"The true painter strives to paint what can only be seen through his world." ~André Malraux

After a year of intermittant "painter's block"  I am working again in my studio, and feeling in a tentative positive state. Painting is a solitary activity, and as artists, we are often working in a vacuum. Unless we have a show hanging, reaction to the work is minimal. With several pieces underway, I decided that perhaps if I write about what I am doing or am attempting to do, it might act somewhat as a muse for me as well as give me some feedback on the work I am creating -- hence the establishment of this blog. 

As for the blog title, traditional, representational painting is a language for expressing what’s visible. But I feel my work is the most successful, and most interesting, when focused on things not entirely visible. I paint what I see but also what I sense and feel by utilizing my interior and unseen world --- in other words, the invisible world. Plein air work or  studio work from photographs are only touchstones or landmarks which guide me to other inner spaces. By so doing, I find that I am pushing the boundaries between representational and abstract work.

You can enlarge the images in this blog by clicking on them.

Feb 23, 2014

Evolving, I Hope

Several readers -- I guess I have a few-- have asked why I do not post blogs anymore. No quick answer to that. It has been a hard year for me, heath-wise, and I kind of shuttered the windows and hunkered down. Nothing fatal, but hard nonetheless. 

A bit more than a year ago I sought help from an orthopedist and a rheumatologist at Dartmouth for a lot of unexplained flu-like pain I was having, and my total exhaustion. Many tests and conversations later, and I was diagnosed with arthritis of the hands, feet and knees -- which I already knew-- bursitis of the hips and knees, and get this, fibromyalgia. Once they told me that, and I googled what it was, a lot of things made sens ... I looked up the symptoms and saw this:
  • Chronic muscle pain, muscle spasms, or tightness, a feeling of having the flu
  • Pain in a number of diagnosed pressure points during flareups, or chronically.
  • A low tolerance for pain (in other words, you feel feel pain more than most people do.)
  • Moderate or severe fatigue and decreased energy
  • Insomnia or waking up feeling just as tired as when you went to sleep
  • Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks ("fibro fog")
  • Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and heat and cold
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Irritable bowel syndrome symptom, irritable bladder
  • Tension or migraine headaches
  • Jaw and facial tenderness
  • Reduced tolerance for exercise and muscle pain after exercise
  • A feeling of swelling (without actual swelling) in the hands and feet
I can totally relate to all but a few of these things. I felt so vindicated, so much less "crazy." My pain, tiredness, sensitivities, need for anxiety medication all had a reason! BUT -- what to do about it?

The normal course of action is for the doc to prescribe heavy duty pain killers for the arthritis, bursitis and fibro. Because I am on Coumadin, that was not an option. All I can take is Tylenol. So I searched for for more holistic things I could do. First thing I kept reading these admonitions----GIVE UP GLUTEN, GIVE UP ASPARTAME, GIVE UP PROCESSED FOODS, and if you eat meat, eat only pasture fed and free range and organic, local if possible.  So I did all of that, (although I was already eating very little processed food or supermarket meat or chicken) and within a few weeks, the flu like symptoms went away, and the tiredness gradually improved. It was like a miracle. I had been a Diet Coke addict, drinking at least one a day. After I quit, a month or two later I drank a half of one, and whammo, pain was back. For me anyway, it is a lethal thing.

Then I also started having monthly massages, another thing that really helps, especially when in a flare.

Life began to improve, slowly. By summertime, my mood was improving as well as my health. Time at the beach always helps me.I think for the first time in my life, I had been depressed. I am still unhappy over the state of my health,  but when I look around and see what others are going through, I feel very fortunate. Four friends are fighting cancer right now, and I cannot compare my problems to theirs. However, the inevitable -- at my age (72)-- of the now constant stream of funerals and illnesses of loved ones is taking its toll, and the Effexor is not keeping me on an even keel. I feel so sad so often because of the loss and/or pain of my friends, and my fear of losing them.

The end result is that I have not been painting. I have not done  anything all year except seeing family and friends, a little gardening, a lot of work writing for the book for my Skidmore 50th reunion, and taking on an obsession to find homes for rescue dogs. I did not even read as much as I normally do. This hiatus seems to be what I needed, but this month, I did finally get back in my studio. I need work for a local gallery, will need work for my Nantucket gallery come summer, and have a two-woman show with Skidmore classmate Judith Pettingell coming up in September. I need some new work.

So far my efforts have been a disaster. Nothing is working. I wail "I cannot paint anymore!" But I think I just need to start playing in the studio, with no end result in sight, no aim, no goal, and see what happens. I am probably trying to paint last year's paintings with a this year's soul and outlook. I think I am transitioning. At least I hope that is what the problem is.

 As I created work for the show last year, I thought a lot about consistency again. This is a controversial subject in the art world -- often between gallery owners and the artists. The Gallery folk want to see a consistent style, palette, whatever, and be assured that the same type of work they signed on for with the artist will continue to come in from the artist. Gallery owners are looking for a common thread running through all of your work that holds it together, and makes it recognizable to their clients from one year to the next. 

But we artists hear the word and feel a cold-sweat break out. We  understand the concept, and even see the validity of the gallery owner's viewpoint, but does it mean we don’t have any latitude to experiment and evolve? To my mind, real consistency can become a straight jacket to creativity. I remember how my friend Nancy Gerlach said, after leaving her successful pastel landscape stage and entering into the study of abstract printmaking in her 70's, that she just wasn't THERE anymore --  where the landscapes had come from. 

I know some painters, certainly the old masters, even the Impressionists, and my friends Michael Moore and Henry Isaacs, are able to maintain a very consistent and recognizable body of work throughout their careers. Others grow as their visions change, either rather abruptly and dramatically as Eric Aho did, moving from a realistic and simple, striking impressionism to his current expressive abstractions which are far more cluttered and busy.

 What I settled on for my show a year ago, in an effort to be consistent but also to evolve, and in an effort to present a cohesive show, was to utilize the same subject matter. By focusing on two subjects over the course of a few years, I did not become bored at all, but rather found that that the more time I spend painting forsythia and seascapes, the more I begin to see that there is an infinite variety in the nuances of any subject. I have done this before: Early on I did over sized up-close in-your-face flowers, mostly roses and iris. I did the same thing with horses: in my past are a LOT of paintings of horses' eyes.

  Constable went from painting a realistic landscape to an expressive one. There are a few whose work underwent quite dramatic change over a short period of time, such as Guston who turned away from abstraction towards a narrative representation, combining a cartoon style with the luscious brushwork of his abstract paintings. I remember the shock of seeing this new body of work, and how long it took for viewers to accept it. I never really did! But I can imagine him just being tired of making those beautiful patchwork, painterly paintings, and wanting to shake things up.

So maybe that is where I am heading once again, to change. I think the forsythias, being too realistic, are over for me. I have one started from months back that I will finish, but will start no more.  But the seascapes, ah, they can evolve, and I think I can go there. Only time will tell.
After the show last year, in March almost a year ago, I wrote this. 

They have changed their protocol for openings at DHMC, wherein they only invite from their own very limited list, have a small reception, and then lead guests on tour of the work of four artists featured for the next few months. I was unaware of this and invited some friends, and am glad I did! I was also totally unaware that I was expected to talk about my art to the tours, but somehow I muddled through.

We ended the evening with dinner across the street at Jesse's, with Andrea and Ed Doughtie, Jim Wilson and Margaret Parsons, liz Clark and Mary Vic Giersch. 

The forsythia series were very well received, and these seascapes, I think, garnered the most interest.

California Coast 12 x 12 oil on canvas

Monotone of the Sea. 20 x 20 oil on canvas