A Delicate Balance

Recently, I watched a film produced by Patagonia–
The Refuge: Fighting For A Way Of Life.
The film illustrated the plight of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaska, specifically the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The Gwich’in population is located in northeastern Alaska, the northern Yukon and Northwest
Territories of Canada. Known as ‘The Caribou People,’ the culture and life of the Gwich’in has
been based around the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years. The Gwich’in peoples
have relied upon the caribou for food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicine. So intertwined with
the Porcupine Caribou herd, the Gwich’in have named the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge
“Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” which translates to ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’
The Coastal Plain is the destination of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates to the Coastal
Plain each year to birth and raise their young. Not only does the life of the caribou begin on the
Coastal Plain, but it is also where the life of the Gwich’in nation is supported. The lives and
heritage of the Gwich’in are directly tied to the caribou herds – much like the Plains Indians
relied on the buffalo. Without a healthy caribou population, the Gwich’in culture would
struggle to survive.” from http://www.alaskawild.org/educate

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This painting is my tribute to the Gwich’in Nation in recognition of their intricate and interdependent relationship with the Porcupine Caribou. In legislating, thereby allowing corporate oil moguls to exploit this sacred region, we are influencing climate change to our detriment. In saving this region from such exploitation, we are not only protecting the rights of the Gwich’in Nation, the Caribou and migrating birds, we are protecting the future of a healthy earth for generations to come.

Becoming a Painting

Another painting of a landscape prompted by Sherry Lynch Woodward.

There isn’t much to say.  Lay down colors.  Then add other colors, shapes, textures in a randomly “planned” way.  Then hone in a little.  Add horizon lines, the building, the island, the sky, water, boats, some farther away, some nearby.  That’s what I seem to remember when crafting this painting early last year.

It’s isn’t nearly “perfect”.  In fact, it’s practice.  Reminder to self:  practice is important…it’s how we get better at something.  Let there be plenty of practice as you learn something new.  No judgment.  Noticing what works, what doesn’t work, following your inclinations.  Stepping away from the painting to get an overview.  I find when working on a landscape that when I’m too close, I can’t see how things are working together.  Stepping back, ah, yes, now I see.

If I were to address this painting today, I’d make some changes.

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When I wrote the word, changes, I thought of “ch…ch…changes” a song by David Bowie.  I’ve always liked the melody but missed most of the lyrics.  Living in this time of flux and change, I honestly find that there is less to rely upon–the things that we once thought were stable are less so.  Today, I give myself permission to be flaky.

Remind me, one day, to tell you the story of going to see David Bowie with my sister–his Serious Moonlight Tour at the Oakland Coliseum.

A Painting Odyssey

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Embarking upon a journey is one way to look at creating a painting.  The artist begins with inspiration!  Inspiration can lead to action or non-action.  Preferably, it’s action.

When I take a class, I am provided with the inspiration and instruction.  And, of course, at some point, my own inner guidance takes over.

This abstract is prompted by fine artist, Sherry Lynch Woodward’s expert and fun lesson.  It is the beginnings of a landscape painting.

Sherry makes brilliant use of color and she enjoys mark-making and using tools that add texture and interest to a piece.

When I look at this abstract today, I can imagine going in many different directions with it.  I see a shoreline, an ocean, or a lake, maybe a building.  What do you see?

I also decided not to go any further with this piece…the journey concluded early because I liked it as is…the inference of images gives me a pleasing feeling.  I like the way the colors work together.  I don’t need to define anything further.

I don’t paint many abstract paintings.  When I first started painting in 2014, I searched for recognizable images in a mishmash of colors and marks on a canvas, I wanted to define an image…and quickly.  Today, I’m beginning to feel a bit differently about that.

I think that abstract accesses a different part of the brain.  The part that can’t quite see what the future is going to be.  And with that, there is a way of meeting what is to come with curiosity, acceptance and yes, grace.  Abstract, the unknown, have a unique appeal for me at this time.

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.

