Wandering Post about Life and Death (huh?)

The thing about everything is you have to know when to stop and yesterday I kept painting when I shouldn’t have. It’s OK. I will avail myself of a palette knife later on — maybe. Maybe not. It’s more about the experience at this point than the product. Usually I have no problem seeing the moment to pack up, but I was having so much fun.

I guess it’s that adage, “Don’t stay too long at the fair.” Looking up the phrase this morning, I learned it is a song, but wait! I already knew that… Out of the deep dark recesses of my universe Patti Page crawled out to sing this incredibly depressing little ditty. I could see the album cover sitting on the kitchen counter. I could hear adult voices discussing Patti Page and her physical deterioration. “Wonderful voice. Really too bad.”

Was THIS the album? Looks familiar. Yep these songs were on it, but where’s the song about staying too long at the fair?

I remembered asking mom? Dad? What it meant to “stay too long at the fair,” and they explained it somehow and my mom, at some point said, “It’s always good to leave a party when you’re having a good time.”

That made NO sense to me. How could you stay too long at the fair? Fairs are GREAT. The only fair I’d ever been to was the Mountain Empire Fair in Billings, and I didn’t get to eat cotton candy (“NO!”), but I did ride the ferris wheel and I got to see a LOT of animals, and it was AWESOME. And why would any one leave a fun party?

But it’s definitely possible to stay too long at the fair and my mom’s advice is right on.

I recently finished watching Grace and Frankie. There was a moment when I despaired of the direction of this show, but I paid $10 for the privilege of watching it on Netflix. Then, suddenly, in the midst of the absurdity and outright stupidity, BAM. Wow. The moral of the story — that we need each other — isn’t new, but it is still true. The silly meanderings that drive the storyline of Grace and Frankie to the conclusion are funny at times, but the conclusion hit me hard. In our lives, we don’t really have the option of NOT staying too long at the fair. We leave the fair whenever the universe has programmed us to leave the fair. Some of us leave the fair before it’s even opened for the day; others leave the fair/party when they’re having fun; others are lucky enough to leave the fair when they’re well and truly tired of the fair or have lost the capacity to enjoy it. Who knows? Most of us don’t.

So what about the fair? and the party? I don’t know. I do know that there’s a corner of my painting that is NOT what it needs to be. Or maybe it is. Time will tell.

I don’t think…

I’ve ever had this much fun with a painting… Still a ways to go…

Nice day over all — I even got to walk alone with my Bear and see a magnificent, changing sky and a Northern Harrier hunting. They are beautiful white-tweed hawks with black tipped wings. Rain and snow in the forecast.

Hanging Out with a Friend

Yesterday my friend Perla came to Monte Vista (from Alamosa) to see the eye doc who is two blocks away from my house. We spent three hours talking. It was great. She’s an artist and a thinking person so the conversation was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and even included a little time spent in my frowzy studio where I introduced her to lapis lazuli ultramarine. She is extremely talented and skillful in a wide, wide, wide variety of things, so I was surprised when I could show her something new. She understood totally when I explained that the paint is like a person to me, a person who wants to help me paint. She laughed, but she got it. I told her about my dream of owning lapis ultramarine with lapis from Afghanistan, and that I’d tried to buy some with my Christmas present money, but the upheaval in Afghanistan meant no one had it. “Don’t feel bad,” I said, “but all I could get is lapis ultramarine with lapis from Argentina.” She’s from Buenos Aires.

That’s when we went to my studio so I could show her the paint. She looked at the painting that’s on my easel drying, the painting of the storm — which she loved — and at the one that’s in progress. “That’s hard. I couldn’t do it.”

“I don’t know yet if I can,” I said. I was, at the time, showing her the lapis ultramarine by putting it on the canvas with my finger. She compared it to indigo which she’d seen growing — and which dye she had used — at her recent experience as an artist in residence at a farm in Arkansas, an experience she’d loved and that had given her great stories and much needed renewal. Jeans are died Indigo. It’s a great blue and in medieval times was used to replace lapis ultramarine for walls and manuscripts. Lapis ultramarine which was expensive and hard to get. There was even a FALSE Indigo, or woad Indigo, that came from a nasty plant that made the ground useless for anything else, it depleted the soil so completely and so rapidly. Still, it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a great explanation and visualization of the difference between real Indigo and Woad. I didn’t argue or “clarify.” There’s no way to know what another person sees when they look at a color AND we look for familiar shades and patterns all the time. The chart below is excellent. The top blue is synthetic ultramarine. They are all great blues. The featured photo of my work in progress is not color true because the underlying ground is not white, but this chart is.

