Day Ten A collage of my United States of America
original art courtesy and copyright of Homare Ikeda 2014
This we have now is not imagination. This is not grief or joy. Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness. Those come and go. This is the presence that doesn’t. – RUMI, 12th century poet
You have heard me refer to Homare Ikeda in my blog many times (See my Archives) – my esteemed instructor for Advanced Contemporary Painting at Art Students League, Denver. Friday night was his most recent opening titled REVISIT at Wm. Havu Gallery, www.williamhavugallery.com in downtown Denver. The stories told in his paintings are more than magical – they are transcendent. It is not unusual for him to work on a painting for years – sometimes as long as 18 years – revisiting it from time to time, enhancing, subtracting, building layer upon layer in order to evolve the image through the years of its life. These incarnations of art reveal stories of each particular time and place the painting is revisited. That is why and how his art lives, breathes and grows, revealing a language of intricate symbols expressed in whimsical playfulness that provide the artist with a means of conversation, and the art becomes a dialogue between the artist and the paint. How fortunate we are to be offered a glimpse of this personal communication.
Before – Almost the very beginning of the YLC, and the NOW version
My esteemed art instructor, Homare Ikeda of the Denver Art Students League, said a startling thing one afternoon as we all gathered around to hear his thoughts. He said something so obvious that it took my breath away. Without quoting his exact words, but close, he said that every painting that you will ever do is already inside of you. You just need to find it, to get to it, and reveal it to the world. Sort of the same idea as when Michelangelo said that when he sculpted he was just chipping away the outside marble to find the angel inside. If you believe all that, as I most assuredly do, then creating is a search, digging deep to find the essence.
One of the most effective exercises you can perform, as an artist or writer or general creator of things is to walk away from your current work in progress and leave it alone for a while. Forget about it. Take a vaca. Dwell on other things. Stop the momentum and rest. Whether this is done in frustration from being “stuck” or just because you are getting weary and your miserable self needs refreshing, it is almost always a beneficial thing to do. Don’t do it when you are “in flow” and hot on the trail of something big, of course. Do it when things get a little rough around the edges and you are feeling battle fatigue, and your search for the essence is difficult.
Of course this is the basic principle behind the Year Long Canvas project which I am only 6 months into at his point. It is a forced exercise in walking away and calming things down so that you can walk back into it and “see it again for the first time.” That “seeing” is supposed to reveal what should be done next. Sometimes an instantaneous action comes to me – other times it takes a bit of study to discover what action would be an enhancement – because of course enhancing the painting is what I am supposed to do. I don’t want to do something to it that bombs it right back into the artistic stone ages. This painting that has become such a weird part of my life. This painting that I sort of love at times, like right now, but that I may hate on some other day. This painting that haunts my thoughts. This part of me, slowly being uncovered from deep inside.
The final version of the YLC is absolutely inside me waiting to be revealed. My challenge is to coincide the finding of it with the end of its year. That seems a bit forced to me – what if I find its final version long before that day comes? Maybe the one year birthday of this painting will happen sooner, as much a contradiction as that is. Will I have the courage to refuse to go on, taking control of its destiny and making the decision to stop? Is that Good Karma or Bad? What would the art Buddha say?
Denver Botanic Gardens Chihuly Glass Exhibit, last week – http://www.chihuly.com and www.botanicgardens.org
It is almost the 4th of July and for me that sort of means that the summer is half over. For others it means that the summer is officially rolling along, at its very height of enjoyment. No, I have nothing new to report about the YLC – the Year Long Canvas – but I have a terrific quote from a gifted and successful artist friend of mine named Jane Jones, sent to me as a comment about my previous blog. Jane teaches at the Denver Art Students League – http://www.asld.org – and she paints like an Old Master, so she knows whereof she speaks. Plus she is wise, funny as hell and inspiring with her witticisms about life – she doesn’t allow much to slow her down.
Visit her beautiful, floral still-life art at http://www.janejonesartist.com
“I have some paintings that took a year….one month to paint, and 11 months in time out! And then about 10 minutes to finish them. Just because you aren’t painting on it, doesn’t mean you aren’t “working” on it! I’m working on about 5 paintings and haven’t picked up a brush yet! But the process will show when I get them started…and a couple might not ever get started…but they got worked on to their completion before I ever spent anything but time on them….now is that efficient or what!”
Yes I have done that too, but hearing it from another person who understands the process carries much more clout. She is person to whom I really listen.
A painting is first and foremost, at its very conception, an ambiguous, indistinct creative vision that ebbs and flows, blurs and clears, adds and subtracts, changes color, alters composition, thrills and disappoints, darting in and out of your consciousness as it slowly wakes you up with its possibility ( but sometimes its vision comes in a lightening-fast flash – as in a CREATIVE EPIPHANY – explained further in my book).
This vision incubates in your mind. It cooks. It simmers. It brews. The amount of time that this pre-painting process takes is purely individual. On a good day, I can do all that in an afternoon if I am in the flow. Or it might take months before you or I dare to pick up a brush or a palette knife and attempt to capture on canvas or paper whatever it is that we have been birthing. I KNOW – I am mixing my metaphors here – but it is a both a birthing process and a cooking of sorts, to me anyway. Creativity is like that – all things to all people is what it is. Every single person who is creative has his/her own unique foreplay – their own ritual of preparation before or after conception. It is a “dance by the light of the moon” kind of thing – mysterious, magical and sensual. That is what defines the concept for me.
