Friday, June 24, 2011

The painting in this posting is actually a close-up of a larger painting. The materials converged in this painting through strokes, and shoves, pressure points, pourings and scrapings. And when they'd all gathered together at just the right time, they seemed to unite and accelerate themselves into something I had to call "Launch". What you see in the close up, could be construed, I suppose as the launching pad.
People often ask me about the process by which the paintings take shape. And while there are some common aspects of the creative process, not every work follows the same pattern of creation.
I am greatly inspired by those accumulated materials in the studio. I 'take a shine' to something and think, "Maybe I'll start out with this." Objects usually need to be supported in some way. I can't just stick it onto the canvas and expect the canvas to embrace it like a stranger at a family picnic. So I begin building my surface in relationship to the object or materials I start with.
This is where I stop to notice how art teaches us about life. The basic preparation of events, meetings, meals, games, or social gatherings all need the same approach. We just don't realize that we are in the creative process, when we're planning our Fourth of July barbecue. In that case, we set up the patio table(s), trim the garden, pull out the big platters that live normally on that shelf that's too high to reach. We pull out our biggest and best flag and hang it proudly from our house, and maybe even buy red, white, and blue cups and napkins. We prepare the "place". Set the scene.
Recently I gave a webinar presentation regarding creativity in life and career building. One of my first points was to remind our participants that creativity is not something bequeathed to artists. Human beings have a creative instinct that is as keen as the fight or flight instinct. We are creating all the time. Every time you fix something that's broken instead of throwing it out, you are using your creative instinct. Start to pay attention. Check yourself. How many times in a day are you called on to solve a problem, find another way to do something, or figure out how to use a gadget, or substitute something for the usual tool.
Where artists have the advantage is this: we surrender more easily to not knowing. In fact, we love not knowing, because it means we can go on a creative hunting party. "I'll try this." "No, I'll try it this way." "Well, now I know two approaches that don't work, so I'll try this!" And the more we shove the elements around, the happier we get. We scowl. We bite our lower lip. We wipe our sweaty brow. We may even swear. But, damn, we're having a great time!
Many people think artists are the ones who know what to do with art materials, but the fact is, we're happiest when we don't know what we're doing. That's when every brush stroke yields a surprise. We watch the materials drip, holding our breath, involved in the suspenseful drama of art. And LIFE IS JUST LIKE THAT. If your life doesn't feel like that, either you're living a life of tedium, or you're not paying attention.
Here's a suggestion: why don't you go out and paint or sculpt, build or write your own launching pad!
Good luck!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Open Studios 2011

Once a year East Bay artists come out from behind their easels and drawing boards to accompany their work in exhibition. This event is known as Open Studios. It is choreographed and presented by Pro Arts, a non-profit art advocacy program and gallery in downtown Oakland. This is my fifth year participating in the event, and it is always and exciting season.
The coming weekend: June 11 and 12 is the second and final weekend of Open Studios 2011. I will be at 401 26th St., Oakland (between Broadway and Telegraph) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with 19 of my colleagues. We have a beautiful venue: Uptown Body and Fender. Believe me, you've never seen a body shop like this. Check out their website and get the 411 on all the events and fundraisers held there. It's a very special place (and a great place to get your car repaired).
So enough for the promotion. My regular readers know that painting is a deeply spiritual and personal practice for me, and you might wonder how it feels to put myself 'out there' hoping to sell the work. In reality, there's a lot more connecting and schmoozing with people than selling which is good and not so good. The fact is, an artist cannot continue to produce without selling. For one thing, unsold work takes up space in the studio. My studio is not terribly big, so I hope to sell my work to good people, so that it can fulfill its life as art. No matter what our art form is, we cannot horde it. Hording is against the flow of creativity. We only horde things that we're eventually going to use in our art (which means that along with unsold paintings my studio stores wire, small sections of fencing, jars of insects that died of natural causes, jars of broken colored glass, shells, old canceled stamps, spools of thread, discarded snake skins, old costume jewelry, etc.)
Selling a work brings a beautiful feeling of completion to the artist. Artists are like fruit trees, the crops that come through us, are meant to be out nourishing our community and society at large. As trees need water and sunlight, we need funds to maintain our lives. Though there is no true equity in our financial realities, artists deserve to be recompensed for their craft, their time, their originality, their intellect, their skills, and their unique abilities to reflect the human condition in a symbolic or abstract way. Only a very small minority earn on a par with other professionals of equivalent talent or years at their craft.
Unlike the 19th Century image of the artist as Bohemian ne'er-do-wells, contemporary artists mostly work at other jobs while maintaining a serious creative practice. Many have families and meet all the responsibilities of parents, and/or children of aging parents. This is a reality check for people who still think artists live on the margins of society. Not many of us are wealthy, but we work hard to maintain our commitment to our calling along with our commitments to our other professions and loved ones. You can see why we cannot afford to sentimentalize our connection to the pieces we create. And even though original art seems expensive to many people, believe me, the prices asked don't even cover the overhead of studio costs.
So come to Open Studios and support a unique "tribe" of people who love their craft so much that they sacrifice summer vacations for it. They go without new shoes for it. They drive old cars, go without health care, and after a 40 hour work week, they spend weekends in the studio. Artists are people who don't put their money where their mouth is, they put their money where their heart is.
I'd love to meet some of my blog readers. Hope you will come by a say hi.
*The painting with this posting is entitled River Psalm, and it is on exhibit this weekend at 401 26th St., Oakland, (unless someone buys it before you get there).