The subject of representational vs. abstract art came up and Perla has always let me know what she wants me to do. I accept that — a push from a knowledgeable person can be helpful in defining direction and everyone’s free to reject it. But knowing her and her work, I listen. Yesterday she said, “You’re obsessed with reality.” That’s true. As a person who lives largely in my head, reality is an important question for me. I’m not a subjectivist; I believe there is an objective reality and that is why I love nature so much. It is what it is whether I recognize it or. not. I WANT to. But as we talked I realized that I don’t see a difference in my work between the stuff I do that’s representational and that which isn’t completely representational. Wanting a tree to look like a tree isn’t, to me, a bad goal because a living thing is only static until you start engaging with it. I quickly find there is more to it than what I recognize as a tree. I realized that I don’t think most of my “realistic” paintings are realistic.

We discussed another artist’s paintings — which are really beautiful nature paintings — and she said, “I don’t like them. Every little thing,” and she made as if she were painting with a tiny brush on a wall. I think his work is lovely, but not exactly what I would paint (obviously). I proclaimed my theory of art, that nothing in nature is what we see, but the life behind what we see. I didn’t add the rest of the idea which is that the life within everything inscrutable and answers to its own demands. The only response I have to THAT is gratitude to nature for letting me in on a little something from time to time.

But the point — to which we both agree — is that it’s all very personal, meaning to the person looking at the work, maybe buying it.

And, of course, we talked about what probably every two artists have spoken about together since the beginning of time. Which is why are we doing this? After looking at my paintings, she became a little frustrated with her work which is felted clothing. I listened while she worked that all out — she makes money from her work and I, obviously, don’t make money from mine. It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s that no one sees it. So far in my life, when people see it, they buy it. We talked about marketing and promotion — she’s a good saleswoman and goes to shows and has her work in stores. But THAT? In any case if I want to sell at the Crane Festival next year (which I do) she’ll help me by loaning me panels so I can hang my work. Behind the conversation was the immense expense in even getting work out where people can see it and buy it.

It was great conversation, inspiring and fun. Then “What will you do if Trump is elected president again?”

“Perla, remember? We already have a plan. We’re going to Argentina.”

“That’s right Patagonia. Good. Good.” It was a wonderful, wonderful day. And THEN?

Wu Song appeared in the garden and this morning? Two more — Lao She and Pearl Buck. Three have emerged in the house this morning, as well. Looks like I’ll have beans after all. Thank you mysterious forces of the universe that combine a seed, dirt, water and light. They will be growing among several sunflowers who will help hold them up, attract bees and add general amazingness to the garden.

In Good News

I got out a failed painting today and was preparing to paint over it. BUT… I put it on the easel and looked at it.

“Hmm. I think I understand you, failed painting. You’re not failed. You’re just different. Maybe you’re the future.”

“Could be,” said the painting. “Thanks for not painting over me.”

“No, thank you.”

“You see what’s missing.”

“I think so, but whatever. We don’t have anything to lose.” I squirted a minuscule amount of Cerulean blue paint on the lid of an empty yogurt container. A tiny bit of white. Got what seemed to be the appropriate brush. Did the thing — put light on the water. It is a WETLANDS after all. Then I put light in the sky. Then I needed magic in the sky and I opened the tube of magic, and as I did, I felt like weeping. “I missed you so much!” I put some on the yogurt lid but I didn’t put the brush into it. I put my finger in it and did work with my finger. I love that paint so much, I wanted to touch it. I didn’t even want a 6 inch brush handle between my paint-covered finger and the painting’s surface.

It felt so good and smelled so good. Linseed oil and lapis ultramarine, that miracle color. “I need gray.”

“I’ll be that for you.”

“I think I love you.”

“You’re not the first one.”

