Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When objects begin to choke, rather than inspire

I collect things. Most people do. I collect things because of the inspiration that the object happens to give me. Usually it has some sort of nostalgic connotation but not always. Sometimes, I'll collect something because I like the texture, or colour, or quirkiness of it. Or because I think I will some day integrate it into a piece of art. All the this becomes dangerous territory when a person happens to own a basement. Because basements seem to have no limit in terms of how much stuff can be crammed into a tight space. And basements are hidden from guests. So embarrassment alone will not entice a person to organize or clean out a basement. In fact most of us will not clean out a basement until we're literally forced into it; such as a flood or a move. Only then is the truth revealed. Only then must we face the ridiculousness of objects we have treasured beyond the point of sanity. Only then, when the rock is turned over, do we see all the bugs trying to squirm their way out of the daylight.

I faced my own basement last week. We could no longer walk through it. All paths had been cut off. The only function-able corner was the washing machine and that corner was quickly becoming threatened. I had to face it sooner or later and for whatever reason, my son and I took charge and descended. Five days later, we emerged. The job is not yet over but there is definite improvement.

Throughout those five days, I asked myself 'What could possibly be creative about this?” This feels like the equivalent to digging up potatoes all day. Or replacing shingles on a roof. However, I trusted that somehow i would extract creativity from the job. And eventually, I have to say, I did find the link. And it comes in the form of letting go. By releasing and giving away objects- bits and pieces of art objects or objects I had intended on 'up-cycling'- I am saying “that was me then but it is no longer me now”. And by throwing something out or giving something away, I'm not erasing that older version of myself either. She'll always live and breath in me somewhere. I don't need mounds and mounds of proof in the form of boxes of stuff.

The creativity comes in the form of a now-empty pallet (well, not quite empty as that would be an exaggeration). And some objects were spared; I kept my plaster squashes that I made years ago as part of a window installation. And I kept my tin cans of bees wax, simply because I love the smell of bees wax. And I did find a vase that I filled to the brim with daisies from my back yard. It's an exciting new chapter I'm beginning. And I have a space now, to write the contents of that chapter into. Or begin to collect all over again!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

the terrifying act of art brought into the public eye

Art is a lovely, cozy kind of an act when a person is alone in his or her room, with the cat quietly purring or the tunes playing or the soft breeze of summer floating in through an open window. Yes, in those situations, art-making is a relaxing, breezy delight; the process of creating something without the disturbing thought of sharing it with "the public". No critic to deconstruct or criticize or minimize its worth. I know that there are books galore that expound on how to deal with the 'inner critic' and it's true, we all have an inner critic that sometimes needs to be silenced. But in fact, there are external critics as well. (Or perhaps worse, there are those who simpy do not care a fig about art or artists.) This is the place I struggle; the place where I must move from the little room in my mind and bring it out beyond the borders of the safe place where that story or art piece was first born.

Today I did just that very thing. I took something which, until lately, has been kept safe in tea rooms and conversations with one dear artist friend. And now I've opened it up for others to participate and join in. Interestingly enough, creating the invitation itself was a joy. (There's nothing more fun than collage.) But the moment I began sending it out through all those various "social networking" sites, I felt an anxiety creep into my mind. Oh, don't I know it so well, this anxiety. However, I will welcome it, this nervous fluttering of the heart. I will add it to my ongoing list of what a creative process involves. I can't all be warm summer breezes. There has to be the odd blast of cold air to keep us all awake!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Year of Seclusion and Charlotte Bronte's Villette

Over three years ago, I lost my father. This had a huge impact on my tolerance for the stumble stones of life. Prior to his passing, though I could not have named it, I felt a sense of confidence in my choice of vocation as an artist. Like so many things in life, only when his day-to-day presence was withdrawn, did I understand thoroughly what he had given me. He was, among many other things, my emotional patron. You see, as an artist, I could do without many things; I could live on a modest income; I could squeeze blood from a rock, if I had to. So I wasn't really on a search for a patron of the arts, in the usual sense of the word. Yet, with him gone, I came to the realization that he was and always had been, my emotional patron. And with him gone, and that emotional patronage removed from my life, I experienced a serious loss in confidence. Why had I chosen this artistic path? What made me think I could or would succeed at something which, for many, is viewed as a triviality. My reaction to this loss of confidence was to seclude myself. And though I continued to create art daily, I shared it with no one. I made no motion towards offering my supposed gifts to the world. This may seem, by some, to be a selfish act; to create but not share. But at the time, I just could not conceive of doing it any other way. I had to create; this kept me from drowning in my own grief. But there was no law to force me to share what I created. This self imposed privacy began eventually to impact, not only my artistic career, but also my personal life. I had no wish to see people, beyond the necessity of being in the work force during the perfunctory nine to five window. (With the exception of those few people nearest and dearest to me.) But most every night, at least six nights out of seven, were spent in isolation as I wrote, or hand sewed, or cooked, or tidied up the house or watched another episode of The Gilmor Girls. My husband works nights and his schedule suited me quite perfectly. I began to feel awkward and strangely out of place whenever I did occasionally find myself in social situations. I began to feel that I had no social graces, no eloquence, nothing of value to add to the conversation.

Something eventually came along to catapult me out of this hermitage. And that is all well and good but until reading Charlotte Bronte's Villette, I thought of myself as flawed. Otherwise, I would have not let this happen. How could I have let myself go so far and so long in isolation? I would have picked myself up by the bootstraps and embraced life, the way it is meant to be embraced.

