Thursday, December 9, 2010

Doris McCarthy's Inspiration

Doris McCarthy

In 2001, Doris McCarthy was invited to give the Convocation Address at the University of Toronto's graduation ceremonies, where she received an honourary Doctorate of Law degree. A good friend of Doris's and mine, the portrait artist, Judy Finch attended the ceremony and sent me a copy of Doris's speech.  I love Doris's simple, wise advice. I remember her being interviewed on CBC radio one summer when she was 89.  She said, with her characteristic enthusiasm, "Every decade is better than the last.  I can't wait to be 90!"

"Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor, Members of the Faculty, happy Graduates and all your proud parents and friends who have come to celebrate this landmark occasion, welcome, and thank you for the opportunity I have been given to tell you something that neither your professors nor your parents have had a chance to learn, but that I know because I am old, older than any of them.

This is the wonderful secret I want to share with you.  Life gets better and better with every year that passes.  Don't be afraid of old age.  It has the gifts that are even better than youth.  To earn those gifts, start now.  And I mean today, this minute.  Be aware of who you are, where you are, and why.  Look around at this Convocation Hall, designed many years ago to be perfect for this very occasion.  Think about the person beside you who has also experienced the disciplines, the new insights, the anxieties and the laughter that have filled your university years.  Love that person even if a stranger.  Remember the bonds that tie you to your friends and family sitting in the visitor's section, and be thankful that it is all coming together at last.  Realize this moment.  Savour it.  Like every other moment in your life, past or future it is unique.  No two moments, even this evening are exactly the same.  You are living now, always now!  Rejoice in it.  Know that you are alive and that you are free, free to choose who you are and who you will become.  You have not always been so free.  Your parents made decisions for you once.  But you are now adults, making your own choices.
One choice most of you are faced with is how you are going to eat and pay the rent in the immediate future.  Let me encourage you to do the thing you love doing.  What do you do now in your free time, just for the fun of it? What brings you joy?
If you love what you do, you will do it very well, and someone who needs that done, will notice how well you do it and want to pay you to do it.  Maybe not very much at first.  Maybe very well.  But far more important than the money is the satisfaction you get in the work itself.  Remember, it is loving your work that is important, not comfort, not security, not public acclaim, but happiness.  If every day you are aware of what you are doing and know that you have chosen it because you love it, that is a good life.
If you cannot love the path you have chosen, leave it and start again.  There is no disgrace in learning by experience.  But to merely endure your work for the sake of money or status, or peer pressure or for any other reason is to squander the most precious treasure of all, your very life.  Do you enjoy studying?  How about research?  Are you happiest when you are making something, a cake, a party, a patio or bookshelf?  All the world needs food and lodging.  Are you good with small children?  Perhaps teaching is for you.  Would you rather spend your time with animals, big or little?  Is dancing the thing you really long for?  Go for it.

Don't, I beg you, settle for a job for the sake of the money or supposed status in it.  Never just endure your work.  Of course, sometimes there will be drudgery.  Embrace it and know that you accept it for the sake of the work itself.  On your knees scrubbing the kitchen floor, be thankful for a kitchen, for being able to laugh when you spilled the gravy, for water that comes out of the tap and is already warm, for the person who will come home to a cleaner kitchen even if he or she won't notice.

If you are up a ladder cleaning out the eaves, enjoy the joke when you find apples and acorns that some squirrel has stored there.  Relish the sun if it's shining or the challenge of the wind if it is trying to blow you off the ladder.  How good to have a house that you can call home and be alive to care for it.

Be aware of now.  Teach your friend or your partner to be aware of it too.  Create a ritual that lets you share that appreciation of the moment.  It might be to join hands as you light the candles on the dinner table and say thank you for the day, for the others at the table, for the weather whatever it is, and say it in your own language and differently every time so that it is really awareness of that unique now. Cataloging the special pleasures of today will make you forget its disappointments.  Enjoyment will soon become a habit and every day will be a gift.  Start now, and you will know blessing.  This blessing is my gift to you on your graduation day.

In closing I offer you the ritual I learned at camp when I was about your age or younger.  We used to join hands in a big circle every morning and say it together.

Doris then had everyone stand, hold hands and recite this salutation after her.

Salutation of the Dawn

Listen to the salutation of the dawn.
Look to this day. For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
This bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Doris McCarthy 1910-2010

Doris McCarthy           

When I was in Can Serrat in Spain, I learned that my old friend, Doris McCarthy died on November 25th at the age of 100.  She was an icon in the Canadian art world, honoured and loved for her constant, dedicated focus on painting the landscape of this country that she loved so much.  