“No, I know that.” I thought of how in the so-called Renaissance this color was used to paint Heaven above the Virgin Mary in frescoes (really rich patrons) and I thought, “Well, this is Heaven,” as I finished a stormy sky out at the Refuge. I decided to liberate myself from “getting this right” because I don’t know what “right” is right now. I’m heading into terra incognita with my lapis ultramarine blue. What a marvelous vessel, and I trust it.

I also see now what’s wrong with the painting. It’s a painting of wind. The storm cloud should not be in the center. OH well. As they say; paint and learn.

I tried so hard to describe it to my friend, a painter who is now blind, BUT he has it in his mind that the lapis ultramarine would be even MORE intense than the synthetic. It isn’t. I wouldn’t even call them the same color. Lapis ultramarine is transparent, grayish, magical, cooperative. It doesn’t insist on anything. I wish so much I could paint with it on plaster, but I don’t see that happening. The closest I can get is the gessobord. SO…I bought another one with the remainder of my Christmas money. We’ll see where it takes me.

You can kind of see what I mean in this paint chart from the Natural Pigments company. “lazurite” is their lapis ultramarine. The chart shows the paint in the tube and then tinted (with white). It’s become very hard to get now because of the chaos in Afghanistan. Mine is from Argentina. I was ready to spend my whole Christmas present ($100) on a tube of lapis ultramarine from Afghanistan, but… Maybe someday.

Skies of the Big Empty

I could use up all the memory left in my WP plan if I posted photos to illustrate the constantly changing, wildly variegated skies of the San Luis Valley. I’ve even attempted to paint them, but the ineffability of clouds is a huge challenge. That’s OK. I don’t think it will keep me from trying. I just figure I have to be a better painter and that might happen by continuing to try.

This time of year the phenomenon of lenticular clouds appears pretty often because the air over the mountains is colder than the air in the valley.

In my painting life, I know I’m confronting a turning point but I don’t know what it is yet. Painting sky and painting weather seem to be my thing which is lucky because there is a lot of both down here. I have a painting on the easel right now and it’s not living in my mind which means I’m probably going to cover it to keep the dust off and wait for a better day. You can’t hurry love.

I was “talking” (in epistolary language) about my reaction to selling paintings with a friend and he put it in clear language. “…stai solo raccogliendo i frutti ” … “You are gathering the fruit”. I have always painted and written without much thought of that. I think that’s the best approach because what happens after I finish something and put it out there is really none of my business. The sky just does its thing.

The philosophy behind a painting or book? I guess that’s what critics and the future get all lathered about and, I’m sure that, in my case, that isn’t going to happen. For me painting and writing are more like one of the images in Yeat’s poem, “The Double Vision of Michael Robertes:”

On the grey rock of Cashel I suddenly saw 
A Sphinx with woman breast and lion paw, 
A Buddha, hand at rest, 
Hand lifted up that blest; 

And right between these two a girl at play 
That, it may be, had danced her life away, 

For now being dead it seemed 
That she of dancing dreamed…

O little did they care who danced between, 
And little she by whom her dance was seen 

So she had outdanced thought. 
Body perfection brought..

For what but eye and ear silence the mind 
With the minute particulars of mankind? 

A break is probably for the best. My wonderful short-term job judging independently published books for the contest is about to begin. I’m expecting boxes of books to start arriving any time.

Featured photo by Lois Maxwell

No Lead in My Studio (So far…)

Yesterday I went to the museum in Del Norte to collect some money and restock my notecard offerings. It was a good weekend for me financially, and I was able to buy surfaces to paint on. Not the BIG canvas, but some pretty good sized panels and a linen canvas. With all drugs, you can be happy with “cheap Mexi” until someone gives you something better. Last summer I painted on oil-primed linen and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same woman.

It’s a small painting — 8″ x 10″. It turned out that this oil-primed linen is a wonderful, wonderful surface. For the last little while I’ve been trying to figure out how I could organize this technology myself, stretching and priming my own canvas, and it turns out I don’t want to. A lot of the stuff that becomes paint and related substances is poisonous. Some of it is very poisonous. I had to draw a line. Sometime down the road? I don’t know but for now…

The woman who runs the museum is also my friend and as you might know if you read this blog regularly, she lost her husband this past summer. They were married for 58 years. I’ve been listening/talking to her about it all this time and, recently I’ve heard something different in her voice which is she is beginning to see what she CAN do now; she’s looking into the future.

