Introvert’s Lament

It’s been a busy few days with lots of human contact working to solve problems.

Friday I spent the morning in the museum helping the new director edit a slide show so it would reach people more effectively. Yesterday I spent the morning with my friend Perla doing an interview for an article for the Colorado Central Magazine. I like people, and the people I spent time with over the past few days I like very much. I believe in the projects we were working on, too, so everything was wonderful. But afterward I was utterly exhausted.

As a “reporter” I have a goal which is to write an article people will want to read with the possible ancillary goal that Perla will have success at the upcoming fiber festival in the town where the magazine is published. To me that means I need to depict an interesting person who does beautiful work and sells it.

The last two years have shown me how much people like knowing the artist behind the picture they’re looking at. I’ve sold two paintings based on someone’s momentary attraction to a painting followed by a story — one told by a fellow artist to the customer who then met me, and the other because I lost myself and started telling the buyer about the pigments behind the paint. The stories and contact with me sold the paintings.

It hit me that the colossal fascination with Van Gogh — whose work is brilliant and beautiful — is partly based on stories about his life. People “know” Van Gogh and they feel sorry for him and, in a way, want to make up to him for the suffering and slights he endured in his life. Of course, to ME Theo is the victim there, but… Same with Frida Kahlo. The stories behind her life bring out something good in people. Great artist? IMO, no. But what a story. So…

So I’m off for what I hope is a quiet day with (godwilling) a walk at the Refuge. Thunder for the last two days made that impossible. Bear endured and Teddy didn’t care. I discovered with Bear that staying near her and being extra affectionate seems to keep her calmer. OK. Like that’s hard. ❤️🐾

Featured photo: a detail of one of Perla’s creations, a long scarf

Creating…

The Scarlet Emperor Beans are creating my summer garden, and they are doing it with passion. These hot days (88 F/31 C) are just what the beans love most. And I? Well, I don’t love the heat but (as every summer) the initial shock is over and I begin to adapt, I know I’ll be shocked when fall arrives and the first cold nights. Then I’ll just be happy.

Meanwhile…

I’ve read a few articles about what makes a person creative. They seem to take one tack or the other. The first is that “everyone is an artist.” No. I’m not sure I know what an artist is, but I know not everyone is an artist. To be an artist, a person has to make art which, right there eliminates a lot of people. As for what is “art”? Another wormhole I don’t want to crawl into, and who cares? The second tack I’ve encountered in my reading is that creativity is the ability to solve a problem with the resources at hand. Yes.

I’m tangled up in a painting right now, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it. Why? I started it. That’s one reason. The studio is the coolest (in all senses) room in my house (north side). I’m fascinated by the struggle. I started it in a way I only started one other painting, and that painting was a lot smaller and the argument for the underpainting was more legitimate than with this painting. The light in the painting is the strange, unfiltered, angled light of late winter which gives the feeling that one is walking on shadows. There’s also the sense that the earth — the dirt under everything — is thawing, about to wake up for Nature’s Great Beanfield. When I began the painting, I had a strong sense of that. So I took out my trusty Natural Pigments and painted dirt with dirt. It’s set me up for a different kind of painting than I’ve ever done, but I think I like it fine, so far. Besides, who really cares? THAT is, I think, the bottom line for anyone doing creative work. If the artist cares too much it won’t happen; it’s paralyzing.

That’s been my experience in attempting to teach people to draw. I’ve had so many friends who want to draw, but who are afraid they will get it wrong. It’s a conundrum because in a lot of other subjects we learn the emphasis is on “trying hard” to “get it right.” I think creative work is a little different. Technique matters, but I think it’s secondary in the learning process. Primary, I think, is joy, the way kids have fun drawing and painting. There is a potential internal reward to any creative work, and that’s the pleasure of doing it, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you (think) you want it to. And this one? Well, I still can’t say…

After today’s work (6/11/2022)

Do it Anyway

I have only “been” an artist for 14 years. Yeah, I did art from time to time since I was a kid, and sometimes for money, but it was back in 2008, when I inherited money from my Aunt Martha, the Evil X had hit the highway, and I built my art shed that I had a dedicated place to work. Never before in my life had I had such a space. In my Denver apartment in the late 70s and early 80s, I quit sleeping in my bedroom and slept on the day bed in the living room so I had a place to work, but even that felt like a compromise.

