Abstracting

cairnfinal

This painting evolved from a fun process developed by artist, Basia Zielinska.  It involved a large canvas or sheet of watercolor paper.  Acrylic paint in colors that play well together.  Spraying water and dripping paint.  Line work.  Layering and allowing to dry between some of the layers to avoid making mud.   And then, I wanted the image of cairns.  It seems that I typically want to bring an image into an abstraction.  I’ve always been attracted to cairns, so cairns it was.

“A cairn is a man-made pile of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn. Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.” (Wikipedia)

We occasionally see cairns while hiking in the mountains here where I live.  They signify that you are on the right track or if there is a fork in the road, they mark the correct trail to follow.  Basically, they are trail markers guiding you in cases where navigation becomes difficult and the trail may easily be lost.

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Wouldn’t it be cool if we had cairns along our life path as signposts to the best way to proceed when faced with a life choice?  In a sense, we do.  But we don’t always listen to our intuition, do we?  What is that strange human capacity, like the Vasilisa Doll story as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book,  Women Who Run With the Wolves“Go left, go right, don’t go that way, do go this way”.  Why are we so suspicious or doubtful when it comes to our own intuition?  Do we associate it with the occult or witchcraft or is it so demeaned in a rational patriarchal system that we don’t trust it?

I remember a film with Brendan Fraser, Still Breathing, where he created cairns.  It’s also very much about following one’s deep intuition and guidance.  It’s a quirky and  captivating film.  It’s one that I’ve seen several times.

Who Are You?

A journal page is meant for exploration.  Yes, you can explore the existential questions in your journal.  It is a place to explore techniques as well as for self-discovery.
I wonder, at times, about the influence of place on person.
Having grown up a few blocks from the ocean in San Francisco,
how did that form me?  I lived there, beside the sea, for forty-nine years before moving to the mountains.  Who was I then “living beside the ocean?”

besidetheocean1

Moving to the
mountains, what in me has been influenced and changed by this place?

This journal page was inspired by a class taught by Ivy Newport, Sacred Landscapes.

The consideration of the placement of a horizon line is an interesting aspect of a painting.  A decision is made where to place the figure in relation to that line.  Dividing the page into three sections, the horizon line is in the top third on this page.

The figure is placed in the forefront of the study…she could have been standing, reclining.  I chose sitting.

Figure drawing is a whole other form of artistic expression.  I took one other class in sketching figures.  We also practiced drawing figures in relation to one another and intimated body language between the two figures.  In drawing and painting, there are lifetimes of worlds to be explored.

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Perhaps a larger and more expanded question is “Who am I during this pivotal time in history?”  or “Who am I in the light of a global pandemic?”  It is astonishing, really, to have such a cataclysmic, unifying event across the planet.  It’s hard to put the proverbial head in the sand at such a time.  It feels to me like we are being called to take a stand on behalf of our earth and the unsustainable ways that we’ve been living up to now.  What are your thoughts?

 

Female Buddha

buddha
Splashes of acrylic inks on a 140# weight watercolor sheet of paper.  Purposeful play to see how the ink flows when sprayed with water.  What images emerge from this play?

She emerged.  A feminine buddha angel in prayer.  She stayed like this, filed away in a pile of other such paintings for a few years.  Then, one day, the time had come.  I chose her from the pile and gave her a face.  I added a complementary background color.  Studying the color wheel, learning how to use and apply it to a work in progress is yet another learning experience.  Primary colors, then secondary colors, finally tertiary colors.  Complementary colors, analogous, monochromatic, triads, tetrads, etc.  Then, there are hues, values, tints, tones and shades.  I had no idea!  So much to learn.

femalebuddha1

Facial expression is another practiced technique.  Sometimes, the angle of the eyebrows can create an expression of alarm, surprise or worry.  The intensity of the eyes, the poise of the mouth–there are many other tools that help to give expression to a face .  I don’t know enough about this to claim expertise.  I would say that the feeling behind this piece fits with the energy of the painting.  A contemplative face showing some concern.  Before the facial features were emphasized, there was a solemnity and sense of deep quiet.

