Friday, January 21, 2011

What lies beneath our feet

 Basalt Cliffs                                              
Acrylics on paper                             11x14

I have to admit I have a weakness for stones. I was lucky to have a father who would take us on day trips to mountains and mountain streams where we could leap around on and climb up and slide down granite boulders. I wore out more than one pair of pants that way. I love the basalt boulders in my garden—even if they do make planting difficult sometimes—and the beautiful bluffs and cliffs around here. Every time I've been able to be around the hexagonal structure of basalt columns, I've loved seeing them and photographing them. So ever since I saw this cliff last year, I've wanted to make a painting of it. The colors and shapes of the columns have a natural beauty I can't resist, and the staining and moss and lichens on them make them even more beautiful to me. And that's beside my fascination with the way they originate within the earth and the processes that form them. I can't imagine I could ever get tired of seeing them, and they're one more thing about Oregon I love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My sap must be rising

It stopped raining (after 2.6") and I can't stay inside—I keep making little trips out in the garden. I've checked all the hellebores again, pulled a bunch of windthrown branches off of them, and glared menacingly at some weeds. Big fat buds are starting to open. I looked out back this morning before the rain stopped and saw both my witch hazels are blooming—yay! It seems like they're a little bit earlier this year, but I didn't write it down last year so I'm just guessing. Hooray, color in the garden! Daffodil tips have broken ground—and that's pretty much it for now. So I should be able to sit still, but I can't! I tried a little painting work, then the sun came out and I had to get out in that. We're supposed to get two dry days starting day after tomorrow, I'll be out there weeding if it's not too cold, windy, or smoky.

And tomorrow I'm going for the first plant-shopping trip of the year with three other plant addicts—maybe that's why I can't concentrate! I'm frapturous.

 Ring Thing

Yesterday while it rained I finished putting together my first larger glass piece for my garden. If you look very closely at this photo you can see a thin rectangular wrought iron frame, with four fused glass rings tied into it with copper wire. While the sun was peeping intermittently through the selfish clouds this afternoon, I walked all over the garden with it, looking for a relatively uncluttered place to photograph it, maybe with a bit of sunshine on it if any could get through. Turns out I have no nice uncluttered backgrounds, just my dark green house and dark brown barn, but I did figure out where I want to put the Ring Thing—at the front entrance to my future meditation garden, which will materialize a year or two from now.

I actually got a really nice feeling of satisfaction when I finished putting the piece together. It's the first time I've ever assembled anything like that, and that feeling made me eager to do another one. It might be time to start pulling out pieces of the filbert wood I put away last fall, and see what it will take to put something together that will hold some glass. That will be more work than just repurposing another candle stand, but it could be a logical progression. I know one thing—I want the next one to be taller, so it's easier to see against the sky.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Douglas Firs in my garden...or rather, they *are* my garden

Nothing says country garden like a couple dozen 80-foot-tall douglas firs. I wrestled for a few years with how to paint trees that tall on a small canvas—before I gave up. I couldn't think of any way to capture how much I love them, how much I appreciate having this tiny piece of second-growth forest around my house, making the shade garden I've always wanted. Their two-feet-across trunks and feathery needles that animate in the tiniest breeze, the rough red and grey bark, the massive amounts of oxygen they pump out every night, the life-saving shade they give in the hot summers, and the immediate quieting of my mind and balancing of my spirit that happens when I go out and just stand there at the base of these huge, massive, multi-ton pillars of living energy.

Then I discovered the art of Emily Carr, and couldn't believe how perfectly she caught all of that and much more. I've looked through The Art Of Emily Carr dozens of times since then, and that finally came to a head for me last week and I tried a painting of the three trees close behind my house, from a photo I took the year I moved in. I know it doesn't look like an Emily Carr, but if Emily Carr had a bad dream and that bad dream came to my garden, IT could have painted this:

Three Firs                                         11x14
Acrylics on paper                                       

Well, anyway, with any luck they'll be there for many more years, and I'll have lots more time to keep painting them—now that I know it's theoretically possible to paint them.

I went outside half an hour ago to check my new-last-year Meadowlark forsythia for flower buds—nothing very big yet, but lots of tiny ones. I walked around to the south side just in time for the sun to come out and hit me smack in the face. I feel like we're halfway through the worst of winter—adding two minutes of daylight every day and coming that much closer to the gradual warm-up and everything starting to grow again. Ahhhhhhh. So good.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why make art?