The art shed was tiny. 8′ x 8′. BUT it was wonderful. It was another world, just a few feet from my house, but it felt far far away.


In there, one rainy day, I did my first oil painting (since high school — 40 years!). Here it is. It was the first time I primed a canvas with black gesso and worked toward light. In so many ways it was a huge breakthrough, act of defiance, a definition of self and an affirmation of the truth of who I am. I don’t think I’ll ever give away or sell this painting. It’s 12′ x 9′

I got a new brush and the canvas from my step-son and his wife for Christmas, one of the best Christmases of my life, for the gift, somewhat but mostly for the whole thing. She is from Germany and her Christmas custom (open presents on Christmas Eve) is the same as my family’s. So we had great German food, opened our presents, drank hot chocolate and watched a Star Trek movie. Really, what could be better? Before that I took them up to the Lagunas where there was snow on the ground. THAT made Sandi’s Christmas. ❤️

The next Christmas I participated in my first town craft show and I sold one — to my next door neighbor’s wife as a present for her husband. It was a tiny painting — 5 x 7 — of, you got it, a cow. There was a herd of cattle across the street and they liked looking at my yard. Cows are social animals and anything they get used to belongs to them. My dogs and I, only some 8 or 10 feet away from them, were theirs. I loved that. I got to watch them all the time. Here’s that little painting. I figured little paintings didn’t take much paint and didn’t take much time and I didn’t know what I was doing and I was learning. This wasn’t on black primed canvas.

The cow below was my favorite cow because of her pretty markings and because she hung out in front of my house the most. She had a calf. The canvas is 8 x 10.

In the next few years, I joined an artists guild, showed my work twice a year in their guild shows. When I sold this one for $300 I was stunned. I titled this, How I Spent my Summer Vacation. I didn’t have a good easel or really enough room in my little shed, but I did it. It’s a scene about 1/4 mile from my house in Descanso, CA.

Descanso Falls. 24 x 36

Over the next few years I had paintings accepted in a couple of juried shows. It was amazing to me. And why? I was fighting inner enemies.

My high school art teacher had told me I had no talent and ridiculed my final project — an oil painting of White Sands National Park in New Mexico — in front of everyone. “You shouldn’t hang out in the art room,” he said. “This place is for people with talent.” He just echoed what my mom alway said, “Art’s a dirty word and I don’t want my kids to be artists.” I wasn’t going to touch oil paints after that. In the mid-70s I was the staff artist for the Denver YWCA and did watercolors and drawings. My one woman show in 1981 was gouache on paper. I used pastels and acrylic. In 2006, I went to school to learn fresco. But I wasn’t touching oil paint.

In reality, there’s nothing more difficult about oil paint than any other medium. I think it’s easier than a lot of things — for me a lot easier than pastel. The more I got into it, the more interested I became in the way paint is made. I discovered the paints made by Robert Gamblin’s company in Oregon for a couple of reasons; they have a beautiful consistency AND he is a professional restorer. I’m fascinated by the restoration of old paintings. I learned a lot from “him” — particularly about studio safety and alternatives to some of the dangerous shit that can come along with painting. His company offers a huge range of non-toxic colors and solvents that are almost odorless. A couple years ago I discovered other paints — from Natural Pigments, and they fascinated me because they were made out of dirt and linseed oil the old-fashioned way. I wrote about that a LOT on this blog. Still, I wasn’t trying large paintings. I did one but I learned how much paint that takes and how expensive it is. I figured I was still learning and yeah…

Today I went out to get my mail and there was the beautiful literary and art magazine that comes out of Creede, Colorado, published by the Creede Arts Council. Creede is a sleepy little old former mining town until summer when the summer residents swell the population. Its setting is stunning. It has a small theater that presents good plays most of the “open” season (meaning clear roads). Good restaurants, etc. It’s arty which is great. Every year there is a studio tour that centers on Creede.

