Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ok, so I met a sweet, passionate man who is crazy about me. I like that. After spending some intense time together, snatching the longest possible hours together that we can, I went to my painting class this evening.

I worked on the painting I began a couple of weeks ago. I had only blocked out the darks, and then stopped work because I ran out of time. At class, I finished it--just like that! It's not precise or careful, but full of the warm energy of being loved, and yes, perhaps, loving, that I feel. It's the kind of painting I want to make, the kind of energy I want to explore. I am deeply grateful to this man for opening up this energy for me.

What was I doing that was different? I made sure I wasn't doing any precious sort of blending on the palette, or shaping of shapes on the canvas. This wasn't really an intellectual decision, but rather bringing to bear the lessons I've been learning from my instructor. Then the application of the paint was an application of energy, really. That's how I can best describe it. Using enough paint, minute adjustments of colour, but not worrying to much about colours of tones being the same across the canvas. Just generally--an impression conveyed through quick looking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

At my painting class this week, I had to choose a new photo to paint from. Now, a big part of the learning in this class involves learning to listen to our instinct about what makes a good painting. It's quite difficult to do when you're trying to create a painting, but we start with one whole class taking photos of a flamenco dancer dancing. Then we combine all the students' photos (can be thousands). Nicholas Pearce, the instructor, is both a technically savvy artist and an artist of the old school (i.e., not of the express-yourself school), to boot--a bit of an oxymoron! He brings in his computer and sets up a large monitor and scrolls through the photos quickly. We have to decide in the space of 2 second whether we like a photo or not. Then gradually cull them down to one.

This process sounds like a waste of time to new students, and I thought so too, when I first took his class. But then I started trying to choose photos from my own collection--no dancers!--and I find I look at them quite differently. It's the very rare one that is really valuable as a potential work of art, as something that can be turned into a large painting that I'll want to look at for the rest of my life. When I brought my selection of photos to class so that Nicholas could help me choose, he tells me, to paint someone you know, you are always concerned about making it look like them, even if the photo is a good one artistically. All the more reason to find a very good photo, one that is dynamic in composition and colour, conveying the essence of expression that is so hard to define.

Sure, you can take a photo and use it as a stepping stone to create something more to your liking. That's not what the class is about, though. It is about learning to see what makes a composition, using the entire photo as the frame in which to see that composition. The thinking the painter does in the making of the painting from that photo is then not about how to alter shapes, add colours, change expression, to perhaps make a painting that works. The thinking instead is how to produce the artistry you've already identified as present in the photo. How to achieve harmonious intensities using only cadmium red deep and light, cadmium yellow medium, phthalo blue, and white, how to loosen that tightly wound desire to copy, by using a 1.5 inch house painter's brush, how to deal with the effect of blowing up an 8x10" photo to a 30x40" canvas.

It's a process of technical exploration of a sort that students rarely learn in school. But more important, for me, is the exploration of what I the artist am doing and want to be doing. This last is the most difficult thing for me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I confess: this is also my space to write about my stalled attempts to find the love of my life. That formless, gormless path of my life that I call painterly includes sporadic ventures into love. No one says relationships are easy, so I don't try to form one when life is otherwise complicated.

This past year I've been taking painting classes with the artist Nicholas Pearce. I'm on my fourth course, a third repeat, but I'm learning so much from him. As I gain clarity about my painting, I am finding that other things either become less important or simpler. It's because I'm finally learning to listen to my gut, or my heart. Or at least, learning that I have to learn how to do that. How do you learn the vocabulary of your gut's language?

And so I feel more confident about meeting men, as well. While I can't say I'll know the right man when I meet him, I can tell that I do want someone who is articulate, intelligent, probably educated, and for sure is not caught by the web of passions like drinking and sex.

Leonardo said that when you draw, you shouldn't draw outlines (or something like that; have to look it up). This is the classic advice of art teachers--draw shapes, capture form, and realize that form can be represented with only a few simple strokes of the pencil. And in our painting class, I'm painting shapes. I'll often paint from photographs with the canvas upside down. It's so easy to get distracted by what my mind thinks about what I'm seeing. I was drawing my niece Melanie this afternoon, who was resting her head on her arm, face toward me but totally horizontal, and half the face hidden in the shadow behind the arm. There are no familiar shapes at this angle for the mind to recognize and dictate the hand. You'd think I'd therefore be able to suspend all my preconceptions about form and draw exactly what I see, and thus come up with a good portrait. But no, the sketch doesn't look at all like Melanie of the lovely eyes. Why? Because I'm still learning (plus she kept moving...).

Nevertheless, it's portraits that I want to paint. I've only come to that realization this past week. And I want to start with portraits of people I know. I've done one of my niece AnnaLise, and am working on of my oldest sister, Fern. I want to paint these portraits to see deeper into myself--how I care for these people, revealing for myself what I see in their character that I enjoy. Meditating, as I paint, on the people themselves.

All this is to say that calling my life painterly is a way to give myself permission to be who I am: inconsistent, uncomfortable with settling for shallowness, flippant when the going gets too deep, and NOT too old to be learning.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I use "painterly" because it best describes my non-linear path. The term is most classically employed by Heinrich Wolfflin in Principles of Art History, where it is paired against linear. If linear is an element of "form-definition," painterly is an element of indefiniteness--Leonardo da Vinci is painterly but not as painterly as Rubens, whose art is quite linear compared to the Impressionists'. Wolfflin distinguishes between a linear style and a painterly style. His simplistic formulation has affected a great deal of how art history is taught and the history of art organized, and is aligned with Hegel's view of the development of civilizations, which many people think is misguided and helps perpetuates cultural stereotypes.

OK, that's the background of the word. My path in life has been anything but linear, and it has taken me a long time to realize that it's OK that way. Of course, not many people actually embark on a straight path that begins with knowing what they want to do when they grow up and then doing it, meeting all the typical social requirements easily along the way. I know this, have always known that, but I somehow have always believed that most people go through life with more intent than I have: intent to succeed, intent to marry, to have children, to pursue their passion. Me, I've struggled to even say, what is my passion? So, a life whose form is undefined=painterly. That's also the key to my art-making, and what this blog is about.