Saturday, August 29, 2015

The trees you plant

I really like this quote by Nelson Henderson. I combined it with a photo I took of a very nice cottonwood on my favorite acequia trail in the north valley. I was curious about Nelson and discovered he was a Canadian, living from 1928 until 2003. He served as the manager of the Agricultural Institute of Canada, doing numerous good works. Apparently he was known in his family for this quote and his family has carried on his legacy.

I've planted well over 100 trees in my life. Just sitting here on my front porch I can count 8 trees I planted. As I plant a tree I often think I will probably not see the tree into maturity because we live in a mobile society and I do not generally stay put for long. For the first time today I had the thought that probably some of the trees I've planted will outlive me.

I'm not sure why I've never thought this before. Here I am in this particular phase of life thinking about legacy. I have no children. Nelson had 8 children. I have trees and art work and students I've mentored. What will outlive me? What will the ripples of this life be beyond my own years?

I listened to an interview recently with Simone Campbell- the nun who started the Nuns on the Bus tour to address health care and the wealth gap and other social issues. She spoke about how we can get overwhelmed at the immensity of the social issues we face and how that can be paralyzing for people. She emphasizes we live in community. We don't have to do it all. We just have to listen- to the stories we hear and the inner nudges we receive, and then just do our part. We don't know the effect our part may have. I at least know I will provide shade for the future.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Voice lessons

I've started voice lessons. I'm reading a book called Freeing the Natural Voice, Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language by Kristin Linklater. It is a book written for actors mainly. This is a topic I had no idea about before picking up this book, but apparently there are various schools and methodologies to learn acting.  Some of these schools focus on physical and vocal skills and some emphasize more emotional and psychological exploration. This book is making the point that both are necessary to be a believable actor. That a good psychological, from the gut performance is lost without the vocal skills to support it and vice versa.

So I relate this idea, of course to visual arts. Having good technical skills are important but to be able to see to the heart of things, to bring our full humanity to the process seems necessary as well.  I appreciate my technical skills improving in art making as I practice and learn from different artists. I am also endeavoring to continue a path of self exploration to create from the best self I can. Self exploration and art seem to feed directly back and forth to each other naturally.

As I make art more I appreciate how all the arts are similar and why they fall under the heading of arts. I don't know why I've never really thought about this before. But it seems clear in reading this book on voice and acting how acting is art. We use the fullness of our expression to portray or bring something to life in performance art, visual art, music... there is a similar process to it.

I am at a point where I hear a whisper inside me about this voice work. It says I have work to do here and the work will be fruitful. Voice is our primary mode of expression. I have long felt my voice to be a little black box of the unknown. I sometimes feel a constriction in my throat. I often stay quiet in groups. There is sometimes a discomfort in expression. As I am opening the floodgates of expression in making art and writing I, not surprisingly, feel compelled to explore this life long uneasy relationship with my voice.

One of the first exercises in the Freeing the Natural Voice book is to write a poem to your voice.

A Poem to My Own Voice
Lisa Page
Let yourself be open, open, open
Large and circular without thin lines
Free flowing without the pause of fear,
Traveling up and down
from feet to head,
From earth to sky,
A whole body, joyful bubbling
outward of air enlivened.
Real expression, real connection,
Free of constriction
stopping what is true.
My voice is my acceptance of
myself, my whole experience,
My voice is tender and flourishing,
ripe and rich.
My voice is the expression
of my heart, my mind,
my divine connection
to my own solid truth.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Scoliosis Art

When I am not working on art I am a physical therapist specializing in treating people with scoliosis using the Schroth Method. I look at a lot of X-rays in my job. As an artist I appreciate the image of the curving spine. As a PT I know that scoliosis can be a life disrupting diagnosis.great video of girls raising awareness about what scoliosis is.

One of the tenets of being a physical therapist is conveying to people that their physical challenges do not define them. This is what I want to convey in these pieces. This is a

Scoliosis is more common in girls than in boys. The most common type is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis often diagnosed in the pre or early teen years. There is probably a genetic component. It seems to be a problem with the rate of growth in the vertebra. One side of the vertebra will start growing faster and this will provoke a curvature to start.

The tough thing about scoliosis is it is usually diagnosed in girls right when they are hitting an adolescent growth spurt. Girls struggle at this time anyway with lots of body image issues, confidence, ideas about beauty and fitting in.  A scoliosis diagnosis, possibly having to wear a brace to school and facing surgery if the curve progresses too far makes for added stress during an already challenging time.

I have been playing with a photo layering app to combine a few images. The first one is a photo of the imprint in the sidewalk on S. Pine street. But every time I see it I, of course, read it as Spine, not South Pine. So I've had the idea for awhile of combining this photo with a spine X-ray and then layering some other images on top, perhaps more photos or paint.

Here are some of the combinations I'm playing with.

I tried the square format but don't think it works with the subject. 
I think this is still a work in progress but I like where it is going. I put this version in the procreate app and will work with it further there. 
These are a few more I'm playing with.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I love my leaf

Mirabai Bush tells a great story on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett. Marabai is teaching a meditation class to college students at Amherst. After not getting any questions or responses from them after a few classes of meditation she decides...

... to give them a practice of the next morning, the practice of mindfulness of an object and I gave them each a leaf and there they were to bring their awareness to the leaf, and then as distractions arose let them go and bring your mind back to your leaf. So we did that for 5 or 10 minutes, which is a long time to look, you know, usually you look at a leaf and you say, “Oh, OK, I saw it.” And then you put it down. So then — I didn't really expect that anybody was going to say anything, but I left a couple of moments at the end and nobody did.
And then this one football player in the back row raised his hand, and he had become, in my mind, the person who most was, kind of, resisting making himself vulnerable in any way. He said, “Can I say something?” I said, "Definitely." He said, "I love my leaf."
I love this story. 
Looking deeply at something to paint or draw or photograph can be a process of falling in love. To really see the object, and not just the symbol of the object or the objectification of it, but the true object. You would think this would just be a technical endeavor, about line and shading expertise.