Creede, Colorado

Every year I submit something to their beautiful magazine. Last year they didn’t take my submission, but in other years they have. This year they did. When I opened the envelope this morning and saw my drawing filling the back cover, I was blown away and very, very, very happy.

My mentor, Lilliana Bava Briaco, says doubt is “part of the territory,” and I imagine she’s right. For me it’s been a very hard fight against the voices in my head and the voices in my memory. At times it’s been so powerful that I quit (for a while) then had to start again. I’ve always known who and what I am, but it means so much when something I’ve done that took courage is seen by others as I have seen it — like this drawing. That’s huge to me, But, doing the work is the best part, no matter what. I’m really grateful to have survived this far, that I have found allies who see my work. And maybe, most of all, for the absolute miracles of line, light, time, vision, and paint, those great teachers. ❤️

The featured photo is me at age 10 trying to paint a tree with the oil paints I’d gotten for Christmas that year.

Ruminations

Sometimes it seems like my mind is a kettle brewing stuff while I sleep. I woke up thinking about two very difficult things: communication and mastery. It struck me that they might be related.

Back when I had an art shed and lived in California, I started a blog on blogger about painting. I called it “A Lifetime Apprenticeship” because I couldn’t imagine ever being a master or even imagine what it would mean to BE a master. I also decided that becoming a master would be the end of the exciting part of painting which, at the time and still, seems to be learning more and doing better.

I still think that way, and it’s a good thing because I’m a long way from being a master, but… I wonder what it would be like to approach a project and KNOW it’s going to work out. I wonder if that’s even possible.

I did a drawing yesterday that seemed to be going really well and then, later, when I looked at a photo of it, I realized the river in the drawing was behaving in a manner that is impossible for rivers, all for want of a line.

The thing about this is that I’m OK with that. I’m even OK with, “I’ll never get it,” and that doesn’t discourage me because I don’t even know what “it” is.

As for communication, I can’t begin to figure that out. Like drawing and painting, there’s probably no mastery. Unlike drawing and painting, I can get discouraged, fatigued, disgusted, and hopeless about communication. It’s all Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Sage Grouse in Luv

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/rdp-monday-kettle/

My Parade

Though I usually take a dog out at a particular time of day, sometimes I get an inexplicable urge to take one out RIGHT NOW. This happened today around 11:30 am. As I neared the Refuge, there were thousands of cranes rising, circling up, higher and higher. I parked Bella and got out. This is what I heard and saw:

I think the dumpster really brings it down to earth 😀

I’m still a little “migrainy” and it all seemed somewhat dreamlike. I was enveloped in the wild racket of thousands of cranes for the first 1/4 mile.

We took Bear’s favorite loop and I was enchanted by the pastel November colors and reminded why I always want to paint them.

Bear’s favorite loop and the beauty of the day…notice the tree in the distance…

As we rounded the loop’s first curve, the cranes became silent. I wondered what set them off — a predator — but WHAT predator? A cool morning. Snow falling on the mountains to the west. No way for me to know. Then, we rounded the third curve on this 1/3 mile loop and I saw…

We always think of owls as night hunters, but the Great Horned Owl hunts in daytime, too. Was it him?

My eyes filled with tears AGAIN. Oh man… And then I realized, “This is my parade! I painted this. Naturally THIS is playing the band and sending out ‘floats,’ the whole thing!” Birds being floats, of course.

