Keirartworks's Blog

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


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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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old becomes new

Cold toes, bruised ribs from this wiry pull-out mattress, the roar and scrape of post-christmas industrial traffic three floors down.  I keep my eyes closed and read last night’s snowfall from the speed of the passing plough: maybe two inches.

A truck beeps itself backwards into the garage, shovels scrape pathways to retail:  Not a snowday then; We are open for business. I’m tired beyond measure from seasonal work, christmas effort, road trips, and navigating the annual ocean of paper, plastic, wrappings, cups and boxes; private aches, public belly laughs, snow bruises, exhilarations and odd behaviors.  I’d much prefer to be waking in my bed at home, where there’s a bath for slow entry into the day, a kitchen to make simple breakfast in.

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Nevertheless, I have deadlines to meet.  In answer to this, the dawn light pours in through eastern windows to spill on the floor: it’s beautiful here. I feel the call of possibility, and the rituals begin – fold up the bed, start the kettle for coffee, pad down the long hallway to fill the water jugs, come back to play with the cats while my coffee brews.

My studio, where I have worked and played for eight years, produced a hundred or more paintings, taught cello and art, designed, wrote blog, essay and books, rehearsed and performed music, read, edited, shared poetry, and built a rich and enduring collaboration with Knuckles the once-feral cat (who I will love ferociously and tenderly all my life long).

It’s late November 2016 and I’ve not yet decided to dismantle and reinstall it in the spare room at home.  It still feels like I’ll be here for a long time yet; content and safe in the art factory.

Everything is white again.

Everything is white again.

This six-windowed room is on the top floor of an old building that once housed a ladies hoisery factory, managed and operated by my maternal great-grandfather, Walter Keebler*. At one point he employed 200 women here – women who previously could only find work as maids or cooks because until then only men worked in factories.  I imagine that when they found themselves working together, they organized, and sorted things that needed sorting. Women tend to do that, given a little empowerment.

My other great-great grandfather was the CEO of Kennedy Foundry which made propellers for most of the merchant marine in the great lakes.  From the roof of the Circle Bar building I can see where the foundry was.

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When I moved in eight years ago I stripped and refinished the floors, filled the plaster holes with durabond, painted the walls, stripped half of the moulding around the windows (why?  sentiment, I think – it’s just cheap pine), and foam-insulated the ceiling cracks. I got my materials and equipment out of limbo and set up – the first time I’d had a working studio in four years – SUCH a relief to have a space for my soul again.  Since then it has always answered my soul’s need for sanctuary, art factory, practise and rehearsal space, writing space and woman’s shelter – all the more rich because of the family connection.  I feel as though I’ve got to know my ancestor Walter Keebler, somehow.  His slow steady, his endurance and care.

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This week I am packing it all up and removing myself from here, because it’s the right thing to do.  The initial decision was made in answer to the interminable delay in settlement from my marriage (which officially ended late summer 2013), but the choice resonated in my bones: yes, it’s time to move on.  Like the lobster whose shell has become too tight, I need to shed this place so I can grow.

As my mind and heart changes through the work of this masters degree, so is my painting shifting.  I still love working large, but I’m in search of more playfulness, new techniques, new experiments, new media – these will start small, because I have less time after music work and school are done.  Moving studio will help that, as well as insuring that I have enough money for gas and groceries.  (an aside – I just heard a statistic that sent me reeling: Video here, worth watching. I’ll paraphrase – the average annual income for professional writers, musicians and painters in Canada is $6,000.  Yep – I made $6,600. last year, working all the time.)

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Still, my heart breaks each time I fill a box and take it to my car, each time Knuckles the cat looks at me so full of trust and love, each time I look at the bare walls and empty windows.

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What a wonderful, rich eight years it’s been.  Thanks, Great-Grandpa, for the Circle Bar.

*Walter was the descendent of german refugees from the 100-years war, granted asylum by Queen Victoria. She in turn sent her 8000 refugees to the colonies, where William Penn, English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher and early Quaker presided over a flock of immigrants.  His great-uncle Frederick fought with the 50th regiment (for Lincoln) in the American Civil War – we are transcribing his letters home as a family project.

 


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Grand Plan

In the corner of my well-collected room there is a gilded chair, with cushions of soft cedar green.

I observe both chair and my pleasure in it, thinking how odd it is to have something right there in my room so finely made that the gilding is not ostentatious, but appropriate.

I do not sit in it.

My room, looking away from the gilded chair, at the bay window couch I do my reading in.

