"Selah" - mixed media on aquabord, 18" x 24". Ready to frame, or can be leaned against a wall on a shelf. Available on Artfinder.
It was a week of scrubbing away.
Scrubbing away the dog slobber and paw prints on the floor. Scrubbing away the mud on the back porch. Scrubbing away the paint layers in the utility sink. And scrubbing away on this painting, until there was just enough left.
It is an abstract approach that calls to me. Building up layers, scrubbing away. Adding more layers, sanding down. Throwing on more paint, polishing away with a soft cloth. It feels like life on a canvas...how things in our lives are worn away, polished smooth until the rough edges and firm boundaries are gone. Sea glass. Tumbled stone. The soft leather of an old chair. The perfectly faded, softly rounded fit of old jeans. Worn away until what remains is exactly right.
Sometimes I get a heightened sense of this in my own life. The wearing away of rough edges. The softening of bones and skin. The fading of hair and eye color. The fuzzy, worn memories and elusive words and phrases. Yet what remains is all I need. The rest was superfluous. I wish I could say I feel lighter with the wearing away of things. Instead I feel (and literally am) more weighty. Perhaps because each remaining bit is meaningful and cherished.
Here's what I've been listening to in the studio this weekend. Selah, by Emeli Sande. And the Gestalt A Capella version from their new album, Beyond the Archetype, which is now available on Spotify. (shameless plug from a very proud mama)
Breast cancer? Yes, it is breast cancer awareness month. Which happens to coincide with my annual mammogram. This way I won't ever forget to have one. Just like our wedding anniversary is on Valentine's Day, which I believe was designed just so people won't forget when they got hitched. :)
I was pondering this annual ritual as I sat in the waiting room. Every year, sitting here. Wondering if I have cancer. This isn't something I would normally even contemplate. But on this day, every year, because I sit here, I wonder. It is an excruciating emotional exercise. Especially if your mom died from breast cancer. I sit here wondering what I would do, what treatments I would choose, whether or not I would bother with reconstruction, with a tattoo'd replacement nipple, if I would have any sensation remaining. If I would be alive to know it.
The results arrived in 24 hours. I don't have cancer. This time. But many do and have.
One of them, for which the first painting is named, is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, the exuberant joy of being ALIVE and the determination to choose a vibrant existence surrounded by positive people. She exudes ferocity. And her hair is a gorgeous mane. It isn't flowers, but it could be. And isn't it perfect that she is painted on reclaimed wood from Hurricane Irma - something strong surviving a tempest.
The second painting is a completion from the recent demo. This one a little contemplative and studious. She has a story, but she hasn't whispered it to me yet. Did she tell you?
"Lady Elaine" - mixed media on aquabord, 16" x 20". Ready to frame, or can be leaned against the wall on a shelf. Available on Artfinder.
"Lavish Grace" - mixed media on cradled hardwood, 16" x 20". Ready to hang. Available on Artfinder.
A two-fer Monday in the studio after a weekend spent holed up with paints and pooch. There is incredible joy and freedom in unscheduled hours stretching ahead and behind, freeing my mind for wandering instead of worrying about the time.
"Lady Elaine" is the next finished piece from last week's whimsical demo. This one pulls at my heartstrings...her wistful look, her space-bun hair, that slight frown. She is misunderstood, this one. Much like the song which inspired the title of this piece. "Lay Lady Lay" by Bob Dylan is often misheard as "Lady Elaine", including in my own head for several decades. It doesn't matter how many times I correct the lyric in my mind. I still hear it the wrong way.
The second piece, "Lavish Grace", was inspired by a quote from another book. This one from Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle (recommended to me by a fabulous local artist) in the chapter Cosmos from Chaos.
The artist, if he is not to forget how to listen, must retain the vision which includes angels and dragons and unicorns and all the lovely creatures which our world would put in a box marked Children Only.
Indeed. This quote, an email conversation about the magical power of fairies and unlimited painting time brought an angelic girl named Grace to the studio. Her dress is rice paper over printed paper. Her wings are acrylic paint over water-based inks. The background is white gesso mixed with acrylic over a gold gesso underpainting. Richness and simplicity all in one sweet face. The studio has been much calmer since she arrived. I suppose the menagerie feels her quiet sweetness and decided to tone it down a notch.
And now, start your Monday with a little Dylan, complete with the satisfying crackle of vinyl.
"Susan Celebrates" - mixed media on aquabord, 16" x 20". Ready to frame, or can be leaned upon a shelf. Available on Artfinder.
Can you feel it? Or maybe the lack of it? Less humidity, more breeze, and tantalizing almost coolness in the early morning. Fall in Florida. When we trade in our sandals for...more sandals, but maybe with capris (or "half-pants", as my husband calls them) instead of shorts. Yesterday, I actually went outside in the middle of the day and didn't absolutely die from the heat. Fall is here.