I spent some time Thanksgiving chatting with a friend in Switzerland who lost her dog not long ago. Through a lovely concatenation of events, she has a puppy, but the emptiness of the loss is still eating her up. I can imagine — but don’t know — people saying “She was just a dog,” and the kinds of things people say when losing an animal is out of their experience. Obviously, I don’t feel that way, but I have lost 25 dogs so I have a lot of experience losing and recovering.

As I was talking with my friend at the museum I tried to support her recent decisions to paint her house and travel to Europe (yay!) with the salient point that we live here and forward. I remember the moment I realized that. It wasn’t all that long after my mom died. I was opening the garage door and suddenly had an epiphany that my eyes were in front of my face for a reason. The same with my Swiss friend. Nothing replaces what we’ve lost, but it seems to me that even in calm and ordinary times, we’re a slightly different person every day than we were the day before. A big loss hastens the transformation.

I think that’s part of the sorrow, strangely enough. We don’t just lose the person/dog we loved, we lose the part of ourself who was (in a way) an attenuation of that person/dog. I recognized quickly when I had to put my last Siberian Husky, Lily, to sleep that it marked the end of trail-running Martha even though I hadn’t been able to run for a while. The possibility of that person existing was completely gone with Lily’s passing. I didn’t just lose my beloved — and very old! — dog; I lost a big part of myself, or the way I saw myself.

These recent weeks — selling paintings and confronting the inner Wicked Witch of the West — I have realized I’ve held onto my mom without even knowing it. Part of my trauma with selling a painting to strangers was letting go of yet one more finger of that woman whom I loved in spite of everything.

Maybe I’m Not the Only One???

The other day I sold a painting to a stranger, a nice young couple who were in love with all my work and spent a long time looking at all of it. It was the opening of a holiday art show at the local museum in Del Norte, Colorado. 

I have never sold a painting to a stranger before, not in those circumstances, face-to-face. I found it weird, embarrassing, uncomfortable. I don’t think I showed that. On an abstract level I was able to be THE ARTIST, but I turned the conversation away from my work to them. It was a way out. 

By the time I got home from the event I felt very strange. It took a while to understand WHAT I was feeling. 

I was feeling ashamed. 

It’s a “thing” to blame our parents for our neuroses so I don’t feel so good moving into that territory right now, but here I go. 

I have always been an artist, specifically a painter. I have loved painting since I was a LITTLE kid. Among my dad’s souvenirs was a pencil drawing I did when I was 6 or so presumably of myself as a grownup. I’m standing in a big room. I’m wearing a long dress (like all little girls want). Behind me is a window and from the window you can see a mountain range. All around the woman (me) are sleeping dogs. In front of me is an easel with a landscape on it.

And here I am. THAT lady. The three things I love most in my life are dogs, mountains and painting. I always wanted to be an artist, have dogs and live in the mountains. 

I don’t know how we come into this world, if we come in with a pre-programmed job description (like the Dalai Lama) or if it’s completely random. I SENSE there’s more to it than being completely random and in my case it certainly has been. I have always known who I am but not how to get there. Who tells us that the self is a destination, in the sense of destiny? I fought hard several times for my own survival; as a kid against diseases, as a woman against abusive men. Until my therapist (long story) explained to me (after listening to me for hours) HOW I’d been raised, I didn’t fully understand that my home was an environment in which I’d been used as a scapegoat to enable my mom’s alcoholism and that I would — naturally — feel more comfortable in environments where I’m not appreciated and even treated badly. 

Most of all, my mother hated that I am an artist. She hated it vocally and publicly and all her life. When she died, I found some of my work rolled up and stashed in the guest room closet. I also found a couple of small drawings in a scrapbook of clippings about me and my life. The woman had (obviously) no clear perspective about her feelings for me. I can’t say the same about my feelings for her.

I don’t have any feelings for her. I have somehow integrated both the good and the bad from that woman and live it every day. The good is good. If she’d lived in MORE of the good about herself she might not have been bitter, angry, hateful and drunk. The bad? It’s landmines and I stepped on one Saturday when those people bought my painting and rhapsodized over my work. I realized that though I’ve sold several paintings, they had all been bought by people who know me and like me. On some level my mom’s voice has said, “Well, they like you, so they bought your painting. I don’t know why they like you, but they do. If they knew you like I do, they wouldn’t have bought your painting.”

