Ocean in Abstract

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This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.

 

Stopping the Desert

Can one person really make a differenceWhat can one man alone (or woman) do?

Being true to himself, Yacouba Sawadogo, followed his curiosity or one could say, his calling.  He never learned how to read or write, but he was in conversation with the earth, that particular place on the earth where he lives.  That is, the landlocked country, Burkina Faso, in West Africa

People were having to fold up and leave their homes, their villages due to a lack of water.  That is one condition that creates climate refugees–people are forced to leave their homes “due to a sudden or gradual alteration in the natural environment…drought and water scarcity.”

Yacouba had an idea and he investigated it.  People thought he was crazy, ridiculous and even sacrilegious.  They mocked him and vandalized his fields.  He persisted with his experiment which was partially based in his intuition, common sense and some of the old ways of farming.

Can one person make a difference?  It looks like he did.  And, when many people unite for a common cause, then the impact can be exponential.

Yacouba Sawadogo?  The Man who Stopped the Desert.  I highly recommend this film for many reasons.  First of all, it is inspiring.  Secondly, in our lifetime, where we live right now, we may be called upon to “stop the desert” due to climate change.  It looks as if everyone across the planet is affected in one way or another by these changes. It seems wise to get knowledge from those who are pioneering new/old ways.

The Dive

A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting.  The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive.  Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself.  Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight.  Below is the poem I wrote.

I am not there to read this poem to you.  I’d like you to read it quietly once.  And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else.  Feel the poem.  Pretend that you are the diver.

The Dive
©by Christine O’Brien

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

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And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.

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Water, Water Everywhere…

Water,Water Everywhere

She does look a bit parched, doesn’t she?  This painting was exhibited in a local art show with the theme of WATER.  Water–not that long ago, living in San Francisco, we could drink tap water.  Bottled water was unheard of.  Now it’s commonplace.

Rather than root out and respond to the cause of impurities in our water, we bottle and ship water from sources that we hope are not contaminated.  We buy water!

I notice how we adapt to the changing circumstances that are caused by our improper use of the earth.

The way that we extract resources–detrimental to the earth and the inhabitants of that land.

The way that we dispose of waste…detrimental to the land and sea and its inhabitants.

The way we package products–detrimental to our health and the environment.

The way we ship products long distances–detrimental to air quality.

What is causing cancer rates to increase?  What is it in our external environment that contributes to this?  The way we eat, drink, the contaminants in our food, our clothing, the air?

STOP!  When do we begin to reverse what we’ve discovered is messing up our environment.  What animal trashes home the way that humans do?

As we tamper with our ecosystems, there is going to be less potable water and more saltwater, undrinkable.  I don’t understand the science of it…but things are heading in that direction.  Neither do I know the timeframe.  That premise is what informed this painting.  It doesn’t have to be this way…but it’s not going to change until human beings gather and stand together to change things for the better.

Earth wants to work with us.  Let’s not ignore the call.

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A few years ago, I watched a full-length video (it’s about twenty-one minutes long) on The Story of Stuff as presented by Annie Leonard.  Following is a two-minute segment that begins to give you an idea of how we make, distribute, use and dispose of stuff.  If you are interested in seeing the entire video, you can find it on YouTube.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

Try Something New

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Being an artist who is committed to growth, it helps to try something new and different.  In this painting, I completely surrendered to Nicole Wikman’s process to paint a landscape.  I love the outcome.  Although it isn’t my style, I learned several very helpful techniques that I can apply elsewhere.

She reiterates the value of a horizon line.  She has a unique technique of laying down a colorful sky.  The brush dances between colors in the sky to reflections of those colors in the water.  The way in which the land and trees are placed establishes perspective and lends depth to the painting.  These are valuable techniques to practice and learn.

That said, I love this piece, and it doesn’t feel like me.

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Land and Sea are big themes for artists.  A contemporary artist, Janette Kerr is known as the “foul weather” painter.  It seems that she spends weeks on boats heading into storms.  There are so-called adrenaline junkies out there and while I’m not one, I applaud the curious nature that leads one into the eye of the storm.  Her work is phenomenal!

 

 

A Mythic Meaning

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This painting (not finished  yet) was all about exploration.  I used a liquid masking fluid, played with creating a pool of water.  A Goddess (with uneven eyes) rising from the depths.  Symbolism.  A waterfall cave behind her face.  Her hair, a trellis for a climbing vine.  A butterfly above her eyebrow.  What’s it all mean?

One of these days, when I’m called to, I’ll return to it.  To see where it wants to go next.  For now, it sits behind my sofa in a suspended state.

It seems that artists have a lot of unfinished paintings.  I’m not the only one.  We reach a point of impasse with a piece.  I’m not sure why.  The question “Where do I go from here?” hovers in an air of suspense.  Because we just don’t know.

Being comfortable with the unknown is actually a great quality to have.  The other day, I was not happy with the state of affairs in the world.  Whether the virus or politics or human behavior, geez.  I walked down a road I don’t normally walk down.  Out of nowhere, my cellphone in my fanny pack began playing a song from the film, Frozen.  I don’t know how that song got on my phone!!  The words “I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown…” played loud and clear.  These words reflected what I was feeling about leaning into the uncertainty of life in these challenging times in which we are living.