I loved the thought and it seemed right. My big painting depicts one of the quietest moments in this silent (except for animals, wind, and the occasional “Hello!”) place. It’s the kind of scene revealed by hours in a wild place. It doesn’t take your breath away or stimulate awe. It’s just a quiet crane moment on a dull day. It’s a love letter from me to the Refuge. My parade couldn’t have been any better, I thought, and then…

I noticed something land on the top of one of the cottonwood trees…

Seems to be a Cooper’s hawk

Soon after I took his photo, this lovely being launched himself from the tree. You can see that moment in the featured photo if you look really really hard, then swooped down in front of Bear and me, then up and began circling the group of cranes and other water birds now hanging around the pond. “Like a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow bend.” (Hopkins, “The Windhover”)

“What a beautiful float!” I said to Bear who wondered why we weren’t moving and smelling stuff. I also realized that I was thirsty and a little hungry, so we turned back. Just as I arrived at the parking lot I saw a pair of Harris Hawks. These guys are noisy compared to other raptors. Their adaptation to environments where prey is scarcer has also “taught” them to hunt in groups. They’re darker hawks, reddish brown and reddish black. I’ve seen this couple a few other times. They like to hunt by the paved road that runs past the Refuge.

Best parade of my life. ❤

Fellini…

I love Federico Fellini’s films. I think if I’d had the opportunity to know him, I might have liked him, too. I first learned of him — his films — when I was a little kid and a then-scandalous “foreign” (OH MY GOD!) film came out. My parents went to see La Dolce Vita. My brother and I had a babysitter that night. All I remember hearing about it the next day was, “I don’t like subtitles.”

I watched Nights of Cabiria in a college film class. Afterward, my teacher explained what Fellini was doing. I listened without being convinced. It’s an incredibly dark film made before Fellini broke from the post-war vision of most Italian directors.

The next Fellini film I heard about was Satyricon. There was a big article about it in Life Magazine that sparked my curiosity. I was in college, and Satyricon was at the Denver art theater, the Flick. A guy from the Colorado School of Mines was trying to date me. He picked me up at the dorm, took me to the theater, and expected me to pay half. THAT wasn’t my idea of a date at all. We didn’t see the movie and I never saw him again.

Eight years later my best friend, her boyfriend and I went to see City of Women at Denver’s Vogue (vague) Theater. It was hilarious, and it beat out all previous films in my experience for quantities of phallus images (to be fair also images of birth canals). As we were leaving the theater, we looked in the window of the nearby Mexican restaurant at all the cocktuses and laughed.

Somewhere in there I had decided that God had abdicated responsibility for guiding my fate and had subcontracted to Federico Fellini. I’d told my friend this one night over dinner. She just laughed at me until one of the songs in City of Women was this disco hit by Gino Soccio that she’d heard ONLY at my house. It convinced her. 😀

Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film about failure, the artistic vision vs. investors, monogamy vs. human nature, the constant pulls on the human heart and the artist’s imagination was my best friend for a long time. Whenever I felt discouraged about teaching, writing, love, life, money, identity, I watched 8 1/2.

In 2004, in the midst of my Felliniesque life, I even gave a paper at a professional conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero.” My mind went right to Fellini’s corpus. I named the hero of Fellini’s films “Old Half Head,” the nickname given to a statue of Julius Caesar standing in the town square of the movie version of Fellini’s home town, Rimini, in the film Roma. Half of Caesar’s head has broken off. I saw this image over and over and over in Fellini’s films, and over time, realized that it represents what an artist does to himself when he/she gives up, gives in, loses faith. The “Fellini hero”, in many films, “half-heads” “himself.”

The protagonist of La Dolce Vita half-heads himself in the very last scene of the movie. As construction proceeds in a subway in Roma, a Roman villa is discovered and there is a floor mosaic of Fellini with part of his head broken away. In 8 1/2 the hero, Guido, stops short of half-heading himself with a pistol. The half-head is what happens when an artist loses faith. There is also “half-heading” in I Vitelloni, Intervista, and the unfinished Voyage of G. Mastorna.

I haven’t yet lost faith in the journey, even though it often seems dark and desperate. The important thing of man today is to hang on, not to let his head droop but to keep looking up through the tunnel, perhaps even inventing a way of salvation through fantasy or will-power, and especially through faith. For this reason, I think the work of artists is really important today. Fellini on Fellini

P.S. I just learned that yesterday Fellini would have been 100 years old. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/21/rdp-tuesday-movie/