She actually DID say things like that. Publicly. Until she died.

SO my job is to get her to shut up by recognizing that I know a lot about painting. I’ve looked at paintings all over the world and done a lot of other things to “self-teach” myself. I’ve written a prize winning novel about a medieval painter. I like my paintings — not just doing them, but looking at them. I’m interested in how to do them and what I learn from them. I have painted since I was a child. It’s not a new thing. And, most of all…

Thoughts about Selling a Painting to a Stranger

(Somewhat a reprise from my other blog)

Yesterday, I went to the opening of the little art show at the Rio Grande County Museum. I was filled with trepidation. I showed up about 11:30 and was immediately met by a huge (masked) smile from Louise who runs the museum. She was in the gift shop, behind the counter, taking money from a young woman who turned to look at me. 

“That’s the artist,” said Louise. I had to go meet and greet. I’m a friendly shy person, that first of all, and as for being an artist? Someday I’ll get to the bottom (or I won’t) of how I feel about that. Anyway it’s complicated. The young woman told me she had just bought a Christmas tree ornament I’d painted. 

“Which one?” I asked her
“This one. It’s the Valley, right? The river?”

These are tiny. Basically 2 x 3 inches

“Yeah. And Mt. Blanca.” 

“I love it,” she said. “I love all your work. Do you do bigger paintings or just those medium sized?” She gestured toward “my” room.
“I have bigger paintings, but I hurt my shoulder and didn’t think I could hang them. I did last year.” 
“Fair enough,” she said. I thanked her and went on to see the show, feeling embarrassed and a little weird. I have never interacted with a buyer before, not one I didn’t know.

I found my artist colleagues that I haven’t seen since last year and chatted for a bit then walked around to see the show which is very beautiful. The wandering and chatting went on for a while, and while I was engaged in a conversation with a colleague’s voluble husband, I noticed another colleague with the young couple (who’d bought the ornament) in “my” room. She was actively engaging with them and my work. I saw her tell them to take a business card. I saw her lead them around the room — as if she were a docent! — looking at all my paintings. The husband came up to me and said something that I should be able to remember, but don’t. Essentially could he get a deal on one of the paintings, the one in the featured image. I said, “Sure. I really want to sell it.”

“What kind of deal? And why do you want to sell it?”

“I’ve had it for a while. I’m just ready to look at something else. Let me go see what I’m asking for it, OK?”

“Sure.” I understood it was going to be a gift for his wife for Christmas. I came back, gestured with a number, and we made the deal. I’m sure his wife knew. Meanwhile my colleague’s voluble husband engaged with the wife. I boxed up the painting and stuck in a pack of Christmas cards that she’d told me earlier that she liked. They were very excited to have my painting and he paid me more than I asked. Afterward they told me all the things they liked about the painting and I just felt weird. I invited them to come back to the museum on December 11 when I’ll do my reading. I hope they do. 

I realized through all this that I might be a painter, but as a professional artist, I’m not very experienced. I have to keep at this show thing until I’m as good at it as the colleague who helped me. It’s not the first painting I’ve ever sold, but it was the first one in that way, in that scenario, to someone who didn’t know me at all. It felt very different and validating that, yeah, I’m doing this.

Later I was talking with a friend about the experience. How does one talk about one’s own art? I know that people analyze paintings and want to know about techniques. I know there are philosophies and theories of art. I understand the major art “movements” — if not what they all represented, I know that they existed. I know many people — both painters and appreciators — approach paintings with a theory of something, a theory of colors or shapes, all kinds of things. When one of my colleagues looked at my paintings yesterday, she mentioned, “There is a lot of white.” I know that comment meant something to her. To me it didn’t. I just said “Yeah” because it is true. Paintings of snow are going to be white. So what is painting for me? What am I trying to “say”? Achieve? I don’t even want to go there. I just want to paint.

