White, Woman and Wokeness

I recently posted a new painting of mine (on a Facebook artist group) of a woman whose face is melting/disintegrating in anguish. At least that’s what I hope is portrayed. The working title is “The Moment Of White Privilege Wokeness.” It is a portrait of a mostly well-to-do-white woman coming to terms with white privilege. Although not well-to-do, I live a comfortable life and include myself in this disturbing painting which is my first since the murder of George Floyd. I was unable to paint or comment for weeks after this horrific event and all the ugliness it represents and has cracked open.

There is confusion, sadness, struggle, discomfort, pain and so much more on this topic. As an artist, I feel an obligation to allow all of this to flow through my work. I am not preaching, simply following the footsteps of many an artist whose creativity reflected the good and the ill in society. I posted the painting and opened it up to my artist peers’ critique for examination.

There was a landslide of emotional and international responses to my painting by artists in the group and comments not limited to Mr. Floyd’s murder, but to the whole of white privilege, artistic expression, past vs present, injustice and enslavement of other people globally etc. The discussion got intense but was mostly respectful (and is still ongoing). One comment in particular ignited a gush of responses/reactions. It opened up an opportunity for sensitive conversation and my own thoughts put into words.

The original post/painting (below) included my post:

“I’m feeling very emotional and confused about my artwork and how to respond to the political climate in the US and my own participation in “white privilege.” This is my first painting since the murder of George Floyd and the growing awareness of the intrinsic structural racism in all our institutions. I am struggling with this as an artist and as a human.”

The Moment Of White Privilege Wokeness; Oil on board; 14″ x 18”

The artist comment that sparked sparks:

 “Don’t know what George Floyd has got to do with you painting”

This got number of other artist’s blood boiling, defending and explaining my work for me, and ignited a lengthy discussion-conversation on art and current events. I believe it was/is a necessary thoughtful conduit for all of us to vent, support, teach, reach and grow.

 I would like to include my response for the record to the artist’s question/statement: “Don’t know what George Floyd has got to do with your painting”

“As an artist–I am empathic and try to express what moves me and through me. I question my artwork often to see if it aligns with my life beliefs and life itself. I do not see a difference between my creative process and choices on and/or off the canvas. When a situation occurs that disrupts this process, because it is so hideous and unbelievable–it affects what/how I think is important to express. The fact that George Floyd was brutally “lynched” in the public eye by someone who used his power, given by the people he pledged to protect, in a such a corrupt manner and believed that he would pay no consequences for his actions, harkened back to the Civil Rights movement, the Civil War and the founding of our nation. George Floyd’s death brought this fact into sharper focus than ever before and also laid bare the fact that if there was no video, this policeman would have gotten away with his murder. Black and all people of color have been raging and dying for 400 years, and we (whites) did not listen or act in a manner to make the changes needed to avoid this travesty. I feel that as a comfortable white woman–I have also contributed (although not directly) to this horror. As it has affected my life, as I said above, it affects my artwork. I am just trying to be honest here. It is not up for debate since these are my feelings based on facts. I am sharing among my artist-peers. I am grateful for your comment (name deleted)—I hope this helps clarify why one death affects my creativity.”

Viral Gratitude ~ 5/23/20

5/23/20

It’s been that kind of a week. Try to guess which one of the these things did not happen to me:

1. A black bear runs past at top speed in a deer-fenced in area about 50’ away.

2. “Blow Joe” is on my caller ID landline phone.

3. Two tiny, probably copperhead, snakes coil and try to strike after I lift the black garden tarp where they were napping. (I cannot blame them really).

4. The BOGS mud shoes that I ordered fit perfectly, and I wore them anyway on a dry day.

5. A radiant handmade fabric bowl was delivered and dropped off at my doorstep, much to my delight.

6. I painted a flamboyant selfie in the manor of Frida Kahlo. 

If you guessed #4 you are correct. I could hardly get my toe into the mud shoes that they described as being “a true fit.” The snakes were babies, but something to think about later in the season before poking under rocks in my usual oblivious fashion; “Joe Blow” did pop up on caller ID (who would answer this nom de plume?); the black bear went by in a flash before anyone was spooked; thank you to Susan for the handmade fabric bowl with delivery service and for donating all the proceeds to our local soup kitchen; and finally, if you haven’t noticed the colorful mixed media piece above, a group of us were challenged to paint or collage our likeness a la Frida, whose 55 self-portraits were her means to expressing her feelings, usually without restraint and with a lot of drama. She was in tremendous pain most of her life, both physically and emotionally, and still she persevered and painted through it all, and continues to inspire many of us on many levels. Thank you Frida and Joe Blow for adding some much needed spark to an otherwise dull work week.