Then, I rounded a curve in the road and someone had written graffiti on a metal gate…
it read “Normalcy is a paved road.  It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow on it.”

These two timely messages from the universe shifted my feelings from uncertainty and fear to a sense that I was being (we are being) looked after in ways that we can’t imagine.  That there is something beyond what we can see that is working with us.  And that it wants us to be aware of its presence, its offer to assist us.
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Idina Menzel singing “Into the Unknown” at the Academy Awards.

 

A Scene

Landscape drawing and painting is a whole other territory, no pun intended.  It is one area where I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what there is to know and put into practice.  There I was, on the McCloud River one sunny day.  The elephant ear plants, the rocks crowding the scene, the greenish color of the water–how on earth does an artist begin to capture this?

In a sense, making art is all about impression.  What is the feeling I get when I see this sight in nature?  How do I want to show a river, contained yet in motion?  So I play…with form, light, shadow, image, movement, whimsy.  And while it looks nothing like the original setting, it has an energy about it that I appreciate.

I framed this painting and it sat in a gift shop for at least one year.  Then, they gave it back to me as it hadn’t sold.  I stashed it…until a couple of months ago.

But WAIT!  It wasn’t done!

It went from this…to this.  I named her River Goddess.  When I put this piece in a members only art exhibit at a local gallery, it sold within one week!  I knew that she would sell.  A man, a lawyer, who’d never visited the gallery before purchased the painting.  He was on a tour of the gallery with his rotary club.

Any artist’s journey with a painting is a distinct experience.  It is a tender relationship. Something unique is brought forth through you.  It’s an honor to share in the creative process.  I really do believe that it’s accessible to everyone.

What are your thoughts…how do you invoke your creativity?

Monet

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A few years ago, a friend invited me to one of those sip wine and paint gatherings in a large open rented studio space.

“Today, we paint like Monet did in his garden!” our artist teacher announced.

The instructor was so confident that we could carry this off.  I was less so.  Looking at this painting, would you think of Monet and his pond in the Garden at Giverny?  Tell the truth?  If you put the paintings beside one another…you would quickly see that I rebelled and went off in my own direction.  The teacher might have been a little disgruntled.  The other students tried to find something “nice” to say about it.  I could tell they didn’t approve of my rebel stand.  Wasn’t I supposed to do it better, closer to the original, follow instructions?

Truth is that I liked what I painted.  It made me happy.  I had to listen to that inner voice that said, try this, try that.  Break the rules.  So I did!

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Last month, I took a class called Expressive Bouquets taught by fine artist, Sherry Lynch Woodward.  The wannabee Monet painting above transformed into this mixed media painting of a bouquet of flowers.

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It’s wise to be open to change.  In our art and in our lives.  Not an easy thing it seems.  But then, what choice do we have.  Resist it or flow with it.

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This video offers a little sanctuary in these chaotic times.  Take a few minutes to be with it.  I’ve played it more than once.

Standing Rock

Remember Standing Rock?  That protest was the inspiration for this painting.  Across the world, many were outraged when reading the news about the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline that would run beneath the Missouri River and through reservation land.  This was a direct threat to the region’s drinking water, as well as to the water supply used to irrigate surrounding farmlands. The construction would disturb ancient burial grounds and cultural sites of historic importance.

When I was 16-years old, attending an all-girl Catholic High School in San Francisco, we were required to choose a research project.  I chose to investigate the status of Native American Tribes across the United States.  I sent letters off to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and various tribal affiliates.  I received lots of mail in return.  And reading material.  I was shocked to realize the poverty that our First Citizens were living in.  And to read about the high rate of alcoholism was upsetting.  Also, it struck me that a salesman would visit a tribe and sell them refrigerators when he knew full well that they didn’t even have electricity!

Doing this research, the Native American Peoples found a place in my heart.

How many times do the powers that be violate a treaty, withdraw support, move tribes around, encroach on Native American lands and lives before they realize that it’s morally wrong and stop doing it?  Here is one question to be asked in such instances:  “How would I feel if it was happening to me and my family?”

If your answer is something like “I would protest!”  Or “That’s not right!”  Then, why should it be different for the tribes of Standing Rock (or any other group of people)?  Don’t they want to protect their families like I do?  Don’t they deserve respect like I do?  Why do their rights matter less than mine or yours?  Is it too late to make amends?

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Today, I read a recent article on the present day state of affairs around the DAPL–Dakota Access Pipeline…

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Prevails
  as Federal Judge Strikes Down DAPL Permits

This is a victory, but the battle isn’t over.  One cannot assume that once a right is won, it is forever sealed and held sacred.  But for now, a victory.

A dear friend traveled to standing rock and stood with the people in solidarity in opposition to DAPL.  She expressed that there were other benefits of being there.  To witness the tribes who had once opposed each other, here, standing together for a common cause was powerful in and of itself.  Something for all of us who find ourselves in such oppositions today to learn from.  The expression “United we stand.  Divided we fall” was directly experienced.

“Pray under the sky
bare feet on the ground, 
humbly.  That you may 
feel the connection with
all that is and live from
this understanding.
It is so.”

I believe that this prayer is from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

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?”

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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?