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Showing posts from 2009

Rock Art

I was recently in Arizona and New Mexico, visiting friends and looking at lots of fabulous art in the galleries there. Some of the most amazing artwork I saw- the origins of painting-were the pictographs of the Verde Valley estimated to be 1200 years old. Pictographs are paintings or drawings made on rock with colours made from mineral pigments and natural dyes from plants. The final few miles to get to the Palataki Red Cliffs out of Sedona were on dirt roads. There we saw the adobe dwellings and the pictographs of the Singua people.
The photo of the pictograph with the jagged line with light grey triangles below is believed to be an image of the mountain range behind. The sun on the summer solstice rises above the mountain at exactly the spot where the apex of one of these grey triangles points in the pictograph.



We also visited the Deer Valley Rock Art Center outside of Phoenix, where over 1500 petroglyphs, or rock carvings, were discovered in 1980, when a dam was being built to cont…

Daimons and Myths

vas Hermetis: 1, 2 3 each 4'x6" encaustic on panel ©2009 Janice Mason Steeves

I've named this series, vas Hermetis, after the Alchemical term for the symbolic Grail, a universal vessel of transformation. I'm reading two books at the same time right now. One is The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie Louise Von Franz. They say that, "in nearly all mythologies there is a miraculous vessel. Sometimes it dispenses youth and life, at other times it possesses thee power of healing, and occasionally, as with the mead cauldron of the Nordic Ymir, inspiring strength and wisdom are to be found in it. Often, especially as a cooking pot, it effects transformations; by this attribute it achieved exceptional renown as the vas Hermetis of alchemy." From the Jungian school of psychology, these two women present this legend as a living myth that is profoundly relevant to modern life.

The other book I'm reading is The Demon and the Angel, Searching for the Source…

Toronto International Art Fair (TIAF)

On Friday I  went to the TIAF with my artist friend Shirley Williams to spend the day at the Toronto Convention Centre and check out the show.  There were 82 exhibitors, mostly Canadian, many from Toronto and Montreal. There were several galleries from the US--New York, Chicago and Minneapolis--and a few international galleries from London,  Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, and Antwerp.





I was surprised at the number of representational works in the Art Fair.  I haven't gone for a few years and I found the fair to be very different, not nearly as edgy as in previous years, although there was lots of abstract work as well.  I noticed that there were a good number of sales and when we asked, the galleries mentioned that it was  larger works that  were selling and they seemed pleased with the number of sales.  Is the recession over then? 

Here is some of the work that I liked:





Galerie Lacerte, Quebec City
Jean-Robert Drouillard
Le balle est partie vers toi II
wood and acrylic
63x28…

Writing an Artist's Statement

        Detail: River of Longing 824x80" oil on panel     ©2009 Janice Mason Steeves

How often have I rewritten my artist's statement over the years?  Endless times.  It's a work-in-progress.  As my painting changes, I have to rewrite it.  As I complete another grant application or apply for a residency or have an exhibition, I have to rewrite it. Although I enjoy writing, working on my artist's statement feels like a form of torture.  There is something about the process that is incredibly difficult. It requires objectivity to write it.  I paint intuitively.  I don't conceptualize the work or the project beforehand, which makes it difficult to be objective.

A couple of years ago, I bought an e-book from Alyson Stanfield called "The Relatively Pain-Free Artist's Statement.  It took me through a 20-day lesson plan.  It's step-by-step approach to looking at your art and your life, which is helpful for any artist at any stage in their careers. At the en…

Order of Canada

I was visiting my home town of Winnipeg last week and I learned that one of my good friends from University of Manitoba days, Susan Glass, was awarded The Order of Canada last July. The Order of Canada is an honour for merit. It is the highest such order administered by the Governor General on behalf of the Queen. Created in 1967, to coincide with the centennial of Canada's Confederation, the three-tiered order was established as a fellowship that recognizes the achievement of outstanding merit or distinguished service by Canadians, through life-long contributions in every field of endeavour, and who made a major difference to Canada, as well as the efforts made by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. Membership is thus accorded to those who exemplify the order's Latin motto taken from Hebrews 11:16, desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning "they desire a better country."

Susan's contributions have mostly been in the Arts. She is a weste…

More thoughts on changing directions in your work

The other evening, I went to the opening of Will Gorlitz's exhibition at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Ontario. Gorlitz is a Professor in the Studio Art Program in the Department of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph and a veteran Canadian figurative painter who "sets out to unsettle our vision", says Richard Rhodes, editor of Canadian Art magazine. See a brief video tour of a 2008 Gorlitz exhibition.

