Keirartworks's Blog

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


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radically inclusive

Let’s say in a fit of wild enthusiasm you’ve made a generous statement about the music you love to play:

“Anyone can play in this band!  Come on over and jam with us!”

 

Word gets out because your music is fun so five new people show up to the next band rehearsal, in this order:

Geoff, a classically trained oboe player who’d like to try playing your drum kit

Ruby, a 12-year-old angry slam poet in a hoodie (no eye contact)

Mairy’s whistle-playin kitchen-jammin Uncle Pat

Pete’s mom Sherry, who sings twice weekly with the Sweet Adelines (so knows how it works)

Rico the PTSD’d army vet (in his wheelchair), who plays a mean harmonica

 

Your bandmates Eric the Ego (lead singer) and Tasteful Steve (guitar) are over there with their mouths open, staring at you in disbelief.  Your pal Sam (great bass player) is smirking through her inscrutable look and has shrugged, just now.

” Well.”, you think to yourself, “Um.”

But this is what makes you so good at what you do: you decide in that moment that this will become a band project, and ‘the band’ will rehearse as usual, but on another night. With a little finaegling, this makes the situation okay for everyone (indicated by a second shrug from Sam).

What ensues from there is perhaps one of the best, funkiest, tastiest most heartfelt art-records ever made, a massive collaborative process of laughing changes-of-mind & heart & music & life for everyone, including Eric (the less overblown), SuperTasteful Steve (the less serious), Sam (who sang at the Adelines’ last concert in full leathers), Geoff, Pat, Sherry and Rico, who now regularly go to slam nights with Ruby and her African-Canadian girlfriend.

Next Project?  How about an online thing linking Iqaluit midwives with spinners/weavers from Georgian Bay who then write songs with retired Mounted Police?  (Sam’s idea).

Bell Hooks would say….  Huzzah!

Paolo Friere would say…  Huzzah!

Lees Higgins and Willingham would say… Huzzah! Huzzah!

Rebecca Solnit would of course write a review of the entire mad thing for the Guardian, with exhaustive research that proves without a doubt that yes, inclusiveness requires great courage (and willingness to laugh at ourselves) but makes us all so much better.

 


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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.

Bent_Tree_close

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


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In Christmas

It’s the 18th of December, one week before Christmas day.  I’ve rehearsed and planned and delivered and engaged, I’ve painted and written and talked and sang and posted, I’ve cooked and sorted and laundered and cared-for and now all of a sudden on the eve of my first day off in what feels like centuries I’m hearing the call that maybe only dogs can hear, that no other human around me seems to acknowledge but nevertheless has got my full attention in this moment…

…. stop.

Not sure why this image. Something to do with Christmas I think.

This feels correct to the moment just previous to the moment I turned off my Christmas engines.

Basil Johnson once said to me, “Simple, and good – that’s all you need.”  We’d been talking about art, and what makes it resonate with human culture in the short, medium and long term.  As I remember, I’d been talkative and keen then – about socioeconomic indicators of health and growth, artists in the workplace and some utopian ideas around the political value of the arts as a generator of individual authenticity.  In 2004 I was Cultural Capitals Coordinator for my town of 22,000, doing my best to imagine and then somehow impossibly manifest a bridge between national and local, micrososm and macrocosm, embracing all issues visible and audible under the sun. I’d been given my rein, was impossibly curious, – a single artist-mom on the eve of a lifelong marriage that would only last a decade. I was provocative, insistent and intense, flailing.

“What kind of painting do you do?”, he asked, in a pause I’d left open.

again, no articulate explanation for this choice

My answer was long and exhausting.  He listened and gave me two words in exchange.

I heard them enough through all that noise in my head to swallow them whole and keep them alive in my belly.  They sing to me now.

 

I love these ladies with all my heart. This was a gig we played at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery six days ago.

I love these ladies with all my heart. This was a gig we played at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery six days ago.

The planet, the politics, the migrations of people and animals; conviction, passion, intensity, art and music; friendship, hurt, joy and the passage of time….  our response can be simple.  And good.

It’s a choice, to live and work that way.

 

BHill_SEwindow

I choose therefore to fill my tomorrow with simple rituals.  Instead of a phone, a computer, a list of errands, I will make a breakfast, a burning, a giving-away, a silence.  I will listen to what lies under all the Christmas noise.

This is good.  Thanks, Basil.  I can feel you smiling.


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List of five

A rainy 5:20 am in the darkening northern hemisphere.  It is November 1.