 Memory                                                              Oil on canvas

It seems to be automatic in me every now and then, to scrape everything off the table in my mind  and look at what I'm doing and ask myself why I'm doing it. Something about January is inspiring me to do that now. Maybe it's because our calendar just started a new cycle, and I'm hoping the new year will bring me new challenges and skills. Or maybe it's because it's 28º outside for the fourth? or fifth? morning in a row, the ground is frozen so it crunches when you walk, the rhododendron leaves are curled up like cinnamon sticks, and there's still snow on the roofs from a week ago. There's no such word as "rooves", right?

Through the year as I'm making each glass piece or painting, one wish comes up every time—that someone else will like this piece as much as or more than I do, and decide they just have to take it home and put it in their house or garden. That actually only happens on rare occasions, and yet I never seem to learn, I always think it will happen. As a painting is coming together and suddenly takes on its first glimmer of presence, or when I brush the kiln dust off a piece of glass and see the light shining through the colors for the first time, my emotions well up, my ego leaps into the saddle and goes charging off with my heart in tow, wanting that feedback from the universe—Yes! you are an ARTIST! And this is a beautiful work of ART and someone will desire it! And I feel like that is the reason that I made this piece, for that as yet unknown person out there who feels and sees just the way I do.

Well, sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't. And what I seem to end up with, inside me where I need to have room to think, is a big clutter of post-it notes that say, "Someone will want this," clogging up my neural pathways.

That's what the scraping is for, to clear all those out and throw them away, to acknowledge that it doesn't really matter if anyone else ever wants any of these, I'm still going to keep making more. And while I'm at it, I want to scrape off everything anyone said this year about my work—good, bad, or what-are-they-saying?—unless it actually stimulates or inspires me to go make something. I want to throw away everything I've read or heard about what's "great" or "trendy" or "important" in the art world. This year, for some reason, I feel a very clear imperative—that the only thing that's important to me about my art is that no matter what, I must keep making it. Everything else, every other thought or idea about what I'm working on or why I'm doing it, no matter from where or from whom it comes, is irrelevant.

But why is that? Why am I making art, instead of doing something else? Is it because I recognize there are mental benefits I get from art? I know the creative stimulation keeps my mind active, always looking for patterns, for colors, studying other works I like, examining, comparing, ending every day with questions and getting up in the morning to find answers. It's obviously working out my brain cells—how could that not be good? I see spiritual benefits as well in the act of creating, shutting off the logical mind in active meditation, letting the indescribable forces flow through me, driving my hands and my ideas to make something new, something which I could never have thought up or derived without that effort to let go of control and constraint long enough for the new work to come forth. The third level of purpose seems to be creating something I'd like to keep. I adore beauty and having beautiful things around me, and even though I make an awful lot of things that don't merit that description, every now and then I hit the jackpot with something that really brings a new dimension to my space. Fourth, it's clear to me now that I have a drive to achieve. I want to have achievements to look back on, evidence of my efforts and signs of my personal progress. Even if no one else ever sees them, I want them. Even if they never get to be as good in anyone's eyes, including mine, as other works I find, they bring me a level of enjoyment that I didn't have before. There's one more reason that I learned this year about myself—I'm always wanting to move to something new. I want to see new work that I've never seen before, just like I want to hear new words and music, to laugh at new silliness, and see and understand new levels of knowledge about the familiar things around me. So that's the fifth purpose—I want to keep expanding into the previously unknown.

All of those reasons make sense to me; they feel like whole, self-sufficient truths. They could be the origins of  this undeniable urge that I have to make art. Probably only psychologists or behavioral scientists will ever really care whether the irrational drive or the rational rewards are the true determiners of why artists must make art. Maybe someday it will be connected to one or more genes, but then you have to ask why any being would have those genes, and how far back in the evolutionary path do they go? In any case, the practical point for me is that I'm forced to recognize that the reason I'm making art is not to make it for other people. I'm not going to start a new painting because someday someone's going to look at it and say "Wow! I want this!" So I can throw that thought and all the thoughts like it away and the only thing left on my table will be what's real for me—real, proven, and reliable—I'm going to make art because that's what I want to do, that's what I'm driven to do. I don't have to think about it, I don't have to have a reason, I don't have to explain it or justify it in any way. I just have to make art.

Have a Happy New Year doing what you simply must do!