If you’re in Toronto next Sunday…

CP Art Crawl Poster

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Sharing

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On May 28th, my friend Tara Keens-Douglas and I are taking part in the Christie Pits Art Crawl.

In light of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication and how best to present my Art. In addition it’s made me think more closely about the dilemma of exhibition and sales.

 

The last time I did an Art Market, I got too focused on the idea of selling my work. I don’t think that’s how Art Markets work. I think the beauty of the art market is in growing connections with fellow artists and introducing your work to a wide range of people as they walk by. Some of my favourite moments from my last art market were being able to discuss my work with strangers and other Makers.

 

Thinking about selling my work is an immediately stress inducing activity. I have to switch mental gears from Maker to Sales and the shift brings to bear a bigger question of the significance of Visual Art in the lives of the common person. That analysis is fairly bleak, so in recent times, I am trying to shift my perspective from ‘sale’ to ‘sharing’.

 

Sharing art, as I see it, is what this blog promotes. I share my art and my thoughts and you choose to engage with it at your convenience. Similarly, perhaps a more comfortable way of thinking of exhibiting my work is simply as sharing my work with a different audience.

 

Don’t get me wrong. Selling work feels great. Like any job, when you work hard, the validation of being paid for it both enables you to continue doing the work as well as incentivizes you to make more work without feeling like it’s pointless. To be frank though, most people don’t buy art. Where art in the home used to be a point of meditation and reflection, now we’re staring at our choice of digital device. People seek the most affordable ways to enliven their living and working spaces, without the price tag of original artwork. Of course this is the case. The value of art is subjective and the value of money is more concrete. I’m not about to whine about something that’s so obvious.

 

The truth is that making art is intrinsic to who I am, and I love the opportunity to share my work with people. Beyond sales, I exhibit work because it’s empowering and inspiring. So this time around, my focus in showing is going to be centred around fostering community engagement and thoughtful discussion.

When to Stop

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Every now and again, if you’re lucky, you experience a rare gush of creativity. It erupts out of the blue and when it does, you drop everything and dive for the brush, pen, or whatever so you can seize the magic. When you’re riding this wave, each tone you pick is the right one, and inspiration flows like an open stream. It is lovely, perfect, sexy magic.

Under the influence of this rare tide, with these pieces, I managed to do something that is usually a hard won victory in my creative process. I put down the brush and walked away at precisely the right moments.

Now gouache and watercolour are particularly tricky in this regard. With acrylic or oil, you always have a second chance should you misstep. With gouache or watercolour however, you can over work it in a heartbeat. One false dot of pigment and you have to watch your mistake bleed through the piece – forever muddying what was once crisp. When you overthink forms your brushstrokes go from bold and pure to wobbly and insipid. In each of these pieces, I felt that moment come – where my urge to blather on was held in check by the voice of experience that said – “no – it’s time to walk away” or “yes – put that brush to paper and trust where it goes”.

I’m going to continue working at this size (5″ x 7″) for a while longer. I feel that there’s a series happening here and I like its vibe. Also, now, after working on 300lb watercolour paper – I am forever spoiled. I can’t go back to 140lb. I am hardcore geeking out about it.

Inner Thirst

It sneaks up on you. Especially when your life is basically in service of another person. It starts with mild irritation at seemingly normal things. Then, that ever present irritation dips and rises throughout the day leading to cycles of negative thought. For me, it also manifests as a hunger for decadent food or shopping- though neither of those things ever fill the void. I think it’s a  sideways desire for richness and energy.

What is this? This is an existential need to center myself as well as a need to create. It’s a recurrent hunger that peaks when my days lack the time and space for grounding myself.

This is perhaps the hardest thing about being a mom so far – the desperate lack of time and means to regenerate my inner reservoir of peace and strength. I’m not unhappy, nor am I unable to care for my little girl. The need for existential grounding though remains a background thirst that grows and grows until I can’t ignore it anymore. I am getting better at acknowledging the signs. I haven’t yet reached a new rhythm that curtails this cycle of want, though I would like to build a better cycle with some built in time for grounding, each day.