StudioOctober22_2015

I was lucky enough to be on the road every weekend last month, to and from Kingston, Toronto, Peterborough.  I drove through ridings filled with campaign signage, fields of shorn crops, hills of red and yellow trees, towns surrounded by housing developments and the occasional marsh, feeling grateful and tiny.  Skies full of bruised purple clouds shedding rain even as the slanted sun blazed through to set hill and valley aflame.  All night on super highways through a 386 kilometre downpour, I wondered at my strange need to always be not the fastest, but the first, even on slippery roads.

The beautiful front porch of the Peterborough house I stayed in

The beautiful front porch of the Peterborough house I stayed in

For the first hour, driving is thinking.  In the second hour mental chatter dissolves into a song of the land and the way through it.  By the third there is no-mind, by the fourth, lightness of being.  I hadn’t realized how small my world had become, before October’s road trips.  Thanksgiving, indeed.

coach house garden in old Kingston

coach house garden in old Kingston

Home on November 1 is a tunnel into winter.  I assess, I simplify, I clean up the past seven months and carefully file valuable things – deck chairs and tables, garden plants, kayak, things found on hikes, shared laughter, simple grief, great joy, humbling rage that left me stronger when it had passed.  It’s the inner garden we prepare to tend now, during and enduring the frozen months.  Experience is compost.

Rue flourished this summer. Beautiful plant right out of folktale

Rue flourished this summer. Beautiful plant right out of folktale

I draw and paint bells for a show in early December.  I dig through art history to find work that explores line, light and colour for a drawing course I’ll launch this fall and winter. I write and teach music in my studio, and plan for an open house in five weeks, while Canada reclaims her soul after a dark decade.  Me too.


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#Selfie post 2

This show project has turned into a kind of Selfie Pilgrimage for me.  I must say, my initial resistance has been a challenge to overcome – I DO so resist, especially when reading articles like this one by James Franco (The Meanings of the Selfie, New York Times, December 2013)  who rationalizes his recently acquired selfie habit thus,

a well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention.  …hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power.

Maybe for James Franco it’s power, but I truly don’t think that’s at the core of our collective behaviour.

I do not own a cell phone, so use a Rebel.  Sure enough, even when I'm the one taking the picture of me I close my eyes to make myself invisible.  Not squirming, I think.

I do not own a cell phone, so use a Rebel. Sure enough, even when I’m the one taking the picture of me I close my eyes to make myself invisible. Not squirming, I think.

So I dig and write and paint, and read.  This morning I woke to a kind of epiphany about what could be at the root of Selfie on social media.  Here’s a journal excerpt, which will likely end up in the show booklet in some form,

Selfies have steadily been on the increase since the first use of the term (Australia) in 2002 & became universal in 2012.  Oxford English Dictionary made the term it’s “word of the year” in 2013.  Could this be a barometer for the increasing divide between people because of a kind of culturally cultivated distrust of intimacy?  We are also experiencing the increasing dissolution of traditional forms of relationship and partnership – both personally and with the institutions we once trusted (govt, banks, corporations), which may have created a vaccuum at the personal level.  Maybe these cultural shifts have also changed the questions we’re asking ourselves on a personal level…

The question ‘who am I’, has traditionally been answered in the past by describing how you are related to something or someone, “Peter’s wife; Katie’s Mother; Richard’s Teacher; Jim’s Daughter; Sarah’s Boss; Paul’s Friend”, or even by what you do professionally, which is a different form of relationship “A cellist; an artist; a bus driver; an author; a councillor; a conductor, a mechanic; a carpenter”.

It’s a different question in social media circles.

“I got ‘Unicorn’!, which mythical  creature are you?”

Round one.  Always an indication of how the fight will go.  I need to make it to twenty....

Round one. Always an indication of how the fight will go. I need to make it to twenty….

This answers a question for me about why I’m painting my own hands in interaction.  I think #Selfie behavior could be an examination of our relationship with ourselves.

Each time a selfie is posted it tells a truth, shows a piece of soul, offers a clue, and a question:  “who am I?”  or with chronic selfie posters, “who am I, now?” But what does that question actually mean?  How can we Be separate and distinct from our interactions  – with partners, kids, colleagues, parents, friends, job?

So, for me, my hands.  They are my job, my form of expression, an amplification of my speech, a means of articulation.  They represent two sides of my engagement with the world and my work – my dominant right hand is skilled, trained in the finely tuned crafts of drawing and using a cello bow.  I can write with it – it knows letters and words.  It’s often TOO skilled, too trained for a task I want to complete – a drawing that is direct and raw; the ability to touch an object and feel it’s shape and texture without interference from what is ‘known’.  My left hand is more honest, therefore, and I rely upon it to take me places that can change my mind and my perspective.

