuvius, but by Cennini’s time had been synthesised. Another possibility is that the name refers to Lead-Tin Yellow (see below)….

… if you’d like to know more, go to the link here.

March 16, morning.

March 16, morning.

So technical and so familiar a thing for me, this historical context for colour.

For the purposes of this blog it’s infinitely infuriating that I can’t show you how HOT with yellow this painting actually is, right in front of me in my studio.  This is not entirely because of my relatively poor equipment or knowledge of digital colour, either.  I think the translation is not possible – original painting to internet or print.  This both saddens and gladdens me, as a painter.

You’ll just have to believe and imagine a yellow so alive it burns your retina and blots out all other colour.  A threshold yellow, beckoning, compelling, and also repelling.  Nickel Azo yellow, with washes of  ‘Indian’ yellow (good grief, what does That mean?), Mars Yellow, Hansa yellow medium and light….

Later on March 16

Later on March 16, still wet when photographed. Traditional colour theory says that compliments bring out the essence of their opposites – green and red; orange and blue; yellow and purple.  In this painting I want to initiate a different conversation – Azo with Cobalt.  Intense, so far.  We’ll see who else wants to be at table with those two….

More to come.

I’m happy to welcome April sun again, heartened by it as I am every year.

Here’s a tag thought:  perhaps boredom is in fact a place where structure can be set aside so that other, more fluid and enduring, changing things can enter?

Colour pages will continue – like my digital version of Klee’s notebooks, which I long to read in english.  From my familiar painter’s island, these will be a freeform romp through thoughts around the business of and tools for making visual art:  colour, line, form, subject, song, frequency, culture and cultural democracy, transformation.

Chime in, by all means – the process is best if collaborative.  Together we are an ecosystem and nothing happens in isolation.

 

 


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Bill Reid, Through and In

My phone is in Kingston, 200 km of driving sleet and transport trucks ago.

I travel through this with my daughter from my aunt to my niece. There’s a rightness to the timing.

Bill Reid's Orca

Bill Reid’s Orca

In the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau I find a plug upstairs after the cafe closes.  There’s a bench with cushions so I cross my legs and balance the laptop as I would find centre and lift my paddle in a canoe. Then I write, staring at horizon.

There’s a curve in the tail of Bill Reid’s Orca that keeps him suspended in the air, impossible and alive.

My paddle-calloused fingers type,

I intend…

2001- a painting from a show called Sea Hear, in which I tried once again to paint music

a photo of  ‘Play’ from a 2001 show Sea Hear, in which I tried with all my heart to paint music. My daughter, at 5, chose all the imagery for this one, especially the orcas.

Weightless I am, suspended in the air like this massive hunter whale.  Out of my element, on purpose:  I intend.

I am above the Ottawa River which looks drugged into surrender by the ritual, annual, comforting January cold, across from the Parliament buildings where Justin son of Pierre sits with renewed and informed vigour as our head of state.

They built the beautiful, flower-shaped, buttressed library on the river side, away from the possibility of attack.  Those Statesmen, their advisors, their Wives.  Some of them in came and chose and made it so in ways I can respect.

Bell1, 2015, 20" x 24", mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

Bell1, 2015, 20″ x 24″, mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

I think about my Scots ancestors who fled here two generations & eight generations ago to look for a horizon they could aim for, for once.  I think about now and La Loche and four people dead like lightning, like an arrow to what we need to see and be accountable for.  I think about Idle No More, about Truth and Reconciliation.

I can barely remember the last specific, technical idea I had about music or painting – these old old ideas are far stronger.

'Black'. 2014, 36x36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

‘Black’. 2014, 36×36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

I intend.

To take the next precious decade of my life to examine and build a good answer to these things I wonder and care about, more every day.

My thinking fingers have written this:

We are all a product of our own small community that overlaps in myriad ways with larger ones like the Internet, like a city, a collective, a field, an orchestra, a band, large or small.  I’ve come to believe over this small span of years that each is an ecosystem that thrives according to the strength of it’s connectedness.

I’ve found also that few connectors are stronger than the making of good music. As a painter who also writes and performs regularly as a vocalist/cellist…

…I have experienced this time and time again: visual art and writing connect us more deeply to ourselves but music connects us, through ourselves, to others. One might say that community music is like mycelium – a connective tissue that can convey a supportive ‘nutrient’ through the system to everyone who requires it….

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

The timing is right.  I will get my Master’s degree at Laurier, in Community Music.

Like the impossibly suspended whale, like a Rebel, I will pay for this with the proceeds from my paintings.  They will be on paper and canvas, in watercolour, ink and oil.  They will sing.

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Find a door you like, one that calls change to you.  Then you go through and in.


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Yesterday a squirrel…

I got up from writing to answer the knocking at my front door, wondering if I’d have to speak federal election with someone I’d never met, or if my neighbour needed a hand.

ScarletRunners

There was no one there, save for a couple walking down the street.  When I looked down to the stoop I found a walnut, still wrapped in its green ball.  As I picked it up I saw a black squirrel staring at me from the driveway.

He looked so ready and willing and …waiting.  I rolled the walnut across and over the porch and down to the pavement to him.

He caught it, with a little squeak of … glee?  And rolled it under my car.

I looked at the couple, who’d stopped in their tracks – yes they saw that.

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For a moment all the bustle and think of Human was interrupted by the bustle and gather of Squirrel, and we played “Roll the Walnut”.

Smile.  Pause.

I closed the front door and got back to work.