It’s All in the Dust

January 28, 2019

 

Version 2

Light and Shadow

 

Version 2

Of  the Mountains

 

Soft pastel is pure pigment held together with a little binder. The medium is the color; the color is the medium. What could be more satisfying than laying down a film of pure color and then layering another on top, each veil changing forever what had been put down before. Or that color dust can be rubbed and pressed into the paper with the next color applied on top – rubbed in or not.

 

There is no going back with soft pastel, only change and moving forward. Even if a section is removed, swept off with a stiff brush (like a small broom sweeping up the dust), it is never possible to go back to a clean surface; some of the color remains as a record of what has been and also a ground for and part of what will come.

 

Art making has always offered me a model for life, teaching me useful lessons in an accessible way – a sort of experiential guide book. For a few examples, drawing with soft pastels shows and reminds me: not to lament the parts that are lost, to be open to surprises, to pay attention and respond to what is happening in the drawing, to take joy and delight in the richness resulting from the evolution of the drawing process (which was most surely difficult or painful at times), and on…all easily more than lessons for art making alone.

 

Soft pastel drawings can be strong, rich, and solid and their color even bold, but the dust is fragile and potentially transient. Even a fixed drawing will dust off a bit over time. This is certainly a reminder that I am not in control. And I love the thought that even after I have finished my work, a drawing will continue on to have a life of its own, changing and evolving, however imperceptibly, over time.

 

The difficulty of soft pastel is in the dust, the messy dust that covers studio surfaces, me, and everything I touch when I am working. But that dust is the essence and beauty of the medium. It is what makes it so pure, direct, elemental, and appealing.

 

The drawings in this post came from a need to work larger than the 8” square Crow series as well as a craving to bring in more color while still making room for the mystery and depth that the blacks and darks allow for. The drawings from this group are all around 12” by 21”, and these were the first two.

Farewell to this Messenger

January 20, 2019

The poet Mary Oliver left this life this week, and her poems are cropping up all over social media. The day she passed, I picked up the collection Thirst and read this poem, the first in the volume.  Although I have already posted it elsewhere, it bears reading again.

 

 

MESSENGER

 

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

 

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

 

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

 

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.

 

 

Finding this particular poem was such a gift at that moment and reading it that evening seemed a fitting way to mark the day and send the poet on her way to the next thing…while she still lives on with those of us bound to this earth as we read and share, and are moved and inspired by her words and her life.

 

 

At last the studio and house are returning to order after weeks (months!) of disruption and too much plaster dust, both the unavoidable side effects of some necessary repairs. The most obvious benefits to such chaos are the beautiful new studio ceiling and virtually new kitchen ceiling, not to mention pipes that no longer leak. Moving as much as possible out of the way of those doing the work was a perfect opportunity to cull some of the “stuff” stashed in corners and on shelves. And as the rooms fall back in place, there is a chance to see modes of organization and arrangement with a fresh perspective. But the best and unexpected benefit has been to hold books and notebooks, open them, and rediscover gems not seen or remembered for too long. Here are a few of the things I found.

From Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk:

“Poets understand that they do not know what they mean and that this is a source of their strength.”

The following was an unattributed quote in an old gallery newsletter. I would be very happy if there is anyone who can give me the source:

“The struggle to make a genuine picture (or for that matter, any work of art) is never a passive, but always an intentional act of the creative will, one through which the Self declares itself a conscious agent in the world. Painting a picture, therefore, far from being a frivolous or meaningless activity, is one  burdened with existential import.”

A few things to think about as I get back to work in my new space!

Many thanks to Tom, Harry, and Matt; all good souls who did good work and solved unexpected problems!!

Pulse and Tremble

September 12, 2014

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This new piece was made for an invitational group show at Linda Matney Gallery in Williamsburg, Virginia. The show, called Matter, was put together by Elizabeth Mead, Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at William and Mary. The guidelines were the size (8 ½” x 11”) and a consideration of the use of color in one’s work. My friend and poet Kasey Jueds and I had hoped to work collaboratively but were unable to do so because of time and schedule constraints. In the end my piece, Second Skin/Pulse and Tremble, was a sort of collaboration with Kasey, as I used her poem “The Selkie from Shore” as a starting point. The text itself is an element of the piece, although not completely readable. As I copied the poem numerous times, the words began to murmur and hum in my mind while I worked on the piece (much as the hum of the bees in the poem!), thus weaving into and becoming part of the making. (I loved the good luck that there were bees busy coming and going in the flowers outside my studio window at the same time!) The piece is made from paper, ink, and oil stick on wooden panel. The show opens next Friday, September 19 at 5:30. Stop in if you are nearby!