My room, looking away from the gilded chair, at the bay window couch where I’ve been reading anthropological studies of the Western Conservatory Music culture all day

Art Fundamentals 7th edition (Ocvirk/Stinson/Wigg/Bone/Cayton, 1994); Free to be Musical (Higgins/Campbell, 2010); The Tone of our Times (Dyson, 2014) – this week’s doors, waiting to be unlocked, to be passed through. Other doors I’ve left open behind me, each granting passage into a thought-provoking room, hallway, staircase.

view from reading couch

view from reading couch

Up, down, through, in.  Cognitive dungeon to library to kitchen to widow’s peak – each a different ‘ology’, each a story that links to all the others ever written, and those only now being conceived.

My mind is becoming vast like an ever-expanding castle, which, although timely and immensely satisfying, is not entirely comfortable.  Often it’s a tight squeeze.  I forget things like where the car is, what music I need to find, what day it is….

Union Station subway poem, Rush hour Oct 27

Union Station subway poem, rush hour Oct 27

Travel and roads.  I’ve spent a great deal of time not-home, in-between.  I don’t mind this 600+ km each week of highway through orange maple trees and purple skies, cropped fields and pumpkins on shelves by the roadside. Pumpkins like people, each one a different shape and size, some sideways, some flat, some enormous, others tiny, a couple of them smashed into pulp on the road.

In between I read through and into cognitive change.  I tune my cello/voice and play/sing for Tom Thomson, for Mary Sue Rankin, who are gone from here but also Not-Gone, ever.  I am honoured and humbled to be part of a circle teaching gift from three powerful indigenous women, and to be gifted an improvised-traditional calligraphic rendering of my friend and colleague’s Chinese name. As the kilometres go by and events sift down into understanding, I realize with growing certainty that the most valuable ones are those that cannot be purchased.

Home from Toronto Oct 29.

Home from Toronto Oct 29.

Oh yes.  Lawyers (an interesting and useful contrast), to collaboratively and fairly settle and resolve a marriage that ended three years ago. Muffler replacement on my hard-working honda.  These are purchased in the name of maintenance, a ‘taking care of’.  A garden full of beautiful perennials (rescued from the bad marriage), now being choked by goutweed – I will start digging it out tomorrow morning, also putting away the beautiful summer writing space on my back deck, now blanketed by yellow ash leaves.

Certainly, for things like these, for ‘taking care of’, it’s good to earn a decent living.

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My beautiful ash tree, three weeks ago, just after Thanksgiving. Now it’s mostly on the deck.

Remembrance day concert soon in the marvellously thriving community arts centre – this one a collaboration of elementary school musicians and the community concert choir, who both need cello, lucky me.

Things you can’t purchase, but have the greatest value.

Generosity.  Thanks-giving.  Remembrance.  Care.

 


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A knock on the locked door

March’s social media is a-twitter with #WomensHistoryMonth, #5WomenArtists…

20 minutes is my limit for work on this, I've found. My eyes lose their focus

20 clock minutes is my limit for this work I’ve found. My eyes lose their focus

This question has arisen, from the thoughtful and compelling minds of the National Museum of Women’s Art NMWA in Washington, DC:  off the top of your head, can you name 5 women Artists, from any era?  I can, but then I’m a painter, and I studied art history in the ’80s.  Curious, I pulled a massive tome from that era about Impressionism (1870-1885, give or take) and did some digging.  I found women – certainly; lovers, wives, mistresses, models, muses…

…but Not. One. Woman. Painter.

I can do this for twenty minutes, clock-time.

But those twenty minutes are meditative – they actually last for hours.

Come on.  That’s as nuts as immaculate conception.

I can only work on this for twenty minutes at a time, when my eyes give out.

While I’m at it, choosing colours, stringing, sewing down then up, my mind is in a kind of free place

I visited the National Gallery early in February, and found my heroes – all male because, well that’s what they’ve been teaching us all this time – and I believed it, as a young painter gendered female.  Astonished, again, as I have been for 30 years, to see the living breathing originals in front of me.  They beg stillness, and they get it. But this time beside them occasionally were beautiful pieces I’d never seen that pulled me in and demanded my attention. My GOD- the brushwork, the light, the power!

The Women.  They are there too, now.  In small numbers, to be sure, but they’re there and they’re strong.

fabric in all of these photos is designed and printed by women in Indonesia. Beading on the green satin is by Helen Donald, seamstress extraordinaire and children's clothing shop owner in the 60's. Somehow when I work on these I feel I'm stitching us all together

fabric in all of these photos is designed and printed by women in Indonesia. Beading on the green satin is by Helen Donald, seamstress extraordinaire and children’s clothing shop owner in the 60’s. Somehow when I work on these I feel I’m stitching us all together

I visited the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound this weekend to see the new shows and what do I find but an entire show of mad, serious, playful, rule-breaking women artists,

Crossing Natures is a group exhibition that explores cross-generational influences and affinities, and a lineage of feminism, found in the work of Joyce Wieland (1931-1998), Christiane Pflug (1936-1972), Janet Morton and Mélanie Rocan. Crossing Natures looks at the idea of thresholds that convey aspects of our relationship to habitat and the natural world.

