Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are You Too Old to Change?

I taught a Cold Wax and Oil Painting workshop this past weekend with a group of women who were likely all over sixty years of age.  By the time we get into our 60's we bring  a rich life experience to our work: most have been married once or maybe 4 times, have grown children and now grandchildren,  had long and successful careers in business or education or medicine, cared for ailing parents when they were dying.  They bring the wealth of years of learning and life to their art and to this workshop.

One thing about getting older I find is that there is a clear awareness that time is limited.  I could tell myself when I was 50 that I was only half way through my life.  But not now! Barbara, one of the women in the workshop, worried that at this age, she was too old to change her subject matter in her painting.  My own feeling is, why not spend that time doing exactly what I want to do?  Why not change? Let my work lead me to new worlds, new ways of working.  We don't stop growing when we turn 50 or 65 or 92.

I had a woman in my last class named Dorothy Wilde who is 92. She came into the art class on a walker.  She has been a very creative and successful ceramicist for perhaps 40 years.  As her strength has faded, she gave up pottery and took up printmaking.  Here she was,  in my painting class,  delightedly learning a new  skill.  Dorothy was not at all afraid to play and experiment.  She wasn't  worried about making a product, about having an end result.  She was there for the sheer enjoyment of making art.  The sheer enjoyment of learning and playing.

"We don't stop playing because we grow older, we grow older because we stop playing" George Bernard Shaw

Barbara decided to let go of trying to control the work, trying to keep it within the boundaries it had previously been confined within.  Easy to try to control it.  Difficult to surrender those boundaries.  Lots to learn from Dorothy still.  Barbara went on to do some amazingly free work this weekend.

There are many people who find creative success late in life:

Although Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy began painting when she was young, it wasn't until she retired from teaching at 65 that her career began to take off.

Louise Nevelson was in her 50's when she sold her work to three New York City museums and now her art can be seen internationally in over eighty public collections.  

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her family's life in the 1870's and 80's in the acclaimed, "The Little House on the Prairie" series of books for children.  She published her first book at the age of 65.

Currently I'm reading the book called, " The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany (begins her life's work) at 72", by Molly Peacock.  This is the story of Mary Delany, who at the age of 72, created a new art form, mixed-media collage and in the span of 10 years, she went on to create 985 botanically correct, cut-paper flowers, now at the British Museum.

Here is some of the work from the workshop this past weekend.  And this is just workshop work.  Wait until they have all practised with this cold wax process.

© Sonja Mortimer

© Jody Bowles-Evans

©Lesha Kokosky

©Brenda Bisiker
©Margaret Peter

©Therese Chatelain

©Wendy Neilson

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talking about Art

Rebecca Crowell and me in my studio in front of one of my new paintings.

For the past three days I've had my friend Rebecca Crowell and her husband, Don Ticknor, visiting me from Wisconsin. I met Rebecca last March when I was taking a cold wax workshop from her near Madison Wisconsin.  I introduced her to Gallery 133 in Toronto which is one of the galleries where I show my work.  The gallery invited her to bring some of her work up to Toronto, which prompted this visit.

Besides talking continuously about our work and our teaching, and discovering that we have the same sense of hilarity, we spent two days visiting galleries in Toronto, especially in the Distillery District and Yorkville.  I especially liked the work of Maya Bar and Ram Samocha at Julie M. Gallery, Ed Bartram's Rockscapes and a Stu Oxley monoprint at Mira Godard Gallery, Leonard Cohen's drawings at Drabinsky Gallery and Zhang He's deliciously thick oil paintings at Odon Wagner Gallery.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

cold wax + oil: new work

#1101 30x30" cold wax/oil on panel  © 2011 Janice Mason Steeves
This is my first painting of 2011.  The influence of Spain and my artist residency at Can Serrat seems to be appearing in my work unexpectedly.  Playing with colour so freely during the residency was inspirational and combined with my interest in layered, weathered and decaying surfaces, I'm heading toward a new body of work.

This non-objective work requires that I completely surrender to the process, not knowing from moment to moment where the work will take me.  It rides on the back of many years of painting but demands letting all of that go.  It is a demanding force, like "duende"Angeles Arrien in her book, "The Second Half of Life", says that the 'igniting power of fire that comes from the depths of the human spirit, is known cross-culturally by different names: as duende in Spain's flamenco; verissimo in Italian opera; fado in Portugal; tango in Argentina; sandade in Latin America; and jazz in America.  All are forms of passion that hinge on the ability to hold the tension between discipline and soulful expression in creative form.

Edward Hirsh in writing about Federico Garcia Lorca says,  "Duende rises through the body.  It burns through the soles of a dancer's feet, or expands in the torso of a singer.  It courses through the blood and breaks through a poet's back like a pair of wings.  It smokes through lungs; it scorches the voice; it magnetizes the words.  It is risky and deathward leaning."