Last night I had kind of an epiphany about me and my artist’s novel, Martin of Gfenn. Martin is an artist and a leper. He has to fight against time and the community Commander’s lack of comprehension to paint the walls of the newly built (1244?) chapel of the leper community where he lives. He argues on behalf of painting the walls of the chapel, the importance of painting for communicating the message in scripture. Finally, he just paints (draws) an important element around the east window of the chapel and, seeing it, the Commander understands. From then the only thing Martin has to fight is the encroachment of the disease.

So here I am. As I talked to my colleagues yesterday — most of whom are at least my age — it hit me. It’s always been that for me; paint IN SPITE OF — because of — life.

“I hate logical plans. I have a horror of set phrases that instead of explaining reality tame it in order to use it in a way that is no use to anyone. I don’t approve of definitions or labels. Labels should go on suitcases, nowhere else. Myself, I should find it false and dangerous to start from some clear, well-defined complete idea and then put it into practice. I must be ignorant of what I shall be doing and I can find the resources I need only when I am plunged into obscurity and ignorance. The child is in darkness at the moment he is formed in his mother’s womb.” Federico Fellini

Where is “The One” When You Need Him?

Back in the olden days people had a lot of colorful phrases, such as “Whatever blows your hair back,” “Don’t rock the boat,” and “Paddle your own canoe.” I don’t hear things like very often any more. When I was a kid, they didn’t always make sense to me. The optimistic point there is that maybe I would understand them now? No guarantee. I feel more every day that it’s difficult to understand anything.

I’m about to go hang my show. I don’t even want to. The odds of actually selling a painting are close to zero. With my shoulder it’s going to be pretty difficult to manage. Sometimes I wish I had found “the one” who would, for the purposes of today, be tall, strong and cheerful with nothing else to do but hang my paintings on the wall in the Rio Grande County Museum. In fact, he’d be excited about it.

“The One” always emerges when I need something like that. He’s kind of more function than human which, I realize, is terrible, but there we are. Maybe that’s the point of a human life partnership. One person’s good at this and the other one is good at THAT. In real life I’d probably still be hanging my show by myself, which is one reason there is no “the one” here at Casa di Marta.

“I can’t help you on Tuesday! I told you.”

“I never mentioned this before. I just found out.”

“You told me about it a week ago.”

“Yeah, I told you about the show, I didn’t ask you to help me hang my paintings.”

“It was implied. You wanted me to volunteer.”

“I didn’t know then WHEN I would hang my paintings? How could I ‘imply’ anything?”

Then they criticize a person (me) for being “too” independent.

Negotiation is soul-sucking. BUT I just figure it went like this because I never married “the ONE.” The ONE would have helped me. 🙂

OH well. That’s the way the cookie crumbles…

BUT once upon a time, a friend, Wes Kennedy, did show up pretty much out of nowhere to help me hang my show. 1981. Wes had been very angry at me for having gotten a show AT ALL. He was also an artist, and he worked for a year tromping the streets of Denver trying to get a gallery show with no luck. I didn’t look for a gallery show. I was happy with a coffee house (that would be the salient point here). When I got a show at the first place I tried, I thought Wes would never speak to me again. “I work YEARS to get a show and you go out ONE DAY and what happens?” He stormed out of my apartment.

BUT he knew when the show was and he knew I drove a VW bug and that my paintings — all on paper, covered with glass — well, it wasn’t going to be easy.

He pulled up in front of my apartment at 6:30 am the day of the hanging — and opening — in his Volvo Station Wagon.

“I’m sorry. I’m an asshole. I’ll hang your show. I don’t think you can even do it.”

Wes hanging my show at Cafe Nepenthes

I have been watching a French crime series, Alex Hugo, in English it’s called Mountain Detective. Sadly, there’s only ONE season and I finished it. I loved it, most of all because the protagonist was eminently relatable. He’s a guy who lives in the mountains. He hikes, climbs, draws and lives by himself. One of the “bad guys” (who’s not all that bad) says, “No wife? No children?”

“No,” says Alex. “I’m free.”

They are sitting in one of the most beautiful mountain valleys I’ve ever seen.

… and I think, “How is that not enough for everyone?” Well, obviously because sometimes you have to hang paintings and you have a bad shoulder. Or two. OH well. Suck it up, sweet cheeks. You have to take the bitter with the sweet (huh?).