Thank you once again, o enlightened TOM, for bringing the world to our door.

Women artists are also represented in a touring exhibition about the Beaver Hall Group from 1920s Montreal.  It’s in Hamilton, ON until May – I’m going.

I feel like I'm in communion.

I feel like I’m in communion.

Painting will NEVER go away, for me.  There’s been a two-month delay due to family issues (now at a place of peace), but the Bells That Still Can Ring will open this spring and travel after that to several places.  In this pause, however, I find myself gratified that there always have been and always will be strong women artists. I am more than comforted.

Oh yes – this also: Smithsonian now thinks that “Ancient Women Artists May Be Responsible for Most Cave Art”

And that’s just fine.


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Forest-maker

I have a little time to say some things that are important to say about my dad, now 81.

oak stairs designed by dad, built by Lou Currah.  The ones I climbed to get to my room were spiral - climbing them was wild like a circus act.  This replaced them after I left

Oak stairs designed by dad, built by Lou Currah. The ones I climbed to get to my room were spiral – climbing them was wild like a circus act. This is what replaced them after I left

There are some people who are reliable in their ‘rightness’, who – if asked a genuinely perplexing question about human complexity and what to do next – will listen, consider and then dig deeply for an answer.  Without fail, that answer rises out of compassion, intuition and a razor sharp insight into what, to most others, cannot be seen.  My dad had that.  It’s close to mystical for me – what he knows, almost without knowing.

Fireplace - designed by dad, and build by an artist-stonemason circa 1973.  Back room (to balance the cool dark cave of the schoolhouse), designed by dad, and built by him, my mom and all their friends.

Fireplace – designed by dad, and build by an artist-stonemason circa 1973. Back room (to balance the cool dark cave of the schoolhouse), designed by dad, and built by him, my mom and all their friends.

We painted together, when I was a tweener.  It was mom’s idea I think – but a good one.  It means we were terrified together, met our internal demons together, screwed up lots, burned bad pictures regularly, found humility together.  With me, 31 years his junior, he was always the teacher, always suggesting, offering, nudging.  But I knew that we were also partners on the torture road to find-your-place with paint.  I was glad he was with me then and I still am, now.

from the dark into the light. Designed by Dad. There's a rightness to this.

from the dark into the light. Designed by Dad. There’s a rightness to this.

While dad and mom were teaching full time, raising my sister and I (which involved the normal feeding, cajoling, suggesting and exploding that parents do, but also gymnastics, piano, cello, spinning and weaving lessons; 2 orchestra rehearsals a week, piano trio rehearsals and concerts; a farm with 24 head of cattle, six goats, twelve chickens, and a half-acre garden), my parents came to every single concert I played.

Dad, in the back, front or corner of every venue, cried joy at me with a wet face beaming.  I didn’t need to look – without seeing him, I felt him there.

Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, the year Canada became a country.  My parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school, complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards,  institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights.

Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, the year Canada became a country. My parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school, complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards, institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights.

Dad was my teacher in  grade 12 french – not a good idea, since I wasn’t academic, and that’s the way he taught.  It was okay though.  He was also careful to carefully mention that my hair looked nice that way every once in a while, when he sensed I might be down.

I remember waking up here as a child in the early 70's.  The green ceiling was coming down to make room for 18 feet of elevation.  In the mornings I would go into the bathroom and half my face would be covered with plaster dust from overnight sleep.  I loved it.

I remember waking up here as a child in the early 70’s. The green ceiling was coming down to make room for 18 feet of elevation. In the mornings I would go into the bathroom and half my face would be covered with plaster dust from overnight sleep. I loved it.

In 2004 dad and I went to Scotland together.  I was shocked to feel myself crying, face wet, as the Glasgow train climbed north into the rising highlands.  We stayed in Oban, and later Campbeltown, where McArthurs are from.  We walked the entire circumference of Kerrera, dad getting faster and faster as the hours of walking went by.  I ran beside him, as I had when I was a child, trying, but not quite able to match his strong stride.

In his life here, dad has planted thousands of trees.  The cornfields I once ran through -  powered by joy with my sister- are now pine forests - habitat for deer, birds ... for flora and fauna that Used to live there, until the trees were taken.  Dad is forest-maker.

In his life here, dad has planted thousands of trees. The cornfields I once ran through – powered by joy with my sister- are now pine forests – habitat for deer, birds … for flora and fauna that Used to live there, until the trees were taken. Dad is forest-maker.

Happy fathers’ day, James Robert.  I’m fu’ the ‘nu with love for ye.

 


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Firebird

Unbelievably, I am reunited with my oldest love, after fourteen years.