Face/About Face

January is coming to a close and with it my mindful writing posts for 2019. I have not focused too much writing about my visual art mainly because I feel (the operative word here) that I’m in a slump sorts. It is the black vortex that all artists face, sometimes after a particularly productive period and sometimes not. It is the most difficult aspect (for me) to deal with: an uninspired, I don’t know what I want to paint, unchallenging and utterly bored/boring  bump in the road. During these drought-like periods, painting often feels like a chore and production does not stop altogether, however the output or finished piece is not exciting to the artist. Pablo Picasso famously stated:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

And so we do work and plow through these lulls which can last for weeks/months and sometimes for years. Every artist in every genre who is truly a creator, explorer and seeking to grow her/his artistry must work their way through the dull-as-a-dishwasher cycles to breakthroughs. For a fledgling artist this can feel like a first crushing heartbreak and that feeling of “oh no–not again” for the veteran creator. It’s not something you ever imagine could happen when you first fall in love with your vision/passion, and you never want, expect or prepare to end. But end it does bringing with the angst–necessary change for greater creative growth and a deeper more nuanced love. Inspiration is another archetype that walks along side us often at her own quirky pace. She must also find you hungry and willing to surrender to her fire.

The painting below seems to have evolved on its own. I don’t know where it came from, but I’m guessing my fiery muse had something to do with it.

~

until my brush sneaks past me
lost in the paint

 

Unity In Diversity

Yesterday I happily attended a celebration of programs that brought together diversity,  a collaborative intergenerational participation and youth mural projects. These workshop/programs inspired youth and seniors to connect through artful play, get engaged in the community library and foster a positive environment for collaboration amongst a diverse group of local residents. I was one of the teaching artists in the Intergenerational Art Program. It was a heartwarming and delightful experience and as in all “teaching” opportunities–the teacher gets to learn from the students. From the eldest senior at a spirited 92 years to the youngest at a mature 11 years, the international as well as intergenerational group came together to connect, discuss diversity and create art together. Through round-table stories and imaginative artwork, the different generations and nationalities learned about one another’s cultures and traditions and formed meaningful relationships. They also bonded on their many commonalities to form lifetime friendships and inspire one another. It truly was an antidote to all the fear of people “who don’t look or act like us.”

At the same time, all the participants took risks with their artwork and vanquished the fear of “not good enough” or “I can’t draw'” demons. It took a little coaxing, especially with the senior generation, but once they let go of what art is supposed to look like–they had the most fun and appreciation of their creations. A new art gallery was set up in the local library which will be an ongoing showcase for the residents’ artwork and stories.

Sponsors of the program include: LIFE Center Stage, Friends of the Butler Library, and Morris Arts–all of New Jersey. Special thanks to Vicky Mulligan of LIFE Center Stage, visionary, friend and wise woman of the tribe for inviting me to participate, take risks and stretch beyond my own limits.

 

Pentimento

pentimento…regret is always a choice ~

A pentimento (plural pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent. Since it is my practice to work over much more  than traces of past paintings on the canvas–it would seem that I am very regretful for the failure of the original work. Hardly–and on the contrary, I look for used canvases and boards to paint over. A sterile and bright white blank surface often hinders my work. I love to work on borrowed art as long as I sand it down to simple traces of other artist’s paint. In fact, it’s like solving a puzzle to match a new concept to an old board of “borrowed” color and shapes. I am always grateful to repurpose these boards into new life. Some examples below:

Truth vs Facts in Painting

“Paint the truth beneath the facts. ” This sage piece of painterly advice was excitedly brought to the attention of a small group of artists sharing studio space by our inspiring mentor and ringleader. Yes” came the enthusiastic response from all of us followed by blank stares at first. After a little discussion, the concept was clarified in other words: “paint the feeling instead of just replicating the scenery.”

Okay, but how to do that when painting an abstract idea to begin with? Can a feeling be abstracted or paired down anymore to its essence?  Do we need to call in Carl Jung? What the heck is this all about anyway–I just want to paint please.

There are certain tools or elements to work with including line, shape, color, value, form, texture, and space which can be manipulated along with design principles of balance, proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast and movement. Throw in some rhythm and harmony and you’ve got it right? Wishful thinking.

Nuance and finesse can be the deciding factors. Anyone can manipulate line or shape and color, but it is the eye and hand of the artist who shows us what is hidden or unbidden inside each of us, whether that is through the cords of a bluesy song, sensual movement of dance, poetic license or strokes of paint on paper. It is the work of the artist who fights, really hard, to interpret that feeling onto a surface. Sometimes defined as a process or a journey–it is the task of the artist to touch and interpret feeling in order to truly “paint the truth beneath the facts” and turn personal vision into a sweeping sensation for all to share in the movement.

 

 

 

 

So What?

Just This

after Ongoing by Jenny Xie

So what…the heartaches and headaches she collected like paper cuts over the years? Her early twenties—the twin beds of naiveté and wanderlust lay between book covers, on movie screens and in ballads along with all the angst of tragic heroism. Mood swings hitched-hiked in her Volkswagen Beetle over potholed backroads and the Parkway bound for revolutions on salty ferris wheels tottering on piers along the Jersey shore. Still, there was hope. Inside poems and under the canopy of trees. Work championed her thirties and forties until the prefixes of peri- and meno- attached themselves to the huge pause that followed many false starts and ambivalences. Books no longer satisfied and workmanship dulled into duty. Paint brushes and solvents hued the corners of her fifties and sixties. Self-Doubt trashed canvasses and shrink-wrapped perspective and poetry offering proposals of a loveless marriage or spinsterhood—what difference anyway? Until composition and compassion, juxtaposition and abstraction and other -itions emerged. New frames started to replace stale views of filtered servitude. With charcoal under her fingertips, she labored hard for beyond the so-whats and the for-whats, graying ever-so-lightly lightly into just this.

