My appearance belongs to you more than to me. This became clear through my work for #Selfie in 2014. It is a kind of negotiation – I choose my glasses, my haircut, my clothes, which are all clues about the way I would like to be perceived. You see these choices in living action in a way I never do, since mirrors and photographs don’t tell the whole story. You are better equipped to read the shifts and undercurrents of my external expressions than I can ever be.

The same applies in reverse: I can read more in your appearance than you can understand of your presentation of yourSelf. We all navigate our identity this way, learn about who we are through the responses of Other.

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This is a complex negotiation, in every case, since what I see and what you see will always be subjective. Actually, the more I read and observe human and other-than-human nature the more I’ve come to believe that there is no such thing as objectivity – only degrees of awareness around what we project, onto whom, and why.

This applies academically too, in both arts and science, though culturally we still cling to this idea of rational, impartial, objective inquiry as the base requirement of measurable, reliable Truth. In a summer institute research course I attended two days ago the PhD prof said [I paraphrase here] …all research – quantitative, qualitative, is biased, always. 

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I still think research is a good thing. Just know thyself, and name the bias.

LakeSelfie

A corollary: if you made a drawing of me accurate to the finest detail, I would recognize more of you than mySelf – through the details you’ve noted and those you’ve disregarded, the respect and love you’ve invested in the drawing, the curve or the raggedness of the line you’ve used. Where you are confident, where not, etc.

You’ve learned the planes and lines of my face and body in the process of drawing me, I’ve learned about you from the choices and marks you’ve made. The drawing is in fact a map of the space where you and I connect. Also where we don’t connect. Interesting.

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Subject, object, space between. Always subjective: Me and Other.

There’s a concept that has taken root in me in the past decade or two, that “.a person, or animal, can only experience the world as being a certain way if the whole person, or animal, can understand the world as being that way.” (found this pithy summary in Beaton, 2014).

In other words, we can only fully understand what we have known experience of. Beyond that, the non-experienced world is invisible, visible in an extremely threatening way, or visible yet utterly, laughably, terribly misinterpreted (to make it fit the known experience – witness colonialism, white nationalism, patriarchy…).

When applied to portraiture, this idea becomes a potential problem. Do I merely make use of this person I am depicting to describe my own world, then? Hmmm.

Selfie_Toronto

In counterpoint to the conceptualism theory is the Jungian idea of ‘collective unconscious’. That we know far far more than we are conscious of knowing. 

A flash of insight, an epiphany, a dawning awareness that comes always (eventually), when we sit at the great blank walls that mark the boundaries of our experience and ask difficult questions. A gut feeling, an unexplained irritation, a magnetic pull that draws us off the known path, and inevitably, to that border-fence of understanding with the questions we’ve hunter-gathered.

To draw them there, on the wall. To turn the wall into something else.

Maybe a doorway.

DarkSelfie

The tug of curiosity as I walk along the rich, verdant summer streets of this new-to-me place. So many trees here, six or seven times my age. A cat who crosses the street just to talk with me. A seed caught on my clothing.

As the starling does, peering in at me in my morning routine, first one eye then the other, beak clacking – did the seed catch my dress out of a similar curiosity?

What would happen if I planted this curiosity somewhere wholesome? If I approached the possibility with healthy, Gaia-inspired intention, and watered it, tended it, painted it, made it into music, this seed I know nothing about?

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I look out of my incredible, brave body from behind my eyes and skin, from inside my ears and lungs, at the known and unknown world. If there is a tug of curiosity felt and answered in even a small way by me or by anOther, a connection occurs that transcends body shape, adornment, smell and sound, and also celebrates difference, insight, challenge to our known worlds.

I have an idea that this has nothing at all to do with gender, race, roles or power, which have been such a source of projection, trauma and abuse for so long. There is, however, a powerful, planet-sized archetype that we could learn a great deal from as we grow beyond that old, tired, experiential harness. This is the direction I’m tugged in.

CabinSelfie

We can collaborate, respectfully, playfully, on the space between us. Human and other-than-human, inclusively. Is this where love lives.

Always subjective. Me and Other.

Ask difficult questions, know thyself. Me in Other. Me as Other.

M_Other.

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.

YellowBell_Nov2015psd
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.