In 2005, in honour of her 95th birthday,  Toronto's acclaimed Amadeus Choir, paid tribute  Doris McCarthy in a special multi-media concert - "Amadeus and the Artist - A Portrait of Doris McCarthy" - on October 22 at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto. The program featured the world première performance by the Amadeus Choir and the Bach Children's Chorus of 'Salutation of the Dawn' by Canadian composer Eleanor Daley, commissioned by the Amadeus Choir.

Along with three of her friends, I was invited to give a speech about my travels with her.  Here's the speech I gave that day.

"It’s not the journey you take with Doris; the adventure is being with her and feeling the largeness of her spirit. Doris has an infectious joy in greeting each new day. She silently whistles as she prepares her art supplies to head outdoors, forever hopeful that TODAY will produce the best painting ever.

In 1993 we shared a magical sailing trip down the east coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, stopping at the abandoned Haida villages, where Emily Carr once painted.  On every shore excursion, Doris, then 83, jumped out of the dinghy, set up her equipment and began painting with that determined focus we all admire.

She is a delightful blend of dedicated focus and joyful playfulness.  When a couple of us picked up a 10’ long tube of seaweed and began to twirl it like a skipping rope, who should jump into the rope and begin skipping, but young Doris McCarthy.

Doris has such a positive way of being in this world.  When I complained on the sailboat of feeling very claustrophobic in my small upper bunk with 6” of air space, Doris jumped up into it and said, “I’ll take it, I don’t mind it a bit.”

My most memorable adventure was our trip to Pond Inlet in 1992, in the dark of Arctic winter. The adventure began before we even arrived there.  Between flights on our way to Pond, we took a short walk to stretch our legs. Suddenly we heard our airplane engines revving up.  OH NO! All our stuff was on that plane..purses, cameras, even our airline tickets!  Everything. We ran onto the tarmac in front of the plane, madly waving our arms and screaming Stop! Stop!  Mercifully, the propellers stopped, and the stairs were lowered.  As we climbed onto the plane, a small Inuit man, one of the ground crew said sternly to Doris, “Grandma, don’t ever do that again!” 

Doris’s attitude toward life continues to inspire me in my life.  She is my hero, the kind of person I want to be when I’m 95. She lives in a small body, but her spirit fills this room.  I am privileged to know you Doris." 


Monday, November 29, 2010

Can Serrat Exhibition: ¨And Then There Were Three¨

Just three of us left now at Can Serrat. On Saturday we had an exhibition of the work we´ve done while we have been at the residency.

Colores del Monasterio de Montserrat    174x201cm (68x79¨)   Janice Mason Steeves 2010

View of the studio/exhibition space

Pinhole Cameras by Natalie McQuade 2010

Natalie McQuade exhibited a  video comprised of her black and white photographs of ceramic sidewalk tiles in Barcelona and El Bruc.  She also created a sculpture using three Spanish cigar boxes she found here that she made into pinhole cameras.

Erica Scourti´s piece was a video remake of the movie Three Kings.

My painting, called Colores del Monasterio de Montserrat was an edited assemblage of the more than eighty small acrylic/monastery pigment paintings I´ve made while I´ve been here. 

The residency is over.  It´s getting cold here in the hills of El Bruc overlooking Barcelona.  I´ll be happy to get home to central heating. And just happy to get home.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Colores del Monasterio de Montserrat

Dry Pigments
Before I came to Can Serrat, I had hoped to use local materials in my work.  In the first few days here, I found all of these small containers of dry pigments in the upstairs studio. I learned from Marcel that these pigments were used to paint the Monastery of Montserrat when it was restored about five years ago. 

Over the weeks I have been here, I have been using these dry pigments mixed with acrylic matte medium on paper.  I tore the paper into sheets that are approximately 9x12¨...some are smaller because I used various sizes of watercolour paper.  I tore each sheet of paper into eight sections.  I´ve consistently worked on this small size, playing with these various pigments, pouring and experimenting with them.  I´ve been interested in the colours of Spain...reds, oranges, golds, the colours and shapes of the mountains behind the residency... blue greys, warm greys, oranges, browns and blacks, depending on the time of day.  I´ve also been interested in using the circle...the globe representing the universe, that the Black Madonna holds in her hand in the Monastery at Montserrat, and the idea of mosaic tiles that one sees all over Barcelona.  In a very casual way, I´m attempting to integrate all of these shapes and colours.