It's another demo week, where my dog and pony show whipped up a series of mixed media pieces to entertain and educate. There is a heap load of preparation for these events, but I am always so delighted by the time it's done - a batch of paintings nearly completed, a bunch of laughter enjoyed and new faces in this ever-expanding art tribe.
This time I learned something interesting from a man who noticed my left-handedness. He approached me afterward to chat about a book called Sinister Tennis, which was about the strategies used with left-handed tennis players. Of course I was intrigued to find out the origin of the word sinister means left-handed. Hmmmmm, sinister malarkey, anyone? Maybe I can add the word sinister to my self-described traits? Can I get a sinister notebook, please? sinister scissors? My sweet guy turns the vitamix handle to the left in the morning if he uses it before me (bullet coffee is a must!)...shall I thank him for making it sinister?
In case you were wondering, the girl in this painting, Susan Celebrates, is left-handed as well. And now I will think of her fondly as Sinister Sue. Which, according to this article in The New Yorker, might actually make her smarter than all the other characters in the studio...just saying.
"Our Place in the Mystery" - mixed media on Canson art board, 16" x 20". Available on Artfinder.
It's been a long time since there was a baby in the house. Twenty years, to be exact. And ok, a five-year-old Great Dane is not actually a baby. But we took some time last week to bond with our new boy, to take extra walks, give extra snuggles and to perfect our drool clean-up routine.
By the end of the week, Pongo was at home sprawled across the studio floor, which gave me a little time with the paint and with the process of abstraction.
Creating an abstract is a lot like learning to communicate with a large dog. There is a lot of listening and observing to learn the language. Abstracts do not like to be told what to do, any more than a dog who is determined to play fetch with his rubber pig. Both want you to play, and not to be on the phone or sweeping the floor or watching t.v. or looking in the cupboard for salty snacks. Abstracts are very uncooperative when you try to make them conform to a pre-conceived notion of organized chaos. Dogs are the same. They do not want to sit when a squirrel is in the yard or ear drops need to be administered.
In this week's chapter of Nepo's Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, there is a phrase he used - there is no lesson plan for living but to live. - this landed squarely in my lap like a drool-covered toy. This moment, this paint moving under my fingers across the board, this fur-baby galloping through the house like a huge goof-ball - our place in the mystery is right here, in these moments, savoring its simplicity.
"Nightmare After Hamster-Wheeled Stress Thinking" - mixed media on watercolor paper, 30" x 22". Inquiries.
It's October - that time of the year when we are free to explore all things frightening, or to (for one night) become scary monsters and creepy ghouls ourselves. So it just makes sense to have a scary painting challenge, right? But you know me...I can't just choose a scary vignette and paint it. I have to explore what terror feels like to me and let the painting do a little talking during the process. This one was quite a surprise!
It began as a what seemed to be three floating skeleton heads in a sea of color, but somewhere along the layers this screaming person in her pajamas and night cap appeared, and she happened to be chased by a floating skeleton head, who seemed poised to CHOMP at any moment! WHAT? Ok, ok. We have to dissect this, right?
Apparently I am afraid of insomnia. Probably because it happens a lot. I know, I'm at "that age" where sleep can't be taken for granted anymore. Sometimes the thought wheels are spinning in the middle of the night. Mark Nepo wrote an exquisite chapter about fear in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen. He called it "Raven Talk", and describes perfectly the grip of spiraling thoughts: "I was already drowning in what-ifs, and the fear began to circle like a raven gliding near my heart, waiting for an opening to tear its piece...I am stuck in its dark wing. I cry out to no one." It never fails to stun me how stress thoughts can amplify in the dark of night, taking on strength and mass and becoming monsters. Nepo goes on: "So now I'm up again in the night trying to shoo the dark bird of fear."
Once I finally drift off, dreams drag the thought ravens into my sleep world in bits and pieces, turning them into houses without exit doors and never-ending hallways. But when I wake, except for a brief sound of wings carrying away the last of the dreams, the worries have been swept away. Nepo calls this "dreaming the fear from our hearts".
So as I contemplate this frightened character and her nightmare, I consider one more Nepo-ism: "The things that frighten us just want to be held." With that one sentence, the monsters are rendered small and in need of comfort, and the raven just a bird on a tree limb.
"All That Remained" - mixed media on yupo, 26" x 20". Inquiries.
I last wrote about listening. Deep listening at the edge of the cliff. This post is about one of the things I've been listening to. It's both personal and societal. But it isn't an easy conversation. So if you want to skip this one, I get it. If you want to read on anyway, thank you from deep within my heart.
Recently I ran head-first into a Facebook post that asked one question: why do white people hate black people? It tossed me into a tailspin for days. The writer is a prominent local artist, and one I happen to admire. So I decided to listen. He was gracious enough to take the time to personally answer my questions, speak his heart and educate me on his perspective. This lead me to probe more deeply into why I stumbled over my words when talking about this issue. After all, my husband and son and bonus boys are black. I've basically had a private tutor on race for the last two decades. But I haven't felt confident that I understand the issue well enough to speak without causing more misunderstanding.
