Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Creative Kibbitzing

"Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
~Margaret Mead

I love to be alone. I am an only child but was rarely lonely when growing up. I need to recharge frequently and this entails returning to my home and removing myself from society for a time. However, being alone can be a blessing and a curse. I have chosen a vocation that invites and appreciates solitude. Therefore I make a concerted effort to get out and be active socially, visit friends and cultivate relationships that are meaningful to me. Nevertheless the work must be done and any activity requiring concentration takes energy and necessitates time away from others.

When working I get into little habits...ways of working that seem practical and work for me as an artist. I delight in finding out how others operate. It is a little peek into their own private realm of creativity. I understand that no way is correct, that all of our paths diverge in our own unique woods and we can take whichever paths we want to reach our goals.

I was talking with my friend Alan the other day and we were discussing how we work. I like that as artists we create in very different ways...each to their own end, with their own set of guidelines and tried and true methods. I enjoy the process of evolving as a painter...of the trials and errors, of finding out neat little shortcuts that can help streamline the process. Really, this diversity of individual approach is what lends another interesting wrinkle to the finished piece that we look at on a wall in a gallery. It is the culmination of all of the effort invested in the process.

Getting out and immersing oneself in a social network or activities is so important. My family is very small and so my friends really are my family. I am not involved in an art "scene" per se, but I do know pockets of artists here and there, along with other friends and colleagues of similar disciplines with whom to share work-related information. A community of like-minded individuals feeds the soul and provides an opportunity for inspiration. Often it can be a new member of a discussion who intrigues me and I want to paint them, or visiting a new environment that invites the idea for a new painting composition. It is a fantastic side benefit I find, being out with folks to help stoke the creative fires in the studio.

As human beings, as the most devoted hermit can probably agree, we form opinions about ourselves and who we are from sounding off of others, of living with others for a time and then going off to wherever we choose to go. We are shaped by our culture, our geography and a host of other external and internal variables. The benefit of community and a group of friends who share our passion for something, be it art or anything else, is important and undeniable. It could be a quick ping or an in-depth conversation, but those with whom we choose to surround ourselves are really an outward reflection of a bit of our inner landscape. We are all intrinsically and undeniably connected, whether near or far away.

Listening to: Strawberry Swing by Coldplay
Reading: Cabin At Singing River by Chris Czajkowski

This is a beautiful account of one woman's goal to build her own house with her own two hands in a remote area of the British Columbia interior.

"Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine." ~Honore de Balzac

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shuffling off this mortal coil

Ok, ok, I know that talking about death can be depressing. But really, does it have to be? Can we not contemplate our own mortality without being morose? Really it is just as plausible to have a conversation about dying as chatting about living in the here and now. Like virtually everyone else I ponder death and it's inevitability from time to time. To think of the fact that each day we are slowly shuffling towards our own last breath can be frightening but perhaps as I get older I will not fear it as much. Who knows? 

I mention death because this week I heard of a former colleague of mine suddenly passing away. Eyebrows seem to furrow or arch when someone rather young passes away...it never seems right when that happens. They were taken too soon, didn't get to see their children grow up let alone have children. I have pondered my deceased colleague this week and feel for the family left behind. I try to embrace each moment of my day with a little more conviction and enthusiasm. I squeeze friends and family a little harder and relish the time spent with them.

Death finds us wherever we go. Though we may wend our way to the farthest corners of the earth to experience all that life has to offer, no cave is safe, no house immune from our own quietus. It's hands reach into the furthest nooks and crannies of our lives and homes to find even the most defiant of us. No matter how many stand around the ailing, it is a rubicon that we all cross and do not return from. However, the things loved ones left behind, what they did, who they were, how they impacted those around them, their influence continues to resonate with us all....urging us on to greater heights and opening our eyes to the beauty of life even more. 

               On Hearing Of A Death 
                by Rainer Maria Rilke

"We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world's stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon the stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly 
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed 
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Salt Spring: sanity and salvation

“There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness.”
~Emily Carr

I recently returned from a much-anticipated journey to Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. I went to visit my dear friend Anne in Duncan, across the way from Salt Spring, as well as to meet John and his family. It was easily one of the best trips I have ever taken. I feel like a changed person. It is a huge cliché but it is true. I made some wonderful friends and connections while there....friends who will make a move there easier when the time comes, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I spent a night in Duncan with Anne before heading to Salt Spring. We visited galleries in Victoria, drank lots of coffee and caught up. It has been two years since I last saw her. Her family are amazing people and we had a lovely vegan dinner of Anne's creation that evening.

I headed to Crofton the following day to take the ferry over to Salt Spring Island. The air was so clean everywhere. I noticed that when I woke up in the morning my lungs were clear with no coughing. I don't suffer from asthma but I really noticed the difference. My bed and breakfast on Salt Spring was idyllic....everything was frankly. I went to the market in Ganges on Saturday, met John and his family as well, went to his birthday party, met other friends serendipitously and just relaxed. I have been threatening to move to BC for years and now, after returning from this trip, I really mean to do it...most people I met there said "just get in your car and do it"...just take the leap. Leaps are difficult to take because friends and family are what root us to places. I do not have a large family and I can easily return to Ontario to visit. Being a painter is supremely flexible in terms of where one works...it really has no limitation, as long as I can reach a post office to ship paintings.

Salt Spring is only 70 square miles and so I covered almost all of the island through visiting people and exploration over the course of the 5 days I was there. I noticed that everyone was just so naturally beautiful. It is as though the residents have been scrubbed with salt from the ocean...in a good way. Like a natural exfoliant that has let their true personalities come to the surface. People stop and wait for you to cross the road rather than screaming past, casual conversations strike up anywhere and at anytime and there is a general feeling of relaxation about the place, despite the ubiquitous coffee shops everywhere. Be prepared for when you order a "small" coffee in BC....small is medium or large here in Ontario...in BC when you order a large they hand you a thermos of coffee. Just kidding. Also being vegan, I noticed that every single coffee shop had soy milk. I doubt I will be so lucky when Rob and I visit Newfoundland in September....needless to say I'm packing my own soy milk.

Upon returning to Ontario I really do feel re-energized creatively, body and soul. I tend to get myopic and depressed in my little studio here and this trip expanded my philosophy and horizons both. I had such amazing conversations ranging from ancient civilizations thriving and collapsing to the utter hatred for the three new Star Wars movies.

There is so much nature and wildlife out on Salt Spring that I will have to seek out new models and inspiration when I am there. The first thing that grabs your eye is usually something from the landscape. I have a feeling that my artwork that is produced there will definitely have the natural world included in some capacity. Almost all of the buildings have large windows, inviting the outside in constantly. The Old Man's beard hangs off of so many trees, indicating a healthy environment. I love the rain and clouds as well...though I'll need some strong studio lights to compensate for the cloudiness. Regardless I know that a new creative epoch is just around the corner...if all goes well I want to be there in 1-2 years tops.

For now I am going to get back down to it and complete three paintings by months end...if I can. A bunch have sold recently so I need to get more inventory for the galleries. Good times ahead.

Listening to: "De usuahia a la quiaca" by Gustavo Santaolalla from the Motorcycle Diaries Soundtrack. The man is a genius.

"To get away from one's working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one's self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change." ~Charles Horton Cooley