The best ways for me to ground myself are through art, writing and yoga. This week I tried something new. I left all my gouache things on the dining table with some pre cut and prepared pieces of watercolour paper. I’m trying to make it as easy as possible to do a small burst of work. That seemed to have worked.

In addition, I have my yoga mat and yoga dvd ready to go as well. That system isn’t working AT ALL. I think I need to memorise the sequence and do it on my own when I have a sliver of time.

Writing has been more elusive. Where painting doesn’t require me to be coherent – writing does. I can paint in a headspace beyond words and be happy. It won’t necessarily be good – but it’ll happen and that’s all I really need sometimes. With writing though, I find that I need to more actively center myself in order to access the stream of words. I can’t satisfactorily sit and write for a 15 minute period unless, like now, I’ve been wanting to do it for a day and a half. So maybe I need to save up my words so that once a week I can commit a solid hour to it and let daddy take the baby.

These are the paintings I did this week. The black and white one I had planned on for a long time and I finally did it. It’s a piece I made for a friend.

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Drako

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For most of 2016, I’ve had this canvas on my easel. I worked on it very slowly, adding layers upon layers of colour. For long stretches of time it just sat there in a semi-finished state while I looked and it and thought about it. What was nice in working on this piece was that I didn’t rush myself into shaping it into ‘something’. I let it be what it grew to be and only in the last stages did I really shape it into the beastie it is now. Because I didn’t rush it, I was able to bring to this piece some of the techniques I’ve practiced this year with the gouache.

This piece is called Drako, for obvious reasons (because it looks like a dragon). In terms of the inspiration behind it though, there was a phrase that had come into my mind in the early stages, ‘sometimes you need a map’. That’s because this canvas started out as something very different (tones of pink) and after the canvas sat abandoned for a really long time, at the beginning of this year I took it in a very different direction that eventually led here. Each piece in a sense is a voyage of discovery. More often than not this is an exercise in getting out of my own way to allow the image to form into something cohesive instead of forcing it in one direction or another.

My existential art map is something I’ve developed over the years and actually over the course of writing this blog to date. Writing my reflections on each piece has helped me map out my process. It gives me faith that in those moments when I stare at the canvas and think – my god this is garbage – that if I keep going, it’ll move past garbage and become something I’m happy with.

I feel good about ending 2016 on this note. Thanks for tuning in.

 

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Screamers

Between night time feedings tonight, I got to thinking about my first forays into art. Oh, how to describe Screamers to someone who has never seen it… I’ll try by starting from my introduction.

When I was 12 or 13 I started going to the mall as a social excursion. It was the beginning of any sort of independent narrative. I had never cut my hair before in any way other than my mother approved little girl trim. My older brother had started dating a girl who to my adolescent mind was the epitome of cool. She was 18, with long stylish hair, sexy clothes and a flirtatious attitude. What’s more, I never had any sisters and she was the first older girl who had ever taken the time to get to know me and to take me out in public. She must have been a mall regular, or maybe worked there at some point because she seemed to know all the young people. When we went to the mall, she’d stop at different stores to chat with attendants – all of whom were young and hip. It’s funny, I don’t remember buying anything at any of those stores. We just hung out.

One such place where we stopped was Screamers. It was run by a tall, handsome guy by the name of Leo. He had long hair, beautiful oak skin and tattoos. I had never seen someone with tattoos – far less the the more elegant tribal designs that he had. My memory is fuzzy on that point, but I remember that he was striking and memorable, though many years older than I.

