Monday, May 21, 2012

Back into the Studio

On Friday I got back into my studio to paint for the first time since February 10th when I fell and broke my painting wrist.  Just getting into the studio was an intimidating task.  I know all of the old tricks that I tend to do when I am trying to get to work but feel I have nothing to say...or when I have been away from work for so long that I have lost confidence that I will ever paint again. I tend to organize the studio first. I put away all of the materials I took out west with me for my workshops, rearranged some old work that is in the shelving system, looked at the work I finished up until the time I broke my wrist.  I did that during the week.  But by Friday I had no more excuses.  So I finally talked myself into going in there about 10am, telling myself I'd just work over old pieces.

There is an excellent movie about Agnes Martin called With My Back to the World.  In this wonderfully meditative film,  Martin, like a wise Yoda, said that she waited for inspiration.  Inspiration came to her as a vision of a small painting that she felt she was to paint.  When she finished that painting, with all of it's exacting measurements, she would then simply wait for the next inspiration before she painted again.  Once she had to wait for 5 months for the next inspiration to come along.

That's not the way it is for most artists, from the reading I've done.  Most say to just get in there, start playing.  Just begin.  I have already been out of my studio for 4 months and I haven't had an inspiration yet.  A few ideas perhaps, but not a clear vision.  Agnes might think I hadn't waited long enough.

Shaun McNiff, in his book Trust the Process, says that " We do not have to know where we are going at the beginning of the creative act. Successful expression involves the ability to let materials and unplanned gestures lead the way.  The purpose of the work comes from the act of doing it. Ideas emerge through the movement of painting."

It helped me to begin by pulling out some old paintings, scraping them back a bit and working on them. Something easier about beginning again when the painting I'm working on is already a failure.  My thought was that I surely can't wreck a failure. It felt so good to be back to work.  New ideas.  New colours.

The American sculptor, Stephen DeStaebler said, "Artist's don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working"

Monday, May 14, 2012

Teaching Cold Wax and Oil Workshops in Western Canada

I've just returned from a full month away.  I've been teaching workshops in cold wax medium and oil in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Salmon Arm, BC, putting into practice all that I've learned this long winter when I was unable to paint because of my broken wrist.  I've learned lessons on analyzing paintings and teaching how to see and formulate a vocabulary to begin to talk about art.

There seems to be a pattern in the workshops. Sometime during the first day, Chaos descends.  At least for most people.  I don't know how it happens, but I see it more regularly the longer I teach.  Usually she lands sometime in the first afternoon.  People who are used to making things..paintings or sculptures, who normally can find a way to use materials to create, at least, the beginning of something, seem to lose their way.  They become frustrated with themselves, often ending up with thick muddy textures.  I suggest they paint quickly and work on many panels at once, so that none of the panels becomes too important.  However, the mad lady, Chaos still seems to descend.

The American Psychologist Carl Rogers said that, "Transformation occurs when we lose our way and find a new way to return".

On the morning of the second day, I try to have a short talk about Chaos (and transformation) and how to welcome her as a teacher--someone who takes you into a frustrating place and shakes you about, turning all your thoughts and ideas upside down.  You have to find the way out on your own.  I can help to some extent, but the joy (in the end) comes from finding your own way out. Sometimes it happens during the workshop, but often it doesn't happen until you get home and do some serious work.

Deborah Bakos, one of the artists in my Vancouver workshop writes a blog for the Vancouver Sun.   She wrote a fabulous article about her experience of chaos and process in our painting class last week. You can read it here:

"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star".  Friedrich Nietzsche

Winnipeg class

Vancouver class

Salmon Arm Class