Keirartworks's Blog

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

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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.



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.

Leave a comment

Ravel and the Moon

Although I can’t see it through the opaque winter sky I can feel it:  the moon is full.

With the able help of cellists Carol Mulder and Sibylle Ruppert my excellent mom and I performed David Popper’s Requiem for three celli and piano for our Industrial Ancestors yesterday evening.  Folk came out to witness as we played to a photo of two-term Mayor of Owen Sound, Matthew Kennedy Sr, my Great-great Grandfather, and the man who ran the shop at Kennedy Foundries, where 90 % of the propellers for the Merchant Marine were made during the wars.  Matthew didn’t believe in libraries or higher education, just in hard work. He died from the cancer one gets from spending long hours in a big foundry.

This event was the final of Tom Thomson Art Gallery’s ‘The Wave Passes’ series, which Gallery Director Virginia Eichorn describes thus:

…an ongoing project involving art installations, video and performance that connect the stories of Owen Sound’s past with the present. Tonight, from 6:15 to 7pm, outside of Council Chambers on the 2nd floor, there will be a concert honouring two of cellist Keira McArthur’s ancestors, one who was a former Mayor of Owen Sound (Matthew Kennedy), and another who served many years on City Council (David John Kennedy, who also ran Kennedy Foundries through the depression years). The quartet will perform the Popper Requiem for 3 cellos and piano in their honour, as well as seasonal songs everyone can sing to. All are welcome; bring your voices. Admission is free.

So we played Popper and Bach for Matthew and his sons & daughter (who was brilliant), for their sons and daughters, for my Grandfather and the woman he married, whose family came here from Pennsylvania.  I never met Lois Keebler, but I have her watch, which still works.  In photographs she is beautiful.

Here’s a YouTube version of the Popper.  It’s worth listening to.

I went straight from that lovely event to play with the Georgian Bay Symphony Youth Orchestra – a short program since we are in a re-building year, but deeply satisfying, nonetheless.  In talk afterwards, the GBSYO String Quartet decided to take on a new challenge for the spring….


This morning at 5am I wake to messages from 3am until now about Ravel String Quartet in F, including pdfs of the cello part.  It’s been playing on loop since then :

While Ravel played on, and without much forethought I wrote and sent a window-rattling note to a dear friend of mine …. This is full-moon permission – to shine an uncomfortable light in dark places.  Not all is harmony, which Popper and Ravel knew.   Sharp edges and tender places will always co-exist, as will the learned ability to disengage and fortify against both.   Playing music well requires that all of these things are conscious, and revealed in a way that makes it good and right to feel human.

one of Sibylle Ruppert's cellos, made from tulip wood.  She is an excellent luthier..

one of Sibylle Ruppert’s cellos, made from tulip wood. She is an excellent luthier..

To my ancestors:  rest in peace.  It was an honour to play for you.

To my Friend:  … with great love, always.

To the moon:  thanks for the light in the dark.

God I love music and what it does.