Juuuuuunnnnneeeee

June—a favorite month to be outdoors—to breathe the nascent summer scents, to listen to birdsong and bellowing frogs and wear the warm cloth of the summer sun on bare skin. Evenings too, are especially sensual and sweet with fireflies (or lightning bugs), soft breezes, rustling leaves and rain or stars pulsing a sticky sky. It’s a perfect time to sit and write, read poetry and indulge longings of the creative sort. With that in mind, I let go a free flow of hand through brush and words come what may.

This June, I also watched and was engrossed in National Geographic’s program Genius: Picasso and was very inspired by his relentless pursuit of his artistry and his sad pursuit of women/muses often to the detriment of their lives. There is much debate these days about whether or not one can/should separate the art from the artist. Picasso was narcissistic, egotistical and highly competitive, traits I most often find offensive. However, watching the brilliant performance of the actors on a small screen, his story in hindsight and empathizing with Picasso’s process and pain as an artist, I was engrossed and inspired by his vision despite these flaws. Also with his circle of creative compatriots—Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Braque and others. I will read Francoise Gilot’s book Life With Picasso to get her take on their life together as his lover and contemporary artist. From the blurb: “Francoise Gilot paints a compelling portrait of her turbulent life with the temperamental genius that was Picasso.” Oh, and he was a poet too.

So this warm but comfortable night, I share these thoughts, words and paintings:

O me!
O Life!
A few pencil strokes between the o
in Picasso
and Grillo

~

fireflies
tumbleweed a rusling breeze
nomads of the night sky

~

the unturned stone’s lost syllables

~

in the holy of the artist rides the shotgun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I Good Enough?

Lunch discussions at the studio have been lively lately amongst my group of women-artist-friends. We come together regularly and irregularly, each with her own brand of self-expression as well as an enormous overlapping of support, encouragement and enthusiasm for each other’s visions.

The opportunity has come up recently for us to enter our work (individually) into a local show that is to represent a cross section or survey of women artists in our area. It is to be displayed at a respected gallery in town. Along with the opportunity comes the angst of “Is my work good enough?” Taken one step further it morphs into “Am I good enough/Am I worthy?” Rest assured at this point, the artists involved are all dedicated, passionate and hard-working. Several have won prestigious national awards and accolades. And yet the angst, or internal emotional strife, is a rampant virus that can cripple even the best and strongest of us. Eva Hesse, a ground-breaking sculptor and pioneering artist in the 1960s questioned her work, her vision and her right to create. Her close friend wrote her in a now-famous (with spicy trenchant language not included here): “Stop (thinking) and Just Do”—Sol LeWitt. Today we admire and celebrate her courage, leadership and movement of art onto a different and higher plane.

The most difficult part of artistry/self-expression is dealing with a brutal self-critic. The rest is simply about observation, patience and practice. What is so wonderful about working in a community, classroom, workshop or with a group of artists-peers is that when you have discussions like this—the realization sets in that we are not alone with Self-Doubt and Fear of Failure. And when we see that our peers are surely worthy of brilliance and respect, we therefore begin to understand and feel that we too are worthy. Self-Doubt and Fear of Failure are merely tools for objective observation, learning, growth and elevating our craft. It may just well be that angst is as important and misunderstood a process as creation itself.

said the rose to the thorn, thank you

© ag ~ 2018

New York New York

The New Fancy 

after an article by Joyce Cohen in The New York Times: March 26, 2017
The Hunt — Self-Employed Artists Find A Home Without Wheels

 

She a drummer
he plays guitar and acts.
They both sing
“misfit pop” tracks.

The couple rolled into NYC
in an ’82 Volkswagon camper
landing in Bedford-Stuy, Brooklyn,
rough around the edge but not cramper.

As self-employed artists they filmed
“Consumer Comments On Vegan Mayonnaise”
(cannot make this stuff up)
neither a critical success or a campy craze.

Always looking on the bright side,
they searched for an affordable rental:
750 sq. ft. in central Harlem — its windows covered
with paper, certainly to these two, nothing detrimental.

On a clear day
it’s off with the paper for plenty of light,
while the bathroom faucet growls on and off
frightening away critters throughout the night.

The water pressure is so low —
one neighboring wifi network is aptly named,
“NoWaterPressureHere,” thus insuring
urban wit and creativity, above all, take aim.

“It’s better than the wheels,” so they say
and certainly not permanent.
As artists seeking gritty New York,
now all they have to do — is pay the rent.

ag ~ 2017