And then I tripped over an article about Jane Elliott. You might remember her - the woman who pioneered the "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise" decades ago. On her website, she has a tab labeled Learning Materials. I thought these might be something sweet and helpful on the topic, but instead, Typical Statements and Clarification to Typical Statements slapped me in the face and woke me up.
More thinking at the edge of the cliff. Which had me asking myself what can I do with my white privilege that will help solve instead of perpetuate the problem in our country? This will be a question I ask myself often, as there are new opportunities each day. But one thing that came to mind immediately was to use what I have to amplify the voices of the minority.
Ok, that's all well and good, but whose voice and how? The universe heard my question and sent me an answer the next day when my son sent me a poem he wrote. I cried. I am still crying. It is based on something that happened when he was three - in a loving, unbiased mixed-race home.
you were three
when your mother
saw you trying to scrub the skin your father gave you
off in the sink
trying to sand the pigment from your forearms
until the raw-dust dampened and clogged
until all that remained was porcelain.
grating your arms until you were white enough
until you hit bone.
This poem dragged me to the edge of the cliff and hung me over the edge, wind whistling through. Even the youngest, most loved of children in the best of environments can feel what society is telling them. My son gave me permission to share this with you.
There isn't time nor space in this small arena of blogosphere to say all that needs to be said. But perhaps, just maybe, this little platform and the heart-felt words of one man can cause a trickle of thoughts and conversations. And if everyone is thinking and talking with open hearts, we can change this thing.
"Merle and Melanie", mixed media on aquabord, 16" x 20". Ready to frame, or can be leaned upon a shelf. Available on Artfinder.
Here is the final finished piece from the mixed media cooking show demo last week. Such a sweet-souled pair! They are making the studio feel a lot calmer...plus the crazy cats are now on display in a gallery, so there's a lot less malarkey for the moment.
I've been taking some time to pause and reflect this week. Everything in the world is overwhelming, and my instinct is to withdraw and hide under the covers. But I picked up Seven Thousand Ways To Listen again, and guess what? The next chapter is called "In the Hut We Call Self." WHAT? The universe is smacking me in the head.
This line..."I've been listening way inside, where the Universe rushes through me like wind through a hole in an old door in a hut near the edge of a cliff." Whoa. That's what listening feels like when the world is in chaos. It goes on..."life like a storm can rough up our hearts" and "I can only say that my heart and eyes and mind keep being worn open." Ack. For all of us, our hearts and eyes and minds are being worn open over and over again.
But I learned something while listening deep inside. These times when I most want to hide away are the very times to step out. When I am most unwilling to speak is the time to talk. And when the conversation seems too overwhelming it is time to have it. This listening is prompting me to make some changes - things long past due, but I was busy hiding from the decisions, averting my eyes and pretending I didn't see or feel or know.
The universe meets us when we step out. As soon as I began to listen and to act, a whirlwind of wonder began to surround me, and delightful surprises appeared here and there until I wasn't afraid (or worried, or hesitant) anymore. This gives me such hope. If we all stand near the edge of the cliff and listen - if we all step out, speak and have the conversations the world needs to have in order to heal, great things can happen. Change can take place. Divides can be crossed. And if you allow me a momentary burst of sappiness...we can make the world a better place for you and me.
"Fat Cat" and "Tiny Trouble" - acrylic on reclaimed wood. Ready to hang (backs are wired for hanging). Available at Clay Glass Metal Stone Gallery during the Cat-O-Strophic Event opening this Friday.
So what's a girl to do once 30 paintings in 30 days is over? Keep painting, of course! The momentum is rolling and the "season" here in Florida (when snowbirds and tourists return to the land of sunshine and sand) has just begun. Next up, a new show in Lake Worth featuring cats.
I am not much of a cat person, despite being a big cat (Leo) myself. There have been plenty of sweet kitties in my life in the past, but I some point I morphed into a dog person. Maybe it's because I like it when my animals follow me around with worshipful eyes, and all my cats ever did was ignore me and then demand canned tuna. Plus they wouldn't let me dress them up for holidays.
But for those of you who feel an affinity with the felines, what might that mean?
If the cat is your spirit animal, he is an excellent helper when you need courage to handle problems that have been hanging around for awhile. He has an exquisite sense of timing, so every action will be efficiently perfect. If the cat is your totem, your strength is patience, the ability to watch and wait, and then to act when the time is right. (This is SO not me...patience is not in my daily vocabulary!) You're also flexible...not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Able to adapt to changing circumstances instinctively.
Of course, cat lovers are also independent, free thinkers. You might be more energetic at night. And you also might become easily bored, moving from one interesting activity to the next. Your friends had better keep you entertained if they want to keep you around. :)
Cats are mysterious...some traditions hold they are in constant communication with the spirit world. When a cat comes into your life, someone (or something) has a message for you! And the cat is said to be a calming energy, neutralizing the stress of humans when held in the lap. Perhaps in this crazy modern world, everyone should have a lap cat?
Jen Walls and her imaJENation