As I sorted through the work the other day, I realized that there were many of the small paintings that didn´t work and I debated about whether I wanted to carry them home.  Before they went into the garbage, I tried tossing them onto a white paper on a table and photographing that random assortment.  The photos have suggested their own work.  The photos of the paintings become the work, or at least they become one of the ways to see these small paintings. I will have some of these photos printed on the same watercolour paper when I go home.  Each painting adds to the whole, whether it works individually or not. The white paper becomes part of the work, as do the shadows of the edges.

A new way of seeing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Residency Residents

Erica Scourti at Can Serrat

There are only two other artists here now.  The rest have finished their residencies. Can Serrat will close for December.  Things are winding down here.  But I still have eleven days left and will continue to absorb this area of Cataluña, Montserrat, El Bruc and Barcelona.  I´m loving spending time with the other artists and learning about their work.  Erica Scourti is an exceptionally creative artist/filmmaker from London, England who works mainly with digital media, and is interested in language/word-based video art. She has recently done a residency at I-Park in Connecticut.

Natalie McQuade at the Museu Nacional d Art de Catalunya
Natalie McQuade is a brilliant multi-media artist from Melbourne, Australia. She incorporates sculpture, sound, installation and printmaking into her work ...among other things. At Can Serrat, among other projects, she is making several pinhole cameras out of found Spanish cigar boxes.

These are two very creative, very exciting young artists and I so much enjoyed sitting with them while they discussed their work.  I´d recommend spending some time visiting their websites.

Otto Castillo, Karine Argile, Jessica Hirst, Marcel Sala
Karine and Marcel run Can Serrat
 Jessica Hirst and her partner Otto Castillo have just finished their residency here.  Jessica is a multi-media artist.  Her current work involves considering logos on the clothing we wear.  She has created a personal logo and is collecting used or found clothing and applying her Palmer Fishman logo to these items. They are at once hilarious, and yet worthy of consideration.  Her blog has photos of her newly introduced line of Palmer Fishman clothing.

Abde Samad Chakour
 Abde Samad Chour, from Casa Blanca, Morrocco, works here at the residency.

 There are also six cats here at Can Serrat.  I´ve only been able to capture three of them. I´m not crazy about cats so this is a test for me to have six cats wandering in and out of bedrooms, dining room, shower....everywhere.........

Bully Boy who bullies the other cats

Moushou the brother of Noor

Noor the friendly one

There are also two resident ghosts at Can Serrat, whom I have not been able to photograph. I guess it is not surprising that there are at least a couple of ghosts here, considering that the building is perhaps 350 years old. One reportedly is a woman who died here in childbirth.  The other is a man who hanged himself after gambling away this building which was his home and farm.  The male ghost resides in the blue room on te Norwegian student side of the building and has been known to throw objects around the room.  On the Can Serrat side we have the quieter, sadder woman who supposedly drifts from room to room.  Makes me alittle sleepless I must say.

It all makes for an exciting, eclectic mix of characters and personalities, animals and ghosts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Second Week Artist Residency

There are some beautiful hikes nearby the residency that eventually lead to Montserrat. I haven´t quite made it to the base of the mountain yet.  The weather here in the more mountainous region of Catalonia has been cool, around 14 degrees and mostly sunny. Great for hiking.

Yesterday I went into Barcelona to meet up with my friend Rebecca Crowell and her husband Don Ticknor from the U.S.  We met up at the Fundacion Antoni Tapies where we saw a small number of Tapies pieces and a terrific film about him and his work..  On the lower level of the museum was a retrospective of the work of Anna Maria Maiolino, an Italian-born artist who lives in Brazil.

The Tapies website says that Maiolino´s ¨complex works have developed through a variety of media: poetry, woodcuts, photography, film, performance, sculpture, installation and, above all, drawing. The wide spectrum of subjects, interests and attitudes that underlies her work does not follow a linear development, either in the work itself or in time. Rather, through the diversity of her work, she creates a web where themes and attitudes intertwine while meanings slip between one work and another. ¨

Leaving the work of Tapies and Maiolino, we caught the Metro to Parc Guell to see some of Gaudi´s work.

