"Soldier On" - acrylic on gallery wrapped canvas, 20" x 20". Ready for hanging.
This piece was inspired by a trip to the Portland Art Museum. There is an incredible exhibit of primitive sculpture and artifacts in the museum, and some of the faces in those pieces resonate with me yet today, eighteen months after my visit. Many of the faces had a stoic, resolute visage, full of strength and determination. Haunting in their lack of emotion, but serene in their stone silence after thousands of years.
There are moments (ok, sometimes days, weeks...years, even) where strength, determination and resolve are what get us through difficult times or seemingly impossible tasks. Interactions with friends near and far recently have been filled with people facing overwhelming situations and yet managing to push through while keeping their humanness and compassion. Woman who have been deeply wounded by lovers. Men who have lost their wives. Daughters caring for mothers who are terminally ill. An elderly couple whose home burned to the ground. Loss, grief, pain and more loss.
And yet the spirits of these tenacious people are still open to the world, embracing their loss and turning it into blessings for others. They rise each day and make the world better, even while their own world seems dark. They soldier on. And in doing so, and in sharing their stories, they provide strength and resolve for the rest of us, making our own battles and hurdles seem small in comparison. The refocus us on what is good and bright in the world.
I'd like to think the stone museum warriors hold within them the resolve of an ancient people, continuing to provide an example of the triumph of humanity over adversity, giving us strength in modern times.
"Out of the Box" - mixed media on cradled hardboard, 18" x 24"
It has been a wild week in the studio, finishing projects for upcoming deadlines and getting ready to teach some groovy classes. But in the midst of it all, this piece was determined to be born. It isn't project specific, theme-based or commissioned. It is independent, this one, calling my name early in the morning, day after day until it was complete. Layers upon layers, some hidden, some peeking through. But what does it mean?
I've been reading some books on the role of our thoughts in our health and happiness. Even some information on the impact of our thoughts on our very DNA. The science behind it all overwhelms me after a time, but I read on in hopes to glean just enough to be able to apply it in my own life. And through this reading, I've gotten a sense of how many layered we are as people, both in our thoughts, our emotions, our physicality and our spirituality. And it isn't simple or easy to understand how they all work (or don't work) together.
At some point in our lives, the many compartments, or boxes, we use to store memories, experiences and knowledge become so numerous it is hard to see what's at the bottom of the stack. One theory is these untended boxes, say perhaps memories of childhood trauma, begin to cause disease in the body in order to get our attention - to get us to look underneath the stack. By listening to our bodies and seeking the emotion connected with the illness, it is possible to give it the attention in needs, free it from the box and allow healing, which can theoretically become a catalyst for other healing as well.
I am no expert on these things, just a seeker with intense curiosity! But something about this concept sits well with me. And this piece of art, determined to get my attention, is quite happy to have emerged from the stack, been opened and allowed to express itself in the world.
"Spring Arrived Gently and Hushed" mixed media on cradled board, 12" x 12". Ready for hanging.
Spring? Seriously? In the world of artists, we work a bit ahead. Shows have themes, and the themes may be months ahead of reality. Think of it like swimsuits in January...wait! We have those here! And this challenge was incredibly difficult for me - until it wasn't.
This piece was created entirely without brushes. Mostly paper towels and scrapers. Acrylic and ink background, rubbed and burnished and scraped and splattered. Such a serious background. I wanted just a little hint of precious color; a fragile bloom in an otherwise bleak field. The kind of bloom you find on a hike in March in the Carolinas. A bloom that says "Hey you! Winter won't last forever. Hang in there." But nothing I auditioned for the part of the bloom was just right.
So then I went to an encaustics demo. My first ever. And we were invited to play in the waxy loveliness on artist trading cards. And *****poof****! Magically, precious blooms appeared wherever I swirled the wax. I could hardly wait to get home and try them out. And like Goldilocks, I found the third bowl of porridge to be just right.
It still surprises me when art imitates life. This piece, its process and the final moment of completion, were just like spring! It seemed far away for a long, long time. And then, like magic, it was there. No fanfare, no hoopla, just a hushed arrival in the sweetest of ways.
"The Storm Brothers" - acrylic on canvas Available at Ciel Gallery. Inquiries: 704-496-9417
Over the last six months, I've been thrilled to be collaborating with the writer and artist Robert Webb. Robert is a contemporary folktale writer, and when he approached me to illustrate some of his tales, I could not resist! The stories drew me in immediately and I was hooked.