Together they are erotic, aggressive, tender, bewildered, compassionate, protected, open or closed to experience.  I see them and work with them much much more than I see and work with my face.  Here’s what Larry Jensen wrote in response to the first hand selfie I posted.  I so love this, L:

blurred names & avatars for privacy reasons...

blurred names & avatars for privacy reasons…

And so the 12-week journey begins, with James Franco, the Oxford English, a Unicorn, Larry Jensen, and some squirming.

yep, squirming.  eyes open means you can see me.  Here we go....

Yep, squirming. eyes open means you can see me. Here we go….


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#Selfie 1: Right then.

Leafs and St Louis Blues are skating like mad 2.5 feet above my head, with a soundtrack announcer who could clearly like the Leafs to tie it up & stay in the game.  2nd period, 13 minutes to go.

Blues just scored

Blues just scored

I’m writing in a local bar so I can get some distance from the #Selfie project that so dominates my studio.  I’m having a very good time digging in to define with paint, music and written language what it is about selfies that I find so abrasive.  It’s difficult to admit to intolerance, but I do.  I admit it with the caveat that I GET it:  if I’m intolerant, I’d better damn well be prepared to dig in and articulate exactly WHY I so resist and revile the selfie. By producing and publishing my own. Ow.

ikes...

As an artist I believe I am required to identify and explore my own intolerances.  To work with what is abrasive and uncomfortable.

One of the St. Louis Blue’s players is pounding the hell out of a Toronto player.

I couldn't be less interested.

I couldn’t be less interested.  This is not the same as intolerance.

Many indigenous peoples have felt, when faced with the cameras of apparently benign foreigners (some Mayans still refuse to have their image copied and used by anyone), that a photo contains part of the soul of the person photographed.  Mississipi artist James W. Bailey believes this too, and addresses his internal conflict this way:

I hold a religious belief, probably inherited from my paternal Mississippi grandmother, who was 1/4 Choctaw Indian, and who was extremely distrustful of photography, that photography, more than any other art form, has the ability to capture a living element of life, a flashpoint of the soul if you will. …  When such photographic images are taken, the only thing the photographer can do to make the universe right with what he or she has done is to place the photograph, which I believe to be a living organism, into a context of positive growth….

The great photographers, whether they know it or not, are photographers who have taken stolen elements of life and have placed those living substances into a context where the photographically captured life force has been encouraged toward positive growth.

Are we as careful with our own images of ourselves as he is on our behalf?

Are we as careful with our own images of ourselves as he is on our behalf?

So in I go, straight to the coarse sandpaper. My rules so far are these: 1. I work with and publish only images I take by myself of myself. 2. I publish each one first on social media before I use it in painting, writing or song. 3. I include whatever the response is in the work that develops.  Including zero response. 4. I ask everyone I know what they think of the selfies phenomenon. 5. Be unfailingly honest and up front about whatever vulnerability I feel throughout the whole process.

Show opens in June, in Owen Sound.  It will include performance art, music, and a small hand-made book which will document the process of building it.  I’m also booking it into a tour – through galleries, highschools, colleges & universities, museums & clubs. I’ll keep you posted.

hmmm.

hmmm.


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The Sweet Ouch

Home to find the Shire bathed in sunlight and still buried in snow.  Three days home and yet another winter storm howls and screams at my north windows.  It’s mid-march.  I don’t feel in any way inclined to take pictures of this weather.

But oh my studio is warm warm.  Full of echoes left from hours of cello practise:  Faure, Brahms, Bach, Schubert, Dvorak. Endlessly gratifying workout-studies.

Every muscle hurts.  Including my heart.

singing, now....

singing, now….

Paintings all leapt ahead and comparing their new selves – mirrored across the walls, watch me move, see how I am, now.

More more more.

Wires like the promise of further connection:  1/4 inch to loop pedal to Soundboard to speakers.  xlr from MK40 to board to speakers.  These wait on new arrangements written in the car, on the road, in waking moments – and time…  after the meetings, the rehearsals, the photoshoots, the graphic design, the lessons, classes, visits….

Tonight.  Tomorrow, and then the tomorrow after.

my friend's house

my friend’s house

I’m bigger somehow, since I’ve been away.  So is the world.

Didn’t think I could love more than I did when I left.  Turns out I can.

To achieve great things, two things are needed;  a plan, and not quite enough time.