Thank goodness for my friend Alanna (who is herself an artist and creates exquisite paintings), who recommended that I read Villette. How could she have known the impact that book would have on me? In the novel, the narrator is the voice of Lucy Snowe, a young woman who struggles with her own dark corners and her own depression. She is also wise, this Lucy Snowe. She observes and writes her interior world with a ruthlessly honest pen. Lucy Snowe has given me a fresh view into my own year where I closed the windows and bolted the doors to the bustle and business of life.

I admit, somewhat reluctantly did I begin to read Villette. I thought nothing could ever or would ever compare to Jane Eyre and I was prepared for disappointment. Villette drew me in slowly but ultimately, with just as much force and depth as Jane Eyre. Allow me to share one small excerpt from Bronte's novel Villette; the excerpt that helped me view my year of being a hermit in a new light.

“Those....whose lives have fallen amid the seclusion of schools or of other walled-in and guarded dwellings, are liable to be suddenly and for a long while dropped out of the memory of their friends, the denizens of a freer world..... The letter, the message once frequent, are cut off; the visit, formerly periodical, ceases to occur; the book, paper, or other token that indicated remembrance, comes no more. Always there are excellent reasons for these lapses, if the hermit but knew them. Though he is stagnant in his cell, his connections without are whirling in the very vortex of life. That void interval which passes for him so slowly that the very clocks seem at a stand and the wingless hours plod by in the likeness of tired tramps prone to rest at milestones- that same interval, perhaps, teems with events, and pants with hurry for his friends. The hermit- if he be a sensible hermit- will swallow his own thoughts, and lock up his own emotions during these weeks of inward winter. He will know that Destiny designed him to imitate, on occasion, the dormouse, and he will be comfortable; make a tidy ball of himself, creep into a hole of life's wall, and submit decently to the drift which blows in and soon blocks him up, preserving him in ice for the season. Let him say, “It is quite right; it ought to be so, since so it is.” And, perhaps, one day his snow-sepulchre will open, spring's softness will return, the sun and south-wind will reach him; the budding of hedges, and carolling of birds and singing of liberated streams will call him to kindly resurrection.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tea in Rome

Sadly, I think this may be my final (or perhaps second to final) entry telling tales of our trip to Italy. By our last day in Italy, we were a bit worn out and needed an easy day. For me, an easy day always involves a tea room and writing or drawing in my journal. In fact, this is the fuel for an imaginative life; whether at home or in Italy... a book with blank pages, something to write or draw with, and a few hours with no other obligations (or a few hours outright ignoring other obligations). No matter what my mood may be; whether I'm battling a headache or facing a deadline, that combination of tea and journal-writing is always the perfect elixir. For a few minutes, I am able to take some simple observation of my external or internal world and place it within the confines of a page. A page has edges. A page is generally small and manageable. A page does not demand much from me... a few scribbles, a few words. Yet I consider what it gives back to me; perspective, delight, calm. It gives meaning to random events. It captures a moment (like cameras are supposed to do, though too often cameras rob me of my moment). So that is what our last day of Italy consisted of. We made our way by city bus to the Spanish steps. It was Monday morning, and we were to leave by that evening. We entered a tea shop named Babington's. The tea was divine, the scones tasted as if they were baked in Bath, England. The waitresses were dressed in robin's egg blue (linen) skirts. The girls reminded me of my own daughter, who is about that age and sews linen skirts by the dozens.

After tea, only metres away from the subway station, we noticed a Roma (gypsy) woman by the entrance to the subway. She was kneeling on the cobblestones and had a cup in front of her with a picture of the Madonna on the cup. She was not imposing in any way on the passerbys. She was praying continually and my assumption was that, if we contributed to her, she would include us in her prayers. I did drop something into her cup, as I cannot think of a more difficult way to spend a day under the hot sun. Please understand that my intention in drawing an image of her, is meant as a tribute to her. It is, in no way meant to comment in a negative way. She has her story too. We all have our stories. And all are valuable. And who knows, perhaps it was her prayer that got us home safe and sound. I like to think so.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rome in a day (or two)

It's been said you can't do Rome in a day but I think we came pretty close. We walked for five hours, from site to public bus to site to public bus. When we stopped at Trevi Fountain, I followed custom and threw a coin over my shoulder into the fountain. When we arrived at the fountain at the Spanish Steps, I also threw a coin into the Fontana della Barcaccia (If you look closely, you'll see me in the sketch). Now, it seems, I must return to Rome, now that I've scattered my coins everywhere. After that, we found a narrow alleyway (one of hundreds) and sat on a bench to cool off and enjoy some gilato. While we sat, we watched a handsomely dressed young man attempting to woo passerbys into the restaurant where he worked. He smiled and flirted with the crowds of people, young and old, and in the half hour that we sat across the lane watching him, not once was he successful in his attempts. But was he upset? He wasn't fazed in the least. A half hour before that, we wandered into the Pantheon, a notable experience because at that moment, a concert was just coming to a close. Never before in my life have I heard such incredible acoustics. I felt bathed by the voices of the singers. Out in front of the Pantheon, there were people selling tickets to the opera- La Traviata by Verdi. I couldn't resists. That night, we entered a marvelous, tiny opera house that seated no more than 150 people. Most of the audience members sat sipping wine during the performance. It was a first time opera for my husband and I must say, I was impressed that he only nodded off twice.