If the painting is a good one, it matters not how long you spent on the incubation or the birthing of the painting. The fast and furious work is often better and more free-spirited than the one you labored over for weeks or months – that is why I am having such a “thing” about the YLC – I am accustomed to working fast, filling the room with the inspired energy I feel and flying by the seat of my pants without over-thinking and over-analyzing and yes, even over-agonizing about each stroke. This YLC is counter-intuitive for me – but then perhaps that is one of the lessons to be learned from it.
Now I must go and watch the USA play Belgium in the World Cup while the back of my mind mulls over the next new painting I am going to start later today. I can do both, you see, and then find even more answers and ideas in a dream when I go to sleep tonight – because it is always there, this creativity thing, 24/7 every single minute all the time. It is the gift that keeps on giving, right Jane?
BOOK – The Creative Epiphany – Gifted Minds, Grand Realizations by Jo Ann Brown-Scott
Denver Art Student’s League – the building, a classroom, the floor – March 17th, 2014
In review – My esteemed instructor for Advanced Contemporary Painting, Homare Ikeda, has offered me a challenge – to work on a painting for a solid year. Certainly not at the exclusion of other work but parallel with all my other works. The canvas, we have decided, need not be larger than 30×40″ and could in fact be a bit smaller. The task, which of course I accepted, is more about the 365-day journey than the destination – more about having patience and resilience than the amount of time required – more about trusting yourself with the addition of each and every gesture than in asking for constant direction from the instructor. For a person like me who usually works quite fast, it is an exercise in pacing and meditation over the work being done.
**For the first two (unofficial) posts introducing this project, see my archives titled “Art Imitates Life, as they say…” published 3/13/2014 and “Back To The Classroom, Seeing Things Again for the First Time” published 3/11/2014
March 18th, 2014
Today I have begun. I have finally made my decision about the canvas size based upon Homare’s recommendation not to choose an odd-ball size (I was considering a tall narrow size of 20×60″) that would only add unnecessary frustration to this challenge. So the chosen size is 24×30″
It’s almost a blizzard now, where I am, in my second floor home studio south of the Denver metro area, but it won’t last long. It’s SPRING! Great day to paint. The north light in this room is wonderful, especially with lots of snow flying around outside.
I begin by painting the entire canvas with my favorite base color – unbleached titanium. It’s warm, it’s neutral, and it’s friendly with the color palette I usually hang with. I slap it on with a large palette knife because that also adds subtle texture, and I am all about texture, color and pattern.
Now it has to dry before I can do anything else to it. That doesn’t take long, especially in Colorado’s altitude and low humidity, but you can also use a hair dryer if you are impatient, which I am supposed to NOT BE in this challenge. I am already getting excited to do more. Calm down. I need to watch it a lot, getting to know it. Calm down. Looking for inspiration. I might be hit with a flash of brilliance….something I want to do right away! Color! But I might not touch it again for several days…calm down.
This afternoon at 1pm sharp I found myself in a bare-bones art classroom again, awaiting the arrival of my instructor for Advanced Contemporary Painting at the Denver Art Student’s League. I was excited to such a degree that I could not help remember all of my “first days” of school, from kindergarten through college at CU in Boulder, and the many art instructors I have enjoyed (one or two not so much) over a long and winding career in fine art. That I still have such a passion for painting speaks to how powerful the pull of creativity and the artistic process can be, should you choose to surrender yourself completely to it. I am an art slave, owned by and under the spell of art. The smell of the room, the years of dripped paint dried all over the floor, the organic nature of the spattered shirted people struggling through the door carrying all the magical paraphernalia required to nurture each artistic soul – that is what turns me on. It was like being in the legendary Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory only with paint. I was giddy with anticipation and nervous, hoping I was not assuming too much by choosing that class….
One particular relative of mine, although near and dear to my heart, keeps urging, almost demanding me to paint as I did 25 years ago when my subject matter was Colorado landscapes and they were selling like fine art hot cakes. But all of you who pick up brushes to express yourselves know that one must grow and evolve as an artist and that any self-respecting painter who does the same kind of theme all the live-long day through all the live-long years of his life is a boring person indeed. It is like reading and re-reading the same books, watching the same old movies you saw 25 years ago to the exclusion of all the new award-winning films, and it is certainly like living constantly in the past, resting on one’s past accomplishments until they get so raggedy that one is called an arrogant has-been in ridiculous denial of the NOW. Creative people, if nothing at all, must live in the NOW.
I have done that – I have kept current, tried much of the new wiz-bang stuff, produced a huge body of work, taught my skills to other people, showed in gallery situations and private shows and sold a good percentage of what I produced. But still, I need guidance from someone wiser than me – someone who sees my art in a different light. I want to do the best art of my life in this very decade of my life and be remembered for it. If there is ever a retrospective show in my honor, please let there be clearly visible, stunning evolution evident in that body of work.
I am again the student, and it feels so good. My first challenge, from Homare Ikeda my instructor, is to begin a painting and allow a full year to finish it. Obviously this is an exercise in patience, steady progress, resilience, determination and the evolution of working on a project with no pressure. Sounds easier than it will be, I am sure, but I cannot wait to get started. This painting would be done at home, using most class time for other paintings, so it will be picked up and continued at my own pace, then put down again for a rest until I am in the mood to pick it up again and add to it. Periodically I will take it into class for critiques and classroom work. What’s the purpose? To show change – to indicate progress – to evolve – to grow as an artist. To surprise myself! Exactly what I was hoping for.
I am going to keep track of this progress, take photos, and from time to time I will report here in this blog with a photo of my current incarnation of THE YEAR LONG PAINTING, so if you care enough to see what’s going on, please stay tuned. I will be as surprised as you are, I am sure.