Monday, November 26, 2018

A Case for Coming to Art Late in Life-Part 1

The Way 20x21" oil on panel ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves

There are a lot of us out there who have come to art later in life. My workshops are filled with women (mostly) who are between the ages of 50 and 75 (The baby boom generation). Probably most are between 60 and 75. And what interesting people they are! They bring their life experiences with them to their art––their heartaches, joys, achievements, worries, and gratitude. And they are, for the most part, committed artists. They are embracing art like it's finally their time. It's what they've been waiting their whole lives to do. They come with their souls on fire.

"and there was a new voice 
which you slowly
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do––
determined to save
the only life you could save." The Journey by Mary Oliver

 It doesn't matter how old you are if you have passion for life.

That passion can carry us a long way. And while recognition is important in the way of sales, or exhibitions, most older artists don't so much need the money, except to take workshops, buy art supplies and travel. Many are retired and have a pension. There's a freedom that's been earned.

Lunch hour conversations during my workshops are deep and rich. In one especially intense lunchtime  conversation, a woman cried as she talked about her daughter who was born with a serious handicap. She mentioned that after 30 years of constant caring, she finally had time for herself and her art as her daughter was now in a care facility. She was so open, trusting and vulnerable that the rest of the group shared their life stories with the same depth. Two shared that their sons had been suicidal, another talked about how she had been scarred by being adopted into an abusive family.

These are the stories that we bring to our work as we come as mature artists. This is the depth we bring.

"I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.........." I will not die an unlived life––Dawna Markova

It's important to acknowledge the wealth of experience we bring to our art and how important it is to remain vulnerable and open, to really show ourselves. This is not the time to hold back.

"I don't know exactly what a prayer is,
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"  The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

The Way 2  16x24"  Oil on panel  ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves

Monday, November 5, 2018

Painting Place

Of the Camino  3  20x21"  Oil/earthen pigments on panel

In the workshop I recently taught in Spain, I gave a slide show where I presented a survey of my work from the past 12 years of my 35 year art career. I hadn't seen the slide show for a while. The last time I'd presented it was for a talk at a public gallery a few years ago in conjunction with my show.  It's a good exercise to look at the development over time of your work now and again. I realized again how important place is in my work. Place and light. Both. And travel.

Of the Camino 1  8x40" Oil/earthen pigment on panel

 While I love coming home, I equally love to travel as you might know from my recent introduction of Workshops in Wild Places. I expect my work will continue to grow and change as I travel to the various places where I've organized workshops. Connecting to place is something that's done with the heart. Not all places resonate with my heart. I'm happy to see them and take photos, but not all places make me squeal with delight to be there. The workshops I'm planning are in places that make me squeal (silently) with excitement!

Pigment (soil) found on the roadsides in northern Spain

Once I got over the awe of walking into the16th Century stone village in Spain where we were staying for our workshop, I felt that kind of squealing excitement. Grinding up the soft coloured stones that we found on a riverbank and collecting the richly pigmented soils gave me the same thrill! Working with the pigments was magical and made me feel a deep connection to the land.

It reminded me of the time I was at a month-long artist residency near Barcelona. I had gone with few supplies, hoping to find some materials to work with. I intended to make some connection in my work or in the materials I hoped to find, to the Black Madonna in the Basilica of Monserrat in the nearby mountains. I had such incredible luck. In the residency I found a shelf with small plastic bins of various pigments. I asked about them and found out that these pigments had recently been used to paint the Basilica. Not only that, but the pigments had been donated to the residency for the artists to use!

Pigments from Basilica Monserrat

In Castrillo, I was enamoured both with the earth pigments we came across which I began to use in my work, and also by the very idea of the Camino. It's a journey of light, of enlightenment, of transformation, of walking mindfully. It's a pilgrimage to integrate the disparate parts of our lives into a whole. A similar integration takes place on the physical plane in this village, where the walls and homes are made of stones cemented together and the road through this small town is made up of individual stones carefully embedded side by side, on which you need to walk mindfully in order not to fall. Castrillo and the Camino seem to be carrying a similar message of unity, of integration. I've been processing these ideas since I've been home. I find that I work very intuitively at first, just flowing along, letting the work lead the way. And then I sit back and ask it what it's telling me. These are the words that came to me and these are the images that came to me.

Of the Camino 2   Oil/earthen pigments on panel ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves