"I Believe I Can Fly" - mixed media on cradled wood, 12" x 12". Framed in matte black. Making its public debut at Ciel Gallery on June 2.
It's ROAD TRIP WEEK! Heading to the Queen City on Wednesday for The Wisdom of Wild Things opening reception and a WILD CHILD workshop! It is a symbolic trip for me. Two years ago in June, I was in a featured show at the same gallery, after which we packed up our house and moved to Florida. So it's an anniversary and a full-circle journey all in one. There is so much (and so many people) to love in Charlotte - I know this trip will turn me into a whirling dervish before it is over.
Art shows are like theater productions. The planning begins more than a year in advance with reserving the venue and the date. Then nothing happens for a long time, until someone decides to figure out what the theme is. "Um, what exactly are we doing?" one artist might inquire. "I don't have a clue, but I've been painting a lot of animals lately," another might say. "What will you feel like painting next year?" is the real question, because the work isn't even created until the month before, generally. It's like being a fortune teller, only without any crystal ball or elaborate headscarf. Sometime nearer the opening date, press releases are written, signs and banners ordered, advance tasks organized and, oh yeah, people begin to paint (or sculpt, or weld, in the case of one of our featured artists) in a flurry of last minute press toward the finish line.
In the week leading up to the opening, the prior month's show is taken down, walls patched and painted, floors swept and mopped. Labels are printed, wine is purchased and the art, finally, appears together in one space for the first time. In this case, four artists who will work until their brains burst to curate about 70 pieces in some way that makes it look effortless. Whew!
When the big night arrives, it is sort of like having a baby....a year of anticipation, planning and some pain and discomfort (and possible weight gain, if you stress eat like we do). Then the doors open and WOW! The "baby" is beautiful and perfect and we fall in love with the end result, forgetting, for a moment, all the work, PANIC, tears, frustration, confusion, exasperation and sleepless nights that culminated in a glorious one night event.
If we have done our jobs well, the audience will connect deeply with our creations and applaud our efforts with red dots on the wall...those tiny symbols of validation and encouragement, and, well, food on the table and bills paid! I can't name a single artist who isn't standing on the edge of self-destruction until the first red dot appears. Watch us closely on opening night...the sweat beading on our brows, the nails being nibbled, the eyes darting back and forth - until the first red dot. Then we are transformed into glamorous, relaxed, conversational geniuses (oh wait...that could be the wine talking). But seriously red dots tell the artists to do it again, keep doing it and never give up - the gallery equivalent of a standing ovation.
In the meantime, I'm packing extra deodorant and talking myself off the edge of the terrible tower of panic.
The Wisdom of Wild Things - opening reception June 2 from 6-9 pm at Ciel Gallery. Includes the work of Teresa Hollmeyer, Amy Hart, Caroline C. Brown and Jen Walls. Show runs through June 30th.
"I Am More Than The Sum Of My Geometry" - mixed media on canvas, 24 x 18. Framed matte black. Available on Artfinder.
During the Unleashed event last week, I was asked which part of my body I most loved. My initial response was hands, because they both create things and do work. Then shoulders, because they don't age like all the other parts and because they are symbolic of how much I have carried on them and survived in my life. But I keep contemplating the question, and find myself, after Unleashed, discovering each part to be a favorite in one way or another. Something I would not have done before.
I've been paying more attention to the things we verbalize about our bodies. There are a lot of negative comments, a lot of humor, but very few, ok NO women around me in the last week have said something nice about their own bodies or any part of them.
So I polled a few men about their thoughts on body image. They all found themselves to be robust, super attractive, healthy and sexy people with no self-consciousness whatsoever. And a couple of these guys were members of A.A.R.P. Now a few people is not a scientific survey by any means, but I guarantee the same number of women would not have this response at all. Hmmmmm.
I am determined to think differently about my own body, and to take the time to verbalize to other women how truly beautiful, strong, sexy and resilient they are. Women can be hard on each other and themselves...I hear it, I cannot ignore it. If we are what we think, then it is time to think the things we want to be and not something less than. The human body is a miracle every day, our sensory experience of the world, a house for our spirits and a haven for our minds. Our sanctuary and our army. Our artist and our laborer.