Parc Guell is a garden complex with architectural elements situated on the hill of el Carmel in the Gràcia district of Barcelona. It was designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and built in the years 1900 to 1914. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí"

Rebecca and I in Parc Guell overlooking Barcelona

Heading back to catch the bus to Can Serrat as the sun is going down. My feet are aching.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Visiting Barcelona from Can Serrat

I spent the day yesterday in Barcelona, which is less than one hour by bus from El Bruc and Can Serrat.  Easy access to the city center by Metro.  My destination was first, an art supply store...where I wasn´t too impressed by the supply of paint and paper....and then to the CCCB...the Centre de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona.  Before I left home I learned that there was an exhibition about the history of Labyrinths at the CCCB which runs until January 2011.

I walked down Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian walkway, on my way to the CCCB.  It was bustling with excitement on a warm November day in Barcelona.

A couple  dressed up for the crowd as though they were sculptures, and covered with something that looked like clay.

Below is the entrance to the CCCB.  The exhibition I went to see was called ¨Through the Labyrinth¨.

This was a kind of video of people walking the labyrinth at Chartres, taken from above.

 This part of the exhibition was laid out as a maze, with walls to imitate shrubbery.

Photo of a landscape labyrinth in England.

Back home to Can Serrat in time for dinner..................

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Can Serrat, Spain

I arrived in Barcelona on Saturday October 31 for a one month artist residency at Can Serrat.  As we drove toward the town of El Bruc, an enormous rainbow arched over the highway  and stayed there for the entire drive to Can Serrat-definitely a good omen.

 The residency is located in a little valley at the base of Monserrat-the serrated mountain, or Magic Mountain as it´s  called here.  The famous pilgrimage site, the Monastery of Montserrat, home of a Black Madonna is located on the other side of these mountains.

I´m here for a month, along with five other artists: one other Canadian, a sculptor from New Brunswick; a film-maker from England; a performance artist from Barcelona via the US, who is here with her partner from  Honduras who a mixed media artist; and an artist from Australia.  Another American artist, a painter, just left today.  Two other artists are coming within the next two weeks.

I went with a couple of the other artists yesterday to visit the monastery at Montserrat. It was a spectacular day....25 degrees in El Bruc, where Can Serrat is located. It was cooler high up in the mountains where the monastery is located.

The other side of the mountain on the way to the Monastery, looking toward the snow-covered Pyrenees in the distance.

  The photo above  of the Monastery was taken on the winding trail down to the Cave.
Below is the Cave, perched on the edge of the cliff, where the Black Madonna was found.

This image of the Black Madonna, a bronze copy, is in the cave where the original was found.  Legend has it that a light came from this cave at night about 800 years ago.  Some men climbed up to see what the source of the light was and they discovered the Black Madonna sculpture.  They tried to take her from the mountain, but could not move her very far before she became too heavy to carry.  They felt this was a sign, and built the Monastery around her. 

 I stood in line at the Monastery to touch the hand of the Black Madonna.  One million pilgrims per year visit this sacred Madonna to touch her hand and pray for blessings.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Poems from the Moon Garden Opening

Poem Series: 10110  12x12" oil/cold wax on panel © Janice Mason Steeves 2010
My exhibition, Poems from the Moon Garden opened on Friday night at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario.  The show continues until November 7th.  Here are a few of the installation shots before and during the show.
Abbozzo Gallery Owner- Ineke Zigrossi
With artist friend, Shirley Williams on the right

My painting of the past several years has been strongly influenced by the archetypal concept of pilgrimage.  This current work has increasingly become more experimental and exploratory, turning inward and moving toward abstraction.  As I began this body of work, I decided to drop all my known reference points—to step off the edge of what is familiar to me.  In Buddhism, this attitude of setting aside, for the time being, preconceived ideas, beliefs and expectations is known as 'beginner's mind". Beginner's mind is like a child’s mind, just present to explore and observe and see things as they are.

As time went on, I returned to a combination of abstraction and representation, each influencing the other. Images of flowers in a moonlight garden came back into my work. The garden at night is a metaphor for life and death—which are inextricably bound to each other—and the creativity that comes out of that darkness. The darkness is what mystics call the ‘inside’ of things, the essence of things. Meister Eckhart, a German theologian and philosopher observed, “The ground of the soul is dark”.  It is where the true self lies. The idea of walking in a garden in the moonlight is like a dream, or a journey through the underworld.

This new body of work approaches the painting surface in an entirely intuitive way.  I lay colour fields of oil paint mixed with cold wax medium, on a wooden substrate, layer upon layer. I embed poetry and songs into the surface that they might live inside the work. The cold wax and oil paint, applied layer upon layer imitates the way that life writes upon us year after year, with its scrapes and healings, traumas and joys.  It holds these memories as our bodies do, as our lives do.