Sunday, March 25, 2012

Seeing the Whole Picture

Safe Home  42x42" oil/cold wax on panel © 2012 Janice Mason Steeves

I am back in the land of the healed!  My arm is out of the cast, my right foot is almost better-whatever was wrong with it, no one still knows-and my eye is totally better.  Hallelujah.  It's been quite a winter.  I haven't been back into the studio yet.  The wrist is so weak and vulnerable still.  But soon.  After a bit of physiotherapy. Meanwhile, I am still getting lots of prep work done for my classes and having interesting email conversations with other artists.

Today I received an email from an artist friend in Winnipeg who asked a group of us, "What effect does narrative have on an image?"  He wondered about the value or importance of text to support an image, such as an artist's statement or even a title.  

 I wrote back to say that I have found that writing adds another dimension to my work.  My painting is totally intuitive and process-dependent.  So until I begin to write about it, I don't necessarily understand what it is about.  For example, the new paintings I have been working on this winter-the North Atlantic Series-just started to flow in the early winter, pouring out of me actually.  I went with it moving from one piece to another.  However, when it came time to name the pieces, I was surprised to find that the titles that came to me were related to the landscape of the island of Inish Maan in Ireland, where I had visited in October.  It was through the naming process, that I came to understand how much I was influenced by the power of  place. And expanding from there, I came to realize how important the concept of place is in my work and has been for the past 18 years or more. This explained my intense interest in travelling to visit sacred places and pilgrimage sites. All of this was a revelation to me that I never would have learned if I had not named the pieces, and written an artist's statement.

When I was at the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin in October, listening to Sean Scully interviewed for Irish Public Television, I heard him mention that he had moved a lot as a child and has always had trouble trusting in place.  This resonated deeply within me.  I had also moved often as a child.  I thought about it over the next few months and realized that this lack of trust or connection with place has been the catalyst in my travels and the focus in my art. My artist's statement discusses it further.

I find that putting words to visual images that come from the non-verbal part of the brain, is a struggle that does not come easily.  But sometimes connections happen that seem magical.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Time Out

Stormy Seas   50x40"   oil/cold wax on panel © Janice Mason Steeves 2012

I've had to cancel my show in Vancouver that was scheduled to open on April 28th.  Not only is my arm still too painful to use it even in a supporting role, but I seem to have also developed some other ailments, including a so-far undiagnosed painful and swollen foot.  And as well, an infected eye.  I almost laughed when the eye became infected,  What more could go wrong?  A friend wrote to say that we're like old cars, you just get the door replaced and the bumper falls off!

One hilarious thing happened last week.  I was taking a short walk with my daughter and my puppy when a couple of  large Golden Retrievers ran up to us.  Both dogs promptly sat at my feet, looking up expectantly at my broken arm, and panting.  I have developed this odd way of holding my arm to keep it elevated, where I bend it at the elbow, fingers facing forward and sort of flopped down over the cast.  The arm sits there in the cast, as though I am the Buddha, offering a blessing.  The dogs thought that I was offering them cookies for sitting so nicely! 

I am reminded of when I used to visit my aging mother in her senior's apartment block. I was fearful of riding the elevator up to Mum's 10th floor apartment in case one of her friends got on at the same time as me. I learned never to ask the simple question, "How are you?", because the answer would most often go on for at least 10 floors, detailing a litany of ailments.  With all my own current list of maladies, I have to focus on not becoming an elevator lady.

In her blog post yesterday, Alyson Stanfield wrote about 6 Brainless Business Actions for when you're wiped or your creative juices are spent.  These include tasks such as organizing image files, updating lists, trashing files and backing up your computer.  Interestingly Alyson's post came in just as I have completed the enormous job of updating my inventory that was several years behind.  I'm aiming to use this time out to develop a new course as well as a couple of presentations.

But I also intend to use this quiet time to catch up on some reading and to meditate on a regular basis, a practice I aim to do but often do not make time for.  I do a different sort of meditation when I paint. Some people would call it being in the flow.  It is a more active meditation, where I turn my attention inward and open to energy flowing into and through me.  I can move within my studio and my house and yet still maintain this flow.  I begin each day in my studio with this practice, and consciously end the studio time with a small ritual to close off the day.

Slowing down is not something I am good at.  But sometimes our bodies speak with loud voices that require us to pay attention.