This piece is for you, sweet ladies! We are much more than the sum of our geometry....but geometry can be a beautiful badass, too. Would love to hear from you...favorite body part?
"Drumbeat" - mixed media on masonite, 16" x 12". Sold.
Last Friday, I had a great adventure in creativity - this time building a Native American hand drum (or CANCEGA) from poplar, elk hide and sinew. There is nothing easy about building a drum. Piercing the hide, stretching the hide lacing, creating the lacing pattern, binding with sinew...my hands and shoulders felt like blocks of aching cement all weekend afterward. But the process is mystical and awe-inspiring. The hide and lacings are kept wet until ready to use. With good reason, as we could see it drying on the drum frame as we threaded the lacing and pulled it tight. Our instructor, Rick McBride, was patient and encouraging, even as some of us (ok, it was me) had to unlace and re-lace after messing up the over-over-under-under pattern.
Rick brought reverence and awe to the process, as he explained the personal nature of drums. Intended for ceremonial use, the finished drums will not be played by anyone other than their creator, and will be "awoken" in a sacred ceremony after they are dry. In the meantime, we were instructed to keep our hands off of them for at least five days. I can tell you, that's going to be tough. Even now, I hear my drum calling me...
"Bontebok Kintsugi" - mixed media on reclaimed wood, 24" x 24". Making its public debut at Ciel Gallery in June. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A rare Thursday blog post to satisfy a couple of curious readers in Philly, who might just be desperate to know what I did yesterday. (You know who you are! Yes, I am pointing at you!)
At 4:30 yesterday afternoon, I entered a studio in FAT Village and began the process of becoming UNLEASHED. Part of a project by artist Melissa Vlahos, I joined the ranks of the soon to be 108 women who boldly dropped their armor (and their clothing - yep, every last stitch) and learned to love their own bodies.
Melissa is a gentle spirit, sweet and light. She began this project after realizing her own body-consciousness while visiting a nude beach in Greece, and became determined to help women overcome body insecurities and reconnect with the gratitude, joy, pride, sexiness, spirit and love of their own bodies. And just walking into her studio, knowing I was about to bare it all in front of a camera, and then paint my emotions on my body canvas, I was certainly feeling apprehensive and insecure. And, ok, scared!
Two hours and a heap load of paint later, I emerged. More colorful, sure, but lighter. So much inner body baggage was released in that special studio space. And I had a boatload of profundities to contemplate. Including a deep appreciation of the strength, beauty and spirit of the body that has housed me for nearly 55 years, born children, suffered burdens and loss, illness, surgery, accidents...but also housed laughter, joy, excitement, delight and sweet serenity. Through a guided meditation before the painting, Melissa helped me uncover a deep thread of continuity - halcyon memories and experiences that filled my heart and thrilled my being.
The experience left me in tears. Good tears - tears of relief, of realization, of release. What began as a dare to myself to overcome my fear of public nudity became instead a reunion with long lost appreciation for how beautiful a human body can be - especially my own. And a determination that my own body will no longer be a recipient of my negative thoughts and insecurities, but a revered temple of goodness and light.
One photo of me will, at the end of this project, join the nude photos of 107 other brave women in a large art installation. In the meantime, here are before and after pics for your enjoyment.
If you are curious about the Unleashed Project, or are ready to take the plunge and become UNLEASHED yourself, click here.
If you are curious about Bontebok Kintsugi and its story, check out The Wisdom of Wild Things exhibit opening June 2 at Ciel Gallery in Charlotte, NC.
"Emmett & Padma" - mixed media on reclaimed wood, 24 x 24. Ready to hang. Making its public debut at Ciel Gallery in June. Inquiries: email@example.com.
Why is it we are challenged as humans to discuss the obvious? We dance around dysfunction with grace and agility, avoiding topics which are uncomfortable but clearly need addressing. Thus the old adage of "the elephant in the room." The elephant, it seems, makes us seek our comfort rituals and avoidance tactics with precision. Even writing these words feels uncomfortable - like I might be stirring up trouble by bringing up the topic even in the most generic of terms.