I found it interesting to hear him talk briefly about his work at the opening. In my last couple of blog posts, I wrote some thoughts about changing directions in my artwork and asked how to recognize when we need to change directions or how to stay true to our own intuition. Will mentioned that when he graduated from art college, that he had noticed how it seemed an important thing for an artist to find their path and to stick with it. He decided right then to challenge that 'convention', and try to make many different bodies of work.

Wh…

Changing directions in your work

River of Longing 6 ©Janice Mason Steeves2009 18x18" oil on canvas on panel

After writing my last blog post, I was interested to read the blog post of Susan Buret, an Australian artist who commented on my last post, The Road Not Taken. Susan said that she has had three no sale shows but that her work later won awards or was acquired for well respected collections. She mentioned that she has recently begun a new body of work which is in its formative stages and questions whether she should change directions.

Her article has me thinking again about the situation. It's a paradox. On one hand is the flood of excitement of creating new work but then there is a huge effort required to get that new work out into the world. On the other hand when you stay with a body of work or a subject, there is an opportunity to go inward and deeper into the work, while continuing to work in a way that is recognized.

There is something so vulnerable about a new body of work. I remember man…

The Road Not Taken

The other day I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine who is an artist. We were talking about our work. She’s discouraged because she sold only one painting at her last exhibition in the summer and she’s having a difficult time getting back into the studio.

It reminded me of a similar thing that happened to me about four years ago. I had been to India that winter and came home full of the colours of India. Actually India is a pretty drab colour, shades of grey and mud. But the women’s saris are stunningly brilliant colours that glow against that background of grey and mud. I took hundreds of photos and came home saturated, eager to work with those colours.


The Light Series©Janice Mason Steeves 2005 12x12" encaustic




I had been using encaustic in my work for about eight years at that time and had just taken a week long workshop at R&F Handmade Paints in New York, which included photo transfer work among other things. The photo transfer work and encaustic a…

Beauty

It is with great embarrassment that I admit that I finally visited the recently renovated Art Gallery of Ontario yesterday for the first time! Designed by the world renowned architect, Frank Gehry, it has been open for almost a year! This is Toronto-born Gehry's first building in Canada, and according to the AGO website, it marks the very place where he made his initial connection between art and architecture.

I was completely stunned by the beauty of it as soon as I entered the building. I mean stunned! The wheelchair ramp near the front door, with it's wooden floor and half walls winds like a ribbon to the ticket desks. There is a hush to the building. It's quiet and still. Enormous circular staircases wind their way to heaven in the central courtyard and archways from other staircases look through to see them from other angles. Maybe it's because the building is just so new to me, but I almost didn't care if I saw any of the artwork. In fact, I would sa…

The Poetics of Robins

Last spring, I had a battle with a robin. She was trying to build her nest on the transom above my front door. Each day she brought endless amounts of debris from my garden and each day, I used my broom to sweep it away. She, or maybe it was another robin, had built their nest in the exact place two years ago and for a few weeks I couldn’t use the front door. But the worst of it was that in that precarious place, one of the babies had fallen to its death. I didn’t want to have that happen again. So I kept sweeping away the grasses and each day she brought more. We were both determined. Then one weekend I was away for three days. And when I came home, boom! There was a solid, mud-packed nest. I climbed a ladder inside my house and peered into the nest through the transom window. Five small blue eggs nestled in the bottom.

I am reading the book, “Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet”, by Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and theologian, who is an exponent of Creation Spir…

Wu-Wei

0956-P, 26x80", oil on panel ©2009 Janice Mason Steeves

This is a painting I completed this week.It's from a series called the River of Longing. It doesn’t seem to fit into the series, but I don’t know what else to call it yet.So I’ll just let it be # 0956-P for now.It started off to be something else.I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to paint when I began.I struggled and struggled with the image trying to make it be what I saw in my mind. After many hours, I sat back to regard the work and came to the quick and upsetting conclusion that the painting was stunningly boring.In frustration after spending so much time on it, I placed it on my worktable and had the satisfaction of smearing various colours over the surface…the greens and browns I was working with at the time.Then I walked away and took a long break.
When I came back, feeling calmer, I very quickly and roughly sketched in the outline of three vessels, and put it up on my easel to have a look.I was excited by …