Then, you could read this differently than I do.

 

 

Butterfly Dreams

In 2017, for the first time, I signed up for a one year course, Paint Your Heart and Soul, facilitated by fine artist, Olga Furman.  She gathered several amazing artists together.  Each artist supplied one or two lessons over the course of the year.  A new lesson was delivered on a weekly basis.  This was an opportunity to encounter other artists, to learn their techniques and to practice.  This year-long course encouraged the ongoing flow of creativity.

This particular class was taught by Olga Furman, herself.  It became one of my favorites.  One that I returned to again and then morphed into my own works of art.

butterflydream1

There is some collage work in this piece and more practice in drawing and painting a face.

What is interesting about collage is that you use it with discretion.  You also embellish it to make it more your own and to integrate it into the whole painting.

Since butterfly is about transformation, metamorphosis, it holds special meaning for many.  Especially in these times when change feels imminent.  There are the changes that are forced upon us and the changes we choose.  We’ve all heard “The only constant is change.”  Realizing this, we typically resist anyway.  Resistance seems to be built into change.  I do wonder if there is a stage where the butterfly-to-be in the chrysalis resists this transformation.  Did it dream of itself as a butterfly before it emerged as one?

This 8″x10″ painting was sold in a local art gallery.  I found myself missing her.  I remember someone saying once “Never let go of anything sooner than you are ready…” Of course, I can get over it.  But there is a bit of nostalgia over her, my first butterfly fairy.

Everyone Needs an Ally

angel

This painting was prompted by a class in Paint Your Heart and Soul. Not initially knowing what a painting wants to express, I allow the images to show their presence.
I added the wolf and turned the figure into an angel.

What was new to me in this class was learning how to paint a lacy dress.  I couldn’t imagine how an artist could imply lace fabric.  I’m not 100% pleased and I appreciated acquiring a new art tool.  Another painting challenge for the artist is PAINTING HANDS!  I remember the painstaking effort to paint this one arm and hand.  I was pretty pleased at the time and by no means have I come close to mastering hands.  Sometimes an artist, not wanting to take the time and effort it requires to paint a hand let’s it disappear off the page, in a pocket, or hidden behind a skirt or another shielding object–a bouquet of flowers, a table or anything that fits with the painting.

This angel has an ally.  He is an ethereal wolf…part of the night, yet real to her as she is real to him.

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In 2018, I encountered a gray wolf as I was driving down the mountain from Bunny Flat.  I had visited a new friend who was camping there.  We spent a sweet time together getting to know each other.  The vista was smudged by smoke from surrounding fires.  At this higher elevation, the air was breathable.  At one point she offered to lead me through a qigong set.  I agreed.  For the next twenty minutes, we moved our bodies in harmony with the nature around us.  A magical time.

I left her well before the sun set.  As I was rounding a curve in the road, I spied a large animal not very far ahead.  He seemed to be in no great hurry.  I slowed the car.  As happens, my brain tried to comprehend what this creature was.  Bear, no.  Dog, no.  What’s that in his mouth?  Finally, as I drew closer, my mind settled on a gray wolf with another rather large animal in his mouth!  He slipped down the side of a slight slope.  I pulled my car into the space beside the road.  I got out of the car, no fear only wonder.  I watched as he slowly meandered off into the shrubbery and trees.

The sense of wonder I felt stayed with me for a long time.  A visitation from a rare animal has meaning for me.  In the Native American Tradition, wolf is a teacher.  From Jamie Sams book, Medicine Cards:  “Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.”

When I returned home, I googled the Gray Wolf.  I remembered reading that the Gray Wolf had crossed the border into northern California a couple of years before.  They were being tracked and protected by a team of rangers.  Their exact whereabouts were kept a secret so as to avoid hunters.  Then the team lost track of the sly wolves.   How fortunate I was to see one of these amazing beings that memorable day.