Truth matters to me. It is something I value highly - maybe too much so. There is nothing like a well-placed fib to preserve someone's dignity or to avoid unnecessary hurt feelings. Elephant dancing, it seems, is a high art form, requiring a delicate sense of timing and a light step. Because a wrongly-placed fib does more damage than a truth.
And then there the stories we tell ourselves. My inner monologue can be rather unkind, and is often untrue. If we dissect the things we tell ourselves about ourselves, we find most of it is just not the case at all. What's with that? And we believe our own bull hockey. We believe our own self-lies with the same tenacity we use to mis-trust what others tell us. Hmmmmm.
Sometimes it is helpful to bust through all the elephant dancing with an heroic sprint, like football players through a GO TEAM sign before a game (and that is likely the only sports metaphor you will ever read here! ha ha!) This afternoon, I hope to bust through my own inner misconceptions and layers of cow patties in an act so BOLD that I shudder at the thought! Have I got you wondering yet?
In the meantime, enjoy Padma, who has decided to climb aboard the elephant, a sweet boy named Emmett, and stare down anyone who dares deny his existence. She is my kind of girl. :)
When the Wizard of Oz admonished Dorothy and her traveling companions to ignore the man Toto revealed behind the curtain, were you, just for a moment, saddened by the loss of magic? A turning point in the story, like Little Red Riding Hood crossing the threshold into her grandmother's house, when the characters learn something that launches them into the world of grown-ups and removes the veil from their enchanted eyes.
Art can be like that. Sometimes I really don't want to know how a painting was made. I just wanted to be dazzled by the result and chalk it up to magic wands and pixie dust. Other times, knowing who is pushing the buttons and how is necessary to moving forward, as it was for Dorothy. This week I received a reader request: Dotty wants to know what my process is for using reclaimed wood as a substrate. So let's invite Toto to today's blog party and pull back the curtain on reclaimed wood...(drum roll please!)
"Yertle, Myrtle and Bob" - acrylic on reclaimed wood, 24" x 24". Ready to hang. Making its public debut at Ciel Gallery in June. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a bonafide klutz. As graceful as a mastodon, as elegant as a toad. I once took out the light fixture and signage at hardware store checkout while returning a set of blinds. I have tripped over the mere thought of my own feet, without the actual feet. The older I get, the more I have a real sense for when I am going to have a clumsy day. Monday was one of them. I was awkward from the moment I woke up, so I gave myself a little talk about being extra careful out in the world. And I went out in the world safely and came home intact. Until I punctured my finger with a screwdriver in an art hardware accident that left me faint with pain, on my back with my legs elevated trying not to pass out while I stopped the bleeding.
So when I reached the last chapter in Rutenberg's Clear Seeing Place, I chuckled at the title: Feel Your Own Pain. Ha! Does Brian Rutenberg have a hidden camera in my studio? The universe, it seems, has a weird sense of humor.
I am, of course, painting anyway. Bandaged finger held aloft like a high tea pinky (except it is my middle finger, so it isn't quite as charming) I am bound and determined to keep at it. Rutenberg's words echo in my mind even as Prince dances out of my wireless speakers in the studio: "If you reach one person, then you've made the earth a better place. Don't be afraid to make bad paintings. Die a little death now and then; you'll be okay." Death by errant screwdriver was not what he meant, I suspect.
This piece, including Bob (the turtle on the bottom of the stack), was painted over the weekend. 90% of it was painted with my own hands - no brushes, scrapers or paper towels. In hindsight, perhaps that was a bit of foreshadowing, as holding the brush now is quite challenging. But being part of an awkward reptilian monkey pile seems quite appropriate for the day, and if Bob can keep his sense of humor, so can I.
"Fiddlesticks" - mixed media on reclaimed wood, 24" x 24". Ready to hang. Making its public debut in June at Ciel Gallery. Inquiries: email@example.com
When are Monday's the best day of the week? When they follow a weekend of yard-work and dumpster diving! Ahhhh. The bliss of screaming muscles and newly planted tangelo trees and agave plants, covered in the loamy aroma of fresh mulch. It will be all I can do to lift my arms today. But I have a garage full of salvaged wood to paint and half of our latest yard project done, so I've earned every ache.