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I was fifteen and vague with deep introversion when we came together.  I had no real tools other than my ears and a fierce invisible longing that Named Me, so I struggled as if blindfolded.  I didn’t know how to properly approach the impossible,  let alone get through it.  Nevertheless,  he felt me through all the awkward then and he answered, full and deep, rich and old and stable, as Fathers can.

I’m not overstating things when I say he became as always as bedrock to me.  As permanent as sky.  More than anything else in my young life, he taught me that I was More.

OldCelloTuners

We  stayed  together and things happened.  Impossible shook  me and took me like tumbleweed into places I had no business being, places that could so easily have trapped me,  cloistered me, shaped my forever into defeat and imprisonment.  In retrospect I can see that I was protected then by a great naivete which was the only visible edge of the longing that Named Me.

He was with me through those years, enshrined in a corner, voiced in a stairwell – a place of joining always on offer, where I could shed what I needed to and reclaim what I needed to, if I felt strong enough to meet him.

I didn’t feel strong, though, in that time.  I still thought myself a child  who ought to seek approval. I was afraid to show my teeth.

Drips from paint I threw at canvas on my studio walls splattered his belly.  I sang in a band that laughed and drank and smoked and toured.  I abandoned myself in lovers who saw, but didn’t see.

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Then Ed phoned and I answered, as I’d done many times before.  I took my Always up to compare to the new girl, who had been rejected by a student, & why, what’s wrong with her.  Played new girl for twenty minutes, then picked up my Always to compare sounds,  as I’d done before.

But I couldn’t play him.  He was gone.  Tried again.  No.  And again.  Nothing.

With no warning, New Girl had claimed me over him.  I couldn’t buy her and keep him, so after two weeks of tears and trying, I traded.  Fifteen years ago.

He went to a place of silence and while he sat like a secret inside a hard case, I played New Girl.  She pushed me, like a bitch.  She made me work for every note,  she called me out on every bad habit.  She could snarl like a tiger, and scream ugly like a stuck rabbit.  She demanded that I use my teeth.

So I found my teeth, and learned how to use them.  I learned to love her, and we learned to compromise well, my sister and I.

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Oh but against all odds, the man who bought my cello 15 years ago found me and offered me first right of refusal.

I said YES quickly without thinking –  knowing I couldn’t afford it, maybe I’d exaggerated value, romanticized connection.  I said yes, and months later  & five days ago Impossible came like tumbleweed and delivered him back.

There are splatters of paint on his belly.

OldCelloScroll

I’m not overstating things here:  this week my fifteen-year-old self has been re-introduced to me, 36 years later, through this 1928 instrument from Germany via the hands and ears and exquisitely focused, raging love of Edouard Bartlett.

In the two concerts I’ve played since then, in the hours of practise I’ve put in I can hear that we have teeth now.  We have better tools. We have Possible, and great, sweet Beauty.  We are full to the brim with Longing… for more.

I listen to Stravinsky’s phoenix rise, and my face is wet.

 

This post is for Fran, and for Sue, who told entirely different firebird stories to me at different times on the same Day-of-Change.


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A broadly curved road

I went subterranean twelve weeks ago, maybe more.  Came up again two days ago, I think.  I know this because I found myself gardening yesterday.

DomsLilly

This was a tunnel of a place I’ve been in, a way into and through the deep, long list entitled Impossible-but-Necessary.  In twelve weeks strong and beautiful people died, shockingly, suddenly, and those of us who grieve them turned inward then slowly forward; old and treasured things were broken then transformed phoenix-like amid the mourning, the loss.  Boundaries were breached, injuries dealt and received, some old trusts betrayed and also new ones established without question.  Concerts were rehearsed and played; family homes sold and contents dispersed, others burned and the tenants embraced by this rich community. Long overdue letters were written and sent; 50-year careers ended; a 20-year-old vehicle sold for parts; the streets in the city opened and excavated in the great replacement of metal with plastic…

BackyardLawn

As the boxes were packed and the old things released into landfill sites, recycling depots, re-store Judy Collins sang who knows where the time goes? to help the tears come.

As the goodbyes were said after the stories were told, as the weeping hugs were shared, Kodaly’s solo cello sonata raged and softened and spoke …

As the solos were played and the painting delivered; as the portfolio was presented and the university applications sent, Cohen sang ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering…

Through all the overnight insomnia on the studio couch Joni sang dream on, dream on...

Forsythia

As we turned forward into spring, and green and growth, david sereda sings, you’re beautiful.  Be You.  Coco Love Alcorn sings We gather ’round when we can, and we let ourselves be true…  Tyler Wagler sings …out the doorway, ‘way we go.  Where you lead, I will follow … Kati Gleiser plays Rachmaninoff and then sings our beauty back to us.

As the pipes thawed, so did we.