Time and again we visited. She chatted and I walked around the kiosk, looking at the work in the display and the easels around the centre structure. You see, Screamers was an airbrushing studio. It was also a tattoo parlour but I don’t remember if it was or wasn’t at the time that I met it. Foremost to my eager eyes was the airbrushing. In retrospect what was most unique about this small San Fernando airbrushing studio, was that it was a showcase for Leo’s artwork. Airbrushing was truly his medium and he was so good at it, he had made a living selling t-shirts and posters, that were sometimes recreations of images, but often times unique pieces of his own that had come out of his dreamy imagination. When I look back, I know that that was the first time I had ever seen real art in action or an authentic artist in action.

It was this more than anything that kept me coming back to Screamers. I loved looking at the work happen, so every time I was in the mall, I’d be sure to stop by, say hello and gaze, wide eyed at the work. Sometimes someone was just cutting out a stencil (where i learned doing it on glass was better than cardboard) but sometimes Leo was painting and I could see how he built up a piece. Eventually we started talking more and more as I asked about the work. It was my first look at process and execution.

Leo was neither shy or modest in his choice of subject matter. Though in an extremely visible place, Leo was not detracted from painting nude ladies against dreamlike landscapes. Another first, he was utterly unapologetic about what he did. Perhaps it was his sly smile that let him get away with it.

He was the first person to actually help me with my artwork. At school, when my work had nudes in them, people shied away or made fun of me. My art teacher taught me but she wasn’t of my era. Leo helped me and talked to me about colour and composition in a more visceral way. I remember him telling me that I was afraid to use white in paintings but that I needed it for reflections and then he’d show me on one of his pieces how he used white. He was right too for some reason to that point I had only used yellow for light. He did amazing work with water and underwater scenes. I never really learned how to get there myself, but I remember images of things he’d done over the years.

One time he vastly improved a drawing I did for that same girl who had taken me to the mall (brother’s girlfriend who was now his ex, though current girlfriend of a different brother). He looked at it with me and asked if he could tweak a couple of things. My drawing was ink on sepia paper. It was a depiction of a crescent moon with a woman sleeping on the moon’s curvature. He added highlights of colour to her dress and to the moon and background. His additions didn’t overshadow my work, it simply enhanced the scene. At that point I had never painted. I did extremely detailed pen and ink drawings, but had never thought of adding colour. I think after that I tried out some coloured pencil with the pen and ink but it really wasn’t the same. I didn’t start painting until I was 16 or 17.

I hung out at Screamers throughout my teenage years, until I moved to Canada. The store had changed locations  in the mall from being a kiosk to an actual store. It had also by this time gathered a following of teenage, misfit gawkers who invariably were rockers with no place else to congregate. Tattoos had become The thing and I equally loved seeing the prep work for the tattoos. By this time my best friend was also involved in the Screamers world and sometimes worked there – an additional reason to visit the shop.

I think Leo and I were also friends, though it’s hard to say in retrospect because we never talked about anything too personal. I was extremely comfortable around him, and though there was never any intent there, flirted shamelessly with him. He was and still is, I imagine, an extremely decent man who never took advantage of my naiveté. Instead he was always supportive and teasing. He was interested in my work and helped me in whatever way he could. When I went the way of gallery exhibits he was proud of me and still looked over my work when I brought it in.

We lost touch after I moved to Canada and the shop opened a second location in another mall and so Leo wasn’t in one place anymore. Gradually since I moved, I stopped visiting. I had heard over the years that he married someone from my high school graduating class and that they have a small brood of beautiful children. I haven’t seen him, maybe in a decade or more.

In the silent moments of this morning I remembered the girl on the crescent moon and the care Leo took of a young artist finding her way. I think about how unpretentious he was and how the big thing was the Work. His work was his livelihood and he was happy doing it. I have no idea about his life outside of the studio – but there I saw someone living fully. His work wasn’t in a gallery somewhere – but it remains some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen anywhere and it resides happily in my memory.

There are a lot more Screamers stories, but this is what came to me this morning as I waited for my daughter to fall back asleep. I wish I had said Thank you. Maybe I will one day.