For the first time, one of our completed projects is on display at Ciel Gallery in Charlotte, NC for the "Storytellers" show. "The Storm Brothers" art and folktale will be available for live viewing through the end of February. But for the benefit of the rest of us many miles away, here is Robert's inspiring tale:
The Storm Brothers
There once was an American Indian mother who had three unruly sons. They were constantly fighting and not getting along. Most of the time they were lazy and did no chores. She was very worried that her boys would not grow up to be good men, so she prayed to the ancient animal spirits.
The wind carried her soft desperate prayers to the spirits. They heard her and chose to counsel together. They decided to teach the children a valuable life lesson. They sent the white buffalo to the village the next morning.
The buffalo approached the three boys and tapped each one on the shoulder with his horns. He told them, “Today will be the last day you are boys. At sunset, if you have not found the ability to work together, you will see what it means to be truly wild.” The white buffalo turned and walked away.
Pretending to be brave, they ignored the warning. The day came and went. They fought as usual and showed no respect to their mother. The sun dipped low into the evening and came to rest on the distant rocky ridge. Its final rays of light cast vibrantly onto the boys. They began to change. The first boy was turned into a great salmon. The next boy morphed into a huge bear. The last became a majestic eagle.
Frightened, the people of the village ran away. The mother, not bothered by these transformations, approached her sons and kissed them each on the forehead. She carried her salmon son to the river’s edge and placed him into the cold running water. “You must now go and live in the wilderness,” she said to them with tears in her eyes. She turned and walked away.
That night, the frightened brothers stayed close together. They waited through the darkness next to the river. Then, sometime in the middle of the night, the white buffalo stepped from behind a group of trees. He addressed the brothers.
“Eagle, you are now the guardian of the sky. Watch over all of your new family of fowl. See to it that they move to warmer lands when winter stretches from the north. Your eyes will be as sharp as your talons. They will be able to spot dangers from far away.”
“Bear, protect all that walks on four feet. Keep the Dark Wolf at bay. You will smell his fear reaching into the hearts of the small. He will sense your strength and stay far away. Allow him to hunt, but watch him closely. You are the guardian of the land.”
“Last, but certainly not least, Salmon you are to care for all rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. It is large and vast. Your powerful tail will allow you to swim faster than any. Your new world will have many dangers. Govern these waters so that your new kin may find their way back home each year to create new life.”
“These are your responsibilities. You must work together to bring balance and harmony to the world. If you are successful I will return you to your former selves,” the buffalo said. A bright light flashed around him, and then he was gone.
The brothers set out to fulfill each task. Each worked hard and created many stories to tell. After a long while, the white buffalo saw the good they did and offered to change the boys back as they were before. Surprisingly they refused the offer. They loved their new roles in the world. This made the animal spirits happy and their mother proud.
From time to time, they would see each other. They would celebrate as in the old days by wrestling as they had when they were young boys. Thus the great storms were created. Bear’s giant paws slapped at the water making a thunderous sound and sending water high into the air. Eagle’s wings stirred up tremendous winds that carried the spray across the land. Salmon leaped from his river high into the sky, flashing his bright beautiful scales.
Then the brothers would rest, knowing that their mother had loved them so.
"Under The Wire" (series of three) - mixed media on cradled hardboard, each 12" x 12". Ready for hanging.
It is four days post 30-day challenge, and somehow I managed to make three paintings! In this case, I worked on them all together as one piece instead of as separate paintings. It was luxurious to have many days to experiment, pause, reflect, revise, revisit and experiment again.
This series was inspired by a lone telephone pole in a landscape photo. Normally, signs of modern times in a rural landscape image make me wince - I want either pure pasture or urban clutter, not a mixture. In this case, however, the telephone pole was a dark figure in an otherwise light image, a bit haunting and ominous. It captured me.
So I began making these dark marks on the hardboard with charcoal, a line of telephone poles over a distant landscape. The marks themselves felt powerful and significant. There are many, many layers of paint and charcoal and ephemera and ink on each of these pieces. With each new layer, I re-marked portions of the dark figures.
After sitting with these markings for the last few days, I figured them out.
"Under the Wire" (barely, just within the limit, just in time)... how the days can feel when there are pressures, deadlines, unexpected quandaries, traffic jams, medical issues, you name it. And at the end of those days, when we've made it through, how remarkable it feels to have gotten there in one piece, still smiling, grateful for a soft landing. The "wire" is there in our daily landscape, and we race to slide ourselves underneath it by day's end.
But the wire is not the largest part of our daily landscape - it is everything underneath it. And the markings are a symbol to remind me not to overly focus on the dark figure in the picture. Its presence is obvious. It is a reminder to turn my gaze to the rest of the image and enjoy its pastural calm.
This series is available. Contact Jen at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jen Walls and her imaJENation