But truly something else happens when you really look to see. The immersion of looking with the intention of witnessing the essence of something becomes an act of falling in love. And except in art or meditation there is so rarely the chance to slow down to see truly. I'm experimenting with combining ink line and painting here. I love the detail of the petals that is possible.

This is a photo from my morning walk. I can look and look at it and certainly fall in love with such exquisite unfolding life.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Face Painting

I've made it a goal to get better at painting faces. I'm pretty confident with my sketching... but painting faces is still a challenge. I purchased the book Mixed Media Portraits by Pam Carriker.  It's a template approach to painting the face. I think I resist it because it's like math and divides the head into thirds and halves and such.  The template approach has been helpful at looking at painting the face from different angles. It's a great book and I've tried the technique but I seem to just go back to looking. Looking at photos or real people and just painting them that way.

This was a self portrait painted from a sketch that I did from a photo of Alex and I.

I really like doing self portraits. Frida Kahlo says, "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best." It is always a way to learn something about myself.

This is a sketch I did of a friend. It captures her a little. I never really know exactly what expression is going to come. It's hard to nail an expression. They are so subtle. I can get the eyes and the nose and the mouth in the right place and shade and blend away and then the expression is there in the eyes and mouth but I don't really know how it got there. I am determined to get better at this.

I sketch a lot on airplanes. Usually from the airline magazine. It is great fun. I pick photos that look hard to draw and then draw them. I like to just fill up the pages of my sketchbook with random images and then perhaps later go back and pull out pieces to use in painting.

And here is a face I painted recently. Again, the expression is a mystery to me. She seems like she's pursing her lips a bit.. but when I tried to change it I couldn't. Sometimes they just want to be what they want to be. For now at least.

Recently I got another book called The Artists Complete Guide to Facial Expressions by Gary Faigin. I'm not giving up. I found out in the first few pages that Leonardo Da Vinci, when painting the Mona Lisa, had jugglers come and perform for his model to get that enigmatic smile. This book has been great, I'm not finished but I've already learned a lot. He quotes Leon Battista Alberti and his 1435 handbook on painting saying, "...who would ever believe who has not tried it how difficult it is to attempt to paint a laughing face, only to have it elude you so you make it more weeping than happy?" I can relate.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Gateway into my Mind

"Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."
                                        Joan Dideon from the The Writer on Her Work, Vol 1

I love thinking about art as a gateway into my mind and I certainly find it so, and I certainly find many surprises there. Who knew? I am a shy person by nature. But I now place importance in bringing forth and shining my light. Sometimes at least. It takes courage and energy and focus to blog and paint and create but if I don't do it something essential about me will stay hidden and unknown and unexpressed. I need a map into my mind and this process of creating is a map to some very surprising destinations.

This is a painting I am working on right now in the FlowerPower- see feel paint class with Pauline Agnew. I absolutely recommend the class. The first photo shows the first layer of paint with lots of mark making on a blank 24x24" canvas. I really was liking how this was looking and thought something good would come out of it. The second and third photos are the progression of a face.

Faces are tricky and I am just a beginner. I get the eyes and nose and mouth in the general right place but then the expression is just a total crap shoot. I often use a reference picture for shading and proportion- but my painting never has the same expression as the reference photo. At least until I get better, the expressions are either chance, or come from my subconscious. I believe what comes out on the canvas is a reflection of me in someway so I am betting on the subconscious. I am loving this painting because I love her expression. It is peaceful and knowing and accepting. She feels like pure beauty and peace to me. I love her looking out at me and being a part of me and creating her. All those things are such magic and a magical gateway into my mind.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

From the particulars to the universal

I often listen to the podcast On Being by Krista Tippett as I take a weekend morning walk. This week she had a conversation with the poet Elizabeth Alexander. They spoke about many things but an idea from the interview has stayed in my mind and it is this: We all create from our "particulars."  Our particulars like our gender, our race, our class, our religion, the details of our family experience and relationships, the geographical area we are in, the time we live in, the places we visit. We create from our particular identity. Sometimes there is a transcendence and the art we create from our particulars becomes universal. I'm really not even sure exactly what this means but I am thinking about the idea of universal art a lot.

How does great music, literature, and art speak to us across the span of time and place? It seems hopeful to me that art reflects the idea that there is probably more we share as human beings across culture and time than not. There perhaps is more that is universal than particular in our experience as it is distilled into art. Universal themes of love and friendship and nature and faith are expressed uniquely through our particulars. I appreciate that it helps to know more of the particulars to develop a deeper understanding of art and to help bridge the particular to the universal.

This is of course the great Frida Kahlo in her self portrait. We seem to only love Frida more as time goes by. I believe there is a universality to her work. Her particulars can speak to us, especially as women I believe, even though she lived in a different time and place. 

The one below is by an artist I am newly introduced to and absolutely in love with- Hung Liu. She is a Chinese American woman painting profoundly moving and beautiful work. Her work reflects her Chinese experience, a very different experience from mine, yet there is something in this work that speaks to me so deeply. 

Here is another beautiful painting by Hung Liu

I will leave you with this image from a contemporary artist I enjoy- Anahata Kahn. She is the genius behind Papaya in Ashland Oregon.

Yes I do have a woman with flower head dress theme going and that is partly because I have an assignment this week to paint a woman in a flower head dress. And perhaps I will share that later. But also it seems like an image that speaks to the universal theme of the feminine in some very different ways depending on the artists particulars. It is certainly an image that shows up through a multitude of times and geographies.