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Can I just squish my ego?

I wonder. As this Hamilton residency approaches its third year in March I can see the times my ego has stepped forward to protect me – from change, from expansion, from my own decision to grow as an artist, evolve as a person. From connection.

I felt profound relief when we first began self-isolation. That was my ego, exhausted from the effort of keeping me safe from harm by exposure.

My room on MacNab from February to March 2019.
Third floor windows behind the tree on the left.

The times I presented myself as experienced in contexts I had little understanding of, and got slapped for it, understandably. Or ignored. Or projected upon by other egos. The times I built fantastic narratives in my head about my capacities as an artist – stories that never had a chance to put down roots and sprout for lack of time and stamina.

Roof of the wonderful Cotton Factory from the third floor, looking south toward the escarpment, winter 2019.
By then I’d signed a 3-year lease for my studio in the Storehouse Building.

I’ve also shielded my heart, quite understandably, considering the events of the past ten years or so. Funny thing is that this ego-shielding just attracted other egos, equally as ridiculous and entitled as my own, from whom I then had to try and negotiate a friendly release.

The heavy ego armour constricted my heart like a hover-mother constricts the breathing in her child. I really do just want to breathe, and laugh. To love; ridiculously vulnerable and full of courage.

Detail from work on a painting I reclaimed from out of a difficult 2014 commercial gallery story.

I don’t want to get into Jung or Freud or the murky world of psychoanalysis (which all smells suspiciously of egotism). Maybe a better image is Coyote. My egoic patterns are as predictable as the ACME bomb going off, as Wil E accordion-walking his smoking body back to the invention cave.

underdrawing for the reclaimed painting

In a patriarchal world, the Michael Snows and the Picassos ride their ego chariots to glory, carve up their inner feminine and chop off her head to uproarious applause and so win enduring fame. I look at early work from both these men and others from that world and prefer it. What might they have done if they’d surrendered their ego and their anger and chosen actual maturity? Like Braque, like Klee, like Kandinsky?

Perhaps we’d be minus the celebrity icons that still tour the big musems, but we’d also have been spared the misogynistic work they made and laid at the altar of the Patriarch.

With family at a Cirque du Soleil show. It was epic.

Forgive the aphorisms, but I feel a need to summarize. Maybe because I’ve been reading la Fontaine fables.

There’s a place and a time for fear, yes. It’s useful like a compass to safety as pain can be a guide, deeper into adulthood. When fear fuels ego though, things get mean.

Laughter keeps the pin in the grenade.

Teacup, 2014/2020. 30″x24″, acrylic, oil pastel, vine charcoal, ultraviolet mistyfuse and interference/ metallic liquid acrylic on canvas. I wanted to make a hologram using media that reflect light differently; it worked!

Coyote sits with me now on the couch every morning. He fidgets. He draws up elaborate, detailed maps and strategies for us that will solve our income issues and propel us to certain fame – the kind of world domination approach to being an artist that gets his tail wagging and his ears pricked:

SELL YOUR ART ONLINE!! ESTABLISH A SIDE BUSINESS!! APPLY TO A FINE ARTS MASTERS PROGRAM!! BUILD A HUGE INSTALLATION AND INVITE THE WORLD!! WORK WITH A DANCE COMPANY!! MAKE ART TUTORIAL VIDEOS!! He presents these to me, all panting and twitching in eagerness… Let’s do all of this! Can we? Today?

I don’t want to squish him; he’s the king of making me laugh. No, Coyote, but thanks.

Here, chew on this bone.

And hush, while I finish this piece. This one that naturally leads to that one I’m really enjoying. That piece and the ones beside it whispers in a way that nothing else ever has. Like a guide, taking me deeper in. Today I was clear and quiet enough to hear it…

*see below

Once, when we were Dragons, flying under the sun, I saw a flash on the water.

We circled our descent together, my love and I, and saw that the whales had come together in the centre of the sea. A great spiral of whales, stirring the ocean, singing the wind and the stories in, drawing us in too. We landed, vast in our wings and our bellies, in the centre of the spiral. We sang our love to each other while the whales and the waters stirred the world.

*Caption of the last image:
detail of a backdrop piece from my last studio (in progress, there’s more to be done).
8 years of drips from all the other painting I did there.
Is it John Lennon who said that life is what happens when you’re busy doing other things? That’s what this series of 4 large and six small backdrop pieces feels like to me. I’m working on a Hamilton and an online show with them in 2021 – will update.

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Lift out

These days begin in darkness and wet.

Windsheild

We live in multiple layers of clothing against the cold damp of constant seeping rain, walk under umbrellas, and peek out from under shelter until some blue sky appears.

JonesFalls2

Then we breathe the blue and the coloured leaves, and roll in the damp ones underfoot.  We go to the flashing streams, the roaring falls, the pounding waves and we exult

..until the rain and the cloud and the pounding wind bring us under and in again.

Wave2Oct_21

These times.  Pressured, heavy, challenged, shifting.  Some of us don’t have dancing feet.  Some have not learned to swim.

CurbPuddle

Two days ago in Ottawa a man died on Parliament hill.  He suffered from serious mental illness  – serious enough that he found himself a gun and  shot another man who worked as a soldier there.  I grieve for both men, whom we, in our culture, have failed to see clearly.

Poem for Michael Zehaf-BibeauMichael Zehaf-Bibeau, for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist, and for every single one of us who struggles with addiction and mental illness, in sorrow for this:

Broken Voice
September 24: studio

Thought can re-write history, she says
Meditative thought influences the order of things
Orders them more neatly so there’s less damage done.
and there’s the
small voice the difficulty
swallowing
the closed throat mid-
sentence, the little
alarms shot with adrenaline
the subtle gagging that
no one notices but
There’s no problem. Who

…said there was a
problem?  Mental Illness is only
addiction is only
another form of terrorism-
We just need more Security and

I think I caught something in
the subway – just a virus it
comes and goes it’s
not
permanent.

…something about bare feet, walking
about not leaving prints behind,
and if you do your feet print
history

I’m looking at them now,
the prints
but I can’t read
I’m not sure what happened.  Or how…?

I just want to drink an ocean of alcohol
passive-watch movies that siphon rage
go to classical concerts full of fury, listen to poets
who have found something
to let somebody else do the darkness
the refined, articulate hurt that they’ve managed to
filter through all of their exhausted bewilderment how
can I

Impotent. Invisible. I just want to sleep. only sleep.
it’s taking every ounce of my strength
to resist the rampage,
The terrible roar in me.

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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.