The Walkaway

In the face of Covid 19, the United Nations Secretary-General, in one of his speeches,  declared that war is obsolete!  In these times of the pandemic, war seems to be a non-sequitur.  A virus is now “the enemy”.  Can we stop the nonsense and focus on what’s at hand, like the virus, global warming, overpopulation…and start addressing the real issues of a planet at risk?  Aren’t people experiencing enough trauma without having to contend with war?  We know which people are the first to be attacked during warfare–women and children.  Time for a serious time out!

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This painting and poem were first published on this blog in November of 2017.  This painting originated from a poem I wrote several years before.   He is walking away preparing to board a naval ship, shipping out to Vietnam.  Is he going to return?  If he does return, how is war going to change him…hence the refrain “Did anyone ever come back from Vietnam, I wondered.”

When I was eighteen years old, a girlfriend and I volunteered at the USO club on Market Street in San Francisco.  This was in 1967-1968, during the Vietnam War.  One night a week, we showed up to dance with the sailors and soldiers.  To sit and talk or play games like chess or checkers.  It was an intense time as these young men were either preparing to ship out overseas or had just returned from a stint overseas.  The poem tells the story of one young man who took a liking to me.

The poem:

Circulation
by Christine O’Brien

Don’t dance with just one boy,
make the rounds–
circulate.
Play chess and checkers
card games
no dating them outside of here.

The USO–
we’re here to
provide a home
away from home.
You are the girl next door
…a reputation to uphold
no loose behavior.

His name was Mickey
–from Mississippi.
He wanted a girl
more than anything.
He was being sent off to Vietnam.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He claimed me;
threatened all the other soldiers
to stay away.
But I’m supposed to circulate,
I said.
He picked me up after work,
treated me to a soda,
rode home with me on the bus,
met my family,
even loaned my dad a book.
He was scheduled to ship out
in two weeks.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

His friend drove him to my house.
We kissed in the back seat of the car.
Hard kisses
from him who wanted
to know a kiss
before lips grew cold.
My lips were uncertain
but compliant.
Suddenly I pulled away,
fearful
withdrew into my house
tossing him a good night.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He had been so cool
on the dance floor
smooth, sexy dancer.
In his dress blues
bell bottoms
swishing the slippery floor.
I could never attract
a guy like that
I thought.

He wanted to marry me NOW!
The urgency of youth
the uncertainty of undeclared war
leading one to declare love.
I cried all the way home on the bus.
He comforted me
not knowing that I was trying to
break up with him.
He threatened suicide
wasn’t going to Vietnam
suicide enough?

I wondered,
did anyone ever come back
from Vietnam?

the walkaway.

 

 

The Koala

koala61

What inspires you to paint an animal?  Especially one who isn’t native to your place on the planet?  Where does that inspiration come from?

Regarding this painting, the image of the Koala arose from creating a background first.  This painting was definitely intuitive.  I believe that when we are tuned in, things show themselves to us or want to be seen by us.  That is what I would say about this Koala Bear.  He literally showed himself to me, arising from the background and wanting to be seen and painted.

As an artist, it is my responsibility to respond to what is asked of me.  Yes, in this case, to paint a Koala Bear.  In one sense then, this little koala bear image floating out in the larger world beyond my art studio becomes an ambassador for all Koala Bears.  Whoever happens upon this painting is reminded that we share the planet with many other amazing creatures.

If I were to paint this again, with what I’ve learned since, I’d define the image of the Koala Bear by employing light and dark values.  This would give emphasis where it is needed.  I’d also probably paint over some of the background.

Regardless, I like imagining him in his Australian forest, likely in a Gum Tree.  As seems to be the case with many of our planet’s precious animals, the Koala Bear is considered to be vulnerable to extinction.  This is supposed to be one step above endangered.  Yikes!  The threats to their survival comes from habitat destruction, bushfires, dog attacks and accidents on the road.

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I wonder how many animals have to go extinct in our lifetime before we change our ways of harvesting and using resources.  When do we begin to value, through our actions, all of our relations and the earth herself?