Sunday, February 21, 2010

Courage in Art

Requiem ©Janice Mason Steeves 2010

This is one of my new paintings that will be in my show at Wallace Galleries in Calgary, AB from April 24 to May 8, 2010.

I have written a number of articles about changing direction in art. It's topic that interests me because it happens to me now and again so I enjoy reading articles about other artists' thoughts on this. There was an article in the Artdaily newsletter this week about the work of Therese Oulton with a comment on her changing styles. Her work is being shown at Marlborough Fine Art in London, England.

"Those who are familiar with Thérèse’s work will be initially surprised by the apparent change of direction that her work has taken. In place of the large scale abstract compositions of the recent past, she is exhibiting here a new series of 24 small format landscapes. The artist, however, sees this new body of work as representing the continuation of her exploration of the various themes which have always been of interest to her: light, surface, texture, geography and landscape.

Describing these new, smaller, paintings in her profound introduction to the catalogue, "Brief Notes on a Change of Identity", Thérèse writes: “During the long period inching my way into these new paintings, visitors to the studio brought up various questions, reflections, comments here recorded as best I can - fragments, some jotted down at the time some not, so decidedly unreliable. Considering the lack of any transitional works marking the route from the ‘old self’, my nerves about their showing were nearly always redundant. More visitors seemed to claim there was no change, that they were still recognisably, coherently mine. Was I to take this as heartening proof that identity languishes somewhere beyond ‘styles of radical will’, or despondent that I hadn’t achieved the desired and revolutionary shift into the being another person, another painter."

Is it wanting to become another person, another painter that pushes an artist forward, to use new materials to work in new directions? For me, I have a sense when the energy of the work or the series is waning. I like to work in a long series. It helps me explore a subject deeply. But the energy subsides after a time and a vague restlessness enters until a new idea comes or a new method of working. There is fear in that change of direction. I think it takes some form of courage to be a painter.

Georgia O'Keeffe in the documentary, "Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life in Art, said "It takes courage to be a painter. I always felt I walked on the edge of a knife. On this knife I might fall off on either side. But I'd walk it again. So what. So what if you do fall off. I'd rather be doing something I really wanted to do."

"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself."

~ Soren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Night Garden

Carrizo © 2010 Janice Mason Steeves

I think one of the things I love best about painting is play. I love constantly trying out new techniques and materials and using them to push my work into new and unexpected directions.

Robert Genn in one of his recent newsletters, suggested a project encouraging play. He encourages an artist to: "Line up a hundred or so small inexpensive panels, papers or canvases and have them ready to go. Give yourself a more limited palette--perhaps half your normal range. Put all reference material and prior works out of sight. If this is not possible, work in a new environment such as a hotel room or friend's cottage. In preparation for starting the program, bring yourself to a mentally uncluttered, dream-like state. Now, over a relatively short period of time, fill the first support with a limited number of strokes. Get your subject matter from the deep well of your memory. Don't finish, move on to the next."

I think I'll try that, but meanwhile, I have been playing, and my work is branching out in new directions. I've been working lately with cold wax medium. When I was in Santa Fe last fall I saw the wonderful work of Rebecca Crowell in Darnell Fine Art on Canyon Road. Her beautifully poetic and understated abstractions are created with cold wax medium. Always interested in learning new techniques that I can incorporate into my own work, I contacted Rebecca and have emailed back and forth with her. I've also signed up for a workshop with her in Wisconsin this spring. When she sent me the list of supplies required, I went right out and bought the lot. And after she kindly replied to a few of my questions, I'm off and running with my own version of paintings using cold wax medium. After trying to work like Rebecca for a number of unsuccessful paintings, the method finally incorporated itself into my work and the painting above is one of the first ones that I am happy with. I found it quite astonishing that my imagery has gone back to pull from my older work-images of flowers. Only this time it is revisiting an old image with different eyes.

I'm preparing for a show at Wallace Galleries in Calgary, Alberta, which opens April 24th. I'm calling the show Night Garden.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Black Madonna: My Journey

I've begun doing more and more research on the Black Madonna, spurred on by my upcoming artist residency near Montserrat next fall. I realize though, that I've been interested in the Black Madonna for many years, although I'm not a Catholic or attached to any particular faith. I'm interested mostly in the dark aspect of her.

Matthew Fox, is an American Episcopal priest and theologian. He is an exponent of Creation Spirituality, a movement grounded in the mystical philosophies of medieval visionaries, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Nicolas of Cusa. He has written more than 22 books which have sold millions of copies.

In his essay, called "Welcome: The Return of the Black Madonna", Fox says that the "Black Madonna calls us to darkness. Darkness is something we need to get used to again-the 'Enlightenment' has deceived us into being afraid of the dark and distant from it. Meister Eckhart observes that the 'ground of the soul is dark'. Thus to avoid the darkness is to live superficially, cut off from one's ground, one's depth. The Black Madonna invites us into the dark and therefore into our depths. This is what the mystics call the 'inside' of things, the essence of things. This is where Divinity lies. It is where the true self lies. It is where illusions are broken apart and the truth lies."

I have come across a number of websites and a lot of information about the Black Madonna and realized that my interest and research was turning into something more than I had originally intended. In an effort to learn more about her myself, I hope to write a series of blog posts from time to time, called The Black Madonna: My Journey.

I'll reread my copy of the book "The Cult of the Black Virgin" by Ean Begg, and also reread China Galland's book, "Longing for Darkness, Tara and the Black Madonna" and report back in on more books and sites that I've come across.

Millions of people across the world make annual pilgrimages to Black Madonna sites. Two million/year visit the monastery at Montserrat and that is only one of nearly 250 sites of Black Madonna images throughout the world.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Artist Residency

I had some exciting news last week. I've been accepted to do an artist residency in Can Serrat, Spain for next fall. It's about 45km from Barcelona. There are a couple of websites devoted to artist residencies. The one I used is called Res Artis.

What mainly drew me to this area of Spain was my interest in seeing the Black Madonna in the monastery at Montserrat, about a three hour uphill hike from Can Serrat. This famous site of holy visions became a place of religious pilgrimage and has been for centuries, possibly going back to pre-Christian times.

"The history of Montserrat is fascinating and started in 880 when a small group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky in the Montserrat mountains. In the same moment the children heard angels singing and the music filled their hearts with a radiant joy.
Overwhelmed by the experience the children ran home to frantically recall the experience to their parents. The parents were sceptical but knew their children were trustworthy and honest and so they went to where the children had experienced the visions to see if they could see what all the fuss was about.
For the whole month following the first visitation the parents were also witness to the same heavenly experiences and were left with only one conclusion. The visions were a sign from God.
A local vicar was brought to the scene and witnessed the same experiences as the children and parents. The visions occurred in the same location in a cave on Montserrat mountain. When this cave was explored by the religious elders of the community they found an image of the Virgin Mary. And from that moment on the cave became a holy sanctuary for religious pilgrims.
Today the site of the visions has been marked by a Holy Grotto on the mountain. You can walk to the Holy Grotto and see first hand where these events took place. The Holy Grotto has now been ordained a holy place and is visited by pilgrims and curious onlookers from all over the world."

I am excited to go. I'm reading up on the Montserrat Monastery, the Black Madonna and Barcelona.