Although it is not necessary to read the text of Kasey’s poem while viewing the piece, I can’t resist including her lovely poem here for your delight:

 

The Selkie from Shore

 

You will tell me what I long for is God.

But I say it is bees, their pulse and tremble

in flowers slackening toward summer’s end,

daylilies spreading rust under dusky oaks.

I say I want a garden for them,

so what is small might return

and be sufficient again. Not God, or sky

streaming light, cathedrals, a wish

I am not big enough to hold – not those

but the slightest tremor of air, and a humming

that has no need of me.

 

Kasey Jueds in Keeper

 

BROADSIDES

April 4, 2014

Image

 

For four Saturdays in March I traveled to Charlottesville for the afternoon for a class on printing broadsides (“Printmaking with Purpose”) at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The teacher for the class was Josef Beery, one of the founders of the VABC. You can read his excellent article on broadsides here. The VABC is a gem of a place with a spacious and seemingly well-equipped print room, a good size workroom, and some display space. Josef in his very kind and knowledgeable way managed to guide our small group – each of us with different backgounds, different levels of experience, and different sorts of projects – towards completing our chosen project. For this short course, the typesetting was done on the computer (as opposed to printing on letterpress) and the images cut into linoleum. The image above shows the cutting process on my unmounted linoleum plate. I am working on an image for the poem “Foxgloves” from Kasey Jueds‘ book Keeper (see earlier posts about Kasey’s book). Our class will meet again in May so we can trade our completed prints. Stay tuned for more images. And if you aren’t familiar with the Virginia Arts of the Books Center check it out and take a class. It is good to get out of town!

POETRY ON THE ROAD

January 28, 2014

CAVE LIGHT: A CONVERSATION ABOUT CREATIVITY AND COLLABORATION

Next week my friend Kasey Jueds is coming to Richmond! In an earlier post I wrote about Kasey’s new book of poetry, Keeper. Kasey very kindly chose one of my drawings, called Cavelight, for the cover. The book launched in Philadelphia in November and now folks in Richmond and Williamsburg have a chance to hear Kasey read some selections from her book. In addition to the readings, Kasey and I will talk a bit about creativity and our collaboration on another project (see previous post), and I will show a few of my images. Details for the two events (which we are calling Cave Light: A Conversation about Creativity and Collaboration) are listed below.

To learn more about the Pitt Poetry Series and read one of Kasey’s poems, have a look at the NYTimes ArtsBeat blog: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/poetry-profiles-university-of-pittsburgh-press/?_r=2.

And to hear Garrison Keillor read a selection from Keeper on The Writer’s Almanac, click here: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2013/12/29.

Of course, if you have any questions, please contact me!

Cave Light: A Conversation about Creativity and Collaboration

Wednesday, February 5, 5:00 PM, 101 Andrews Hall, William and Mary, 601 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, VA (enter through Phi Beta Kappa Building located next to the Muscarelle Museum of Art).

Book signing and reception following.

Thursday, February 6, 7:00-9:00 PM, The Dominion Room, The Visual Arts Center of Richmond, 1812 W. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23220.

Book signing following.

Copies of Keeper will be made available at this event by Fountain Bookstore (1312 E. Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23219, 804-788-1594).

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Learning how to make the work is one of the primary aspects of a creative life. It might even be right to say that it is the whole point. Every drawing, painting, or project involves learning: learning how colors mix or work together, learning how a new material goes down on the paper, learning what the work is about, learning the ways that I work best (or the ways I don’t!), and on and on. I am fairly certain (and I tell my adult drawing students) that if one ever feels as though it is all figured out, understood, and under control then that is the time to worry, because the work will die – quite literally cease to be alive. Making art (and I mean here all creative efforts) is messy and uncomfortable stuff, and that awkward and unfamiliar place, that is where the learning and the life reside.

Beginning a new project often involves an especially steep curve for learning how to make the work. And it is not unusual to encounter the conundrum that it is difficult to begin without knowing what the work is/is about, but one can’t know what the work is without beginning. Apparently this puzzle can be just as true for a collaboration as for a solo project. My friend Kasey (a poet) and I have just begun working on a collaboration that we know very little about. Actually, our conversation began about two years ago, and finally we have begun to trade bits (my scraps and scans of fragments) and pieces (Kasey’s word combinations) as a way to learn how we will make this work and have this conversation. This is a lovely way to roll into the New Year: a delightful adventure with a dear friend as fellow traveler!

Read more about our bits and pieces at Kasey’s blog (http://kaseyjueds.com/pieces/) and find other treasures there as well! The images above are some of the bits that I sent Kasey, and you can see them in the photo on her blog as well.