Unplugged

River of Longing 8, 24x80", oil on panel©2009 Janice Mason Steeves

I decided to have a retreat in my home last week, to have no communication with the outside world other than to listen to CBC Radio. I booked the week off.No appointments or meetings or dinners with friends.I turned off the computer and unplugged the phone.Freedom!I spent the time meditating, reading and spending long days in my studio.The days stretched on endlessly like when I was a kid playing outside in summer holidays. I even managed to get some big housecleaning tasks accomplished.I hate housecleaning!Perhaps it kept my feet on the ground to do such nice mundane tasks.I spent a couple of hours one afternoon scrubbing ten years of paint off my big old worktable.A friend tells me that such cleaning makes room for the birth of something new. The creative ideas started to flow maybe on the third day of the retreat. I have creative ideas at other times too, but with a long flow of time stretching itself out, the …

Blog and Fear

(Detail)River of Longing 5 (0952-P)©2009 Janice Mason Steeves
I started blogging about three months ago with the idea that, like taking Vitamin D, it is extremely good for me as an artist to do this.I struggle with the worry of what to say and who will read this blog anyway. Jane Lind is a good friend of mine and an author. Her book, “Perfect Red”, a biography of the artist Paraskeva Clark will be published in November. Her publisher, Cormorant Books, suggested that creating a blog was important for a writer. I decided that what was good for Jane would probably be good for me too.I write my blog posts sitting here in my quiet room in my house in rural Ontario and then post to the netherworld, imagining that only my friend Jane will be reading these posts or maybe my kids. However I was at an art gallery exhibition two weeks ago and was introduced to one of the exhibiting artists, who said, “I recognize your name, I read your blogs!” I didn’t know whether to be delighted or horrifie…

Art and Fear

I looked at an old sketch book from 2007 yesterday. From time to time I review my old sketch books to find inspiration and to see what I was thinking one year, three years, five years ago. I'm often surprised to find that similar ideas circulate throughout my work. Sometimes I complete a painting only to discover later on when perusing my sketchbooks that I had made an earlier sketch of the same image.

Yesterday what inspired me were some quotes from the book, "Art and Fear" by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

I wrote these notes in my sketchbook that continue to resonate with me.

"As an artist you're expected to make each successive piece uniquely new and different yet reassuringly familiar when set alongside your earlier work. You're expected to make art that's intimately (perhaps even painfully) personal-yet alluring and easily grasped by an audience that has never known you personally."

"..for most art there is no client, and in making it y…

River of Longing

This is a recently completed painting in my new series called, "River of Longing".
I continue to work on images of waterlilies and 'vessels', which are boats/canoes or bowls, as in the Evening on the Lake of Dreams Series. But recently the energy seemed to subtly shift into a new series as I begin to work with images to create a new myth which will accompany this work.

Drawing on my interest in and study of Shamanism over the years, the empty canoe image serves as a powerful symbol. In an article in the San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, "the symbolism of the boat/ship emanates from what Jung calls, 'the primordial era when the unconscious was predominant and the conscious weak', when myth and lore were taken for factual reality and gods and goddesses for granted as projections of the immutable, incomprehensible forces of nature. Long connected in various world religions with magic, death and rebirth, the boat as archetype has a powerful sign…

How do you keep the creative fire burning?

I find the creative process to be a fragile place between the conscious and the unconscious. Sometimes I have intensely creative periods and then periods of lower energy, where I still love painting, but the energy behind a series of paintings begins to dissipate.

The composer John Adams said in an interview on CBC radio that he doesn't wait for the Muse to come to him, he improvises and then inspiration comes to him.

My process is similar and yet my own. I keep working even when I find the energy is letting go of a series I've been working on. But there comes a time, as I keep working, when I get a flash of a new idea, maybe in a dream, or just as a clear thought.

I have artist friends who seem to work steadily at their painting with no diminution of their energy. As an outsider looking on, it appears that they have consistent energy in their work from one year to the next. Part of me envies this consistency. Part of me knows that I am not like that and I need to work in …

New Work

Here are three recent paintings that are currently on the walls at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario as part of the Ontario Society of Artists, "OSA Summer Exhibitions".
I continue to work on the series, "Evening on the Lake of Dreams". The myth that accompanies this work is on my website. I went to the opening last night on a fabulous warm summer evening. There are five Oakville Galleries involved in this exhibition, so it made for a wonderful gallery walk to see all of the work in each gallery.

Welcoming Mistakes

I think that one of the best things I can allow myself as an artist is the opportunity to fail. There is a huge sense of freedom that comes with letting go of the preciousness of the unpainted panel, the stark white surface. In my own process, I work on birch panels, which I take time to prepare in a careful way. The longer it takes me to prepare the surface, the more energy I have put into it makes it more precious, as though having spent this much time on it, I had better paint something worthwhile!