I've missed yard-work. Now, before you go off thinking I'm a loony, know that I've been a yard-worker since I was a wee one when dad made us haul rocks up from the creek through the woods and into our yard. Ever thrifty, he used child labor to provide pavers and stone walls for the garden. You'd think the experience would have ruined gardening for me, but instead it ingrained hard outdoor work deeply in to the fiber of my being. I have hauled rocks and mulch and turned over soil ever since.
Until the accident last July. Physicality is now something to be carefully planned, knowing I've got a short window of strength and a long recovery time afterward. So now it is precious - not to be squandered, this body and its frail bones.
I am slowly coming to the end of Clear Seeing Place - dragging my feet on completing it because I don't want it to be done. In the chapter called Show Business Gutenberg compares paintings to hookers, doing their jobs up close, one customer at a time...can you stand it? He is right, of course. Seeing art is a solitary experience, and the painting must entice, caress, or firmly grab (depending on the customer). I am going to give the gaggle of queens in my studio a lecture on safe sex.
This piece emerged from a large piece of stained and battered reclaimed wood. My aching muscles wanted someone to carry me around, so who better than an awkward giraffe? The trouble began when he wanted to enter the house. That's another story entirely. :)
"Rufus" - acrylic on cradled wood, framed in black. Making his public debut at The Wisdom of Wild Things exhibit in June at Ciel Gallery, Charlotte, NC. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday has gone to the birds. My husband took one look at this piece and said "that's one funky chicken!" He then suggested I name him "Rufus", after the musician who is known for the song. I said "what???" and then this happened...
DO THE FUNKY CHICKEN
Y'all come on in now
Come right on down front
I got something I want to show you
Now y'all heard of the Popcorn
Y'all heard of the Dog
You heard about all your other dances
But now there's a brand new dance
That's going around
I want to show you exactly what I'm talking about
I'm talking about the funky chicken, y'all ready?
You raise the left arm up
And your right arm too
Let me tell you just what to do
Start both of 'em to flapping
You start your feet to kicking
That's when you know
You doin' the funky chicken
Ok, now I KNOW you want to see this (and maybe hear it, too?) so below is your Wednesday diversion, guaranteed to prevent you from getting anything done, courtesy of Rufus Thomas. (and if you find yourself flapping your arms and humming this song today, best get out your bell-bottom jeans and platform shoes and really do it RIGHT!)
"Fowl Play" (16 x 16), "Bird Circus" (12 x 12) and "Balancing Act" (16 x 16) each mixed media on cradled board, ready to hang. Available on Artfinder.
A trifecta of malarkey to start your week! These quirky girls and their rambunctious feathered friends were inspired by early morning journal drawings and the feeling of juggling many priorities at once. Perhaps even priority juggling can be whimsical fun???
After a weekend of workshops, art extravaganzas, deadlines and another outdoor festival, I felt my inner whiner beginning to, well, whine. "It's too hard", "It's so much work" and "I want a nap." Even good stress is stress! But then I picked up Clear Seeing Place and read the chapter titled Let It Kill You. Two pages of AHA and QUIT YOUR WHINING were all I needed to get my attitude straightened out and get back on the horse. Thank you, Brian Rutenberg, for slapping me in the face.
Painting is a living, breathing thing, and, like all living things, it has to be fed. It demands constant attention and sacrifice. That's why it's called a discipline...find out what you love to do and let it kill you. Whoa. Yep, so that's why I am painting at 5 am before my eyes are actually open. I do love to do this. An artist is willing to work harder than anyone in the room at stuff no one else cares about..." Yep. Tweaking, adjusting, painting over, mulling, pondering, scraping, contemplating, cleaning. When it's just right, I can rest. ...what often passes for artistic merit is just an insensible set of priorities. The next time you hear an artist referred to as "critically acclaimed," substitute "colossally lucky and tragically lonely." Oy vey! An insensible set of priorities - maybe to the rest of the world, but here in the studio, even bird-balancing girls need to be just right.
One thing I disagree with...there is no loneliness in my studio. I am surrounded by these characters and emotion-infused canvases of color. It is a magpie gathering in here. The only way to truly be alone is to walk out and close the door...nah. I think I'll stay. :)
Jen Walls and her imaJENation