We're taught in life to try not to make mistakes. But how freeing to actually try to make mistakes. In a photography book I have, called the "Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing", by Philippe L. Gross and S.I Shapiro, one of the exercises is to go and shoot the worst photos you can. It brings a whole new outlook and a great sense of play. You lose sight of 'the product', or perfection.

When I was still in art school, I remember in an outdoor painting class, a stu…

Improvising

The other day I was listening to CBC radio as I worked in my studio. I heard John Adams the American composer interviewed about his book "Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life". I enjoyed his comment about how, when he began composing, he wasn't interested in using irony on which most contemporary art depends. He said that Beethoven and Mozart didn't do irony, and he wasn't interested in it either. He had to find his own way and go against the tide of the time.

Yesterday I watched a video of John Adams in an hour long interview about his book and his life that took place at the Los Angeles Public Library on May 14, 2009.

It was an intelligent, wide-ranging and very inspiring interview. One thing that I took out of the interview was that Adams said he never had an idea for a composition, without improvising....he doesn't get an idea by just sitting there thinking about it.
Today I've ordered the book. And I'm off to my studio to improvise!

New Work

It's been a busy few weeks for me lately. I'm getting work ready for several galleries at once. Just recently I've been invited to join Linda Lando Fine Art in Vancouver. I was delighted to accept the offer and am now getting new work ready to send out there in July. I am also beginning work for my solo exhibition in Calgary next spring at Wallace Galleries. I'll be sending them some new work this summer as well. In my current work, I am continuing the series, "Evening on the Lake of Dreams". Here are three of my most recent paintings.

To Noah

This week I babysat my grandson, Noah who is just two years old. My daughter was working at a temporary job and needed me to babysit for just one week.

I normally have a very steady studio schedule of probably 5-6 hours per day, as well as doing all the other non-studio work, such as photo documentation, buying supplies, record keeping, shipping work and emails. As well I try and allow time for generating ideas, and reading as well as researching on the internet.

This week I had to slow down. I had to view the world through the eyes of a two year old where everything is wonder, like taking endless time scooping stones with a small shovel into a pail and then back again onto the ground. I live in the country and as we played outside one afternoon, we heard a horse whinney. He said, "What's that?". I told him it sounded like a horse. He said, "Can we go and see it?". "Yes", I said, "let's go". We had to jump in the car because it…

To Cy Twombly

A couple of weeks ago, a friend gave me an article from the NY Times Literary Supplement. The article was about Cy Twombly's new exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in NYC, called "The Rose". His paintings were in response to Rilke's poem, "Les Roses".

As so many artists who paint "florals" will know, in the art world, the subject is considered prosaic, the work of Sunday painters. As a sometime painter of flowers, I was delighted to see Cy Twombly painting 'florals'. Very freeing. I felt like laughing out loud. I guess it's OK to paint 'florals' now that Cy Twombly is doing it!

Last week after visiting Linwood Gardens, I visited the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo to see the Action/Abstraction exhibition, Pollock, De Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976. I loved the exhibition, particularly the work of Anne Truitt, whose memoirs I had read. I had never seen her work before. Tall, elegant, silent wooden columns, each side car…

Linwood Gardens

This week I visited Linwood Gardens to photograph and enjoy their famous tree peony collection. Linwood Gardens is SW of Rochester, NY in the farmlands of the Genesee Valley.

Designed in the early 1900's the walled gardens have pools and fountains, ornamental trees and a view of the valley below with an Arts and Crafts style summerhouse. The story of Linwood Gardens is a fascinating one. Lee Gratwick who lives on the estate, is the current steward of Linwood Gardens. Her grandfather William Henry
Gratwick II created Linwood as a country home.


Her father, William H. Gratwick III was a landscape architect, artist, sculptor, and sheep farmer among other things. He imported tree peonies from Japan and over the years created many new hybrids in partnership with NY artist, Nassos Daphnis. William's wife, Harriet directed a community music school on the property. It seemed to be a time out of the Great Gatsby, where all manner of creative endeavors happened such as Sunday evening music …

Tree Peonies

Sappho

Persephone

Hephestus

Oread

Nike
I'm still floating in the world of tree peonies as I look at the more than 700 photos that I took at Linwood Gardens last week. These otherwise private gardens are open for three weekends during tree peony season. And it is spectacular, not only to see the tree peonies, but also to see the weathered structures of the formal gardens that were designed by the architect Thomas Fox and to experience the palpable history that surrounds the place.

Tree Peonies are native to the mountainside and forest regions of China and Tibet. Known as the "King of Flowers", it was held sacred in the gardens of …