 

The Backstory

The elephant shows up in my art more and more frequently.  I’ve posted this mixed media painting from 2018 a few times.  I don’t think that I mentioned the entire backstory for this piece.

I cut my little purple elephant from a photocopy of an earlier painting.  Whimsical, right?  But the actual photo of an elephant that I used as a model was an orphan in Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge for traumatized baby elephants.  Many of them were orphaned due to poachers taking down their mothers and harvesting the ivory tusks for profit.  A very sad story that continues to this day!

I could see the trauma in the eyes of the little elephant.  A glazed, dazed look of dread.  For he had witnessed the violent death of his mother.  And then, he was left to wander in this confused and fearful state until he was rescued by a helicopter team and brought to the sanctuary.  Once there, it took these tender experts time to help him overcome the initial effects of the trauma.  Gradually, he was integrated in with a group of older elephants to help him with further recovery…to the degree that he could recover.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband, David, started the shelter for orphaned animals, especially elephants, many years ago.  He passed away in 1977 and Dame Daphne  continued the trust in his name.  She died in 2018.  I wondered if the work that she and her husband had so passionately lived was being carried on.  I am relieved to see that their daughter, Angela, who worked alongside her mother for twenty years, continues this heroic work with the help of her husband, their children and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team.  This is really a huge task as the poaching continues.  It occurs to me (and to others) that if there wasn’t a market for ivory, then the elephants might have a chance.  However, there is a market.  How does one address such greed?  I read recently that if someone is bragging to you about their ivory collection or even a trinket that they have…show them a few photos of whose life was taken to add ivory to their collection.  In other words, shame them.

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There are 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  Recently 350 elephants died in Botswana.  Cause unknown.  So far, these deaths have not been connected to poaching–no tusks were removed.  Elephants are deeply feeling animals.  Some have said that they are mourning the loss of lives in their community.  I can believe this to be true.

 

Paint Whimsy

When a painting asserts itself, there is no fighting with it.  Let it come forward.  As far-fetched or unrealistic, other-worldly or alien as it might be…let it come forward.  Are those antennas on top of her head?  Sobeit then.  She gets to have antennas.  The subconscious gets to have her field day.  The artist obeys.

That’s what I’m feeling when I look at this painting today.  I can’t remember my exact state of being when she presented herself.  Or what was going on in my life at the time.  Her expression captivates me today.  I think it’s because she has both whimsy and looks as if what she sees is hopeful.

The caption could read “Humankind, despite their ignorance, greed and selfish ways, is going to be saved…from themselves”  Perhaps because they have enough redeeming qualities or something greater has had compassion for them.

artasprocess.2018

Then again, she could be a fairy roaming through the meadows.  What does she spy?  Some new delight!

Whoever she is, whatever part of my subconscious she arose from, I’m sure there is more.  Yours too!  What’s hiding in there?  In you?

The thing about whimsical art is that in creating it, there is freedom for the artist.  She/he doesn’t have to measure up to any other standards of fine art.  The artist gets to be surprised as a painting evolves.  She is open to whoever shows up on the canvas.  And whatever direction it wants to go.  She experiments–for that is what play is.  It is serious business, this type of play.

So don’t delay, get down to the business of play!  What might you discover?

VOTE!

This painting was a passionate plea for women to vote in the 2016 election.  I had been painting for nearly two years.  I’m thinking of revising this piece with what I’ve learned since then.  Regardless, the message is the same.  The woman in the lower right hand corner represents the women who were part of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s in this country.  We are a melting pot of many nationalities.  Women united in the vote are a powerful force for change.

 

vote

Here we are coming up on another election this year.  How are we going to vote?  Are we going to consciously exercise this hard won right?  The American film, Iron Jawed Angels was released in 2004.  I don’t remember it receiving a lot of press.  When I first viewed it about five years ago, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of Alice Paul when I was in school.

 

This is a powerful film about our own suffragettes and the fight that they fought for us, the future generations.

Reminder to self:  Don’t waste your vote.

Backgrounds

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Backgrounds…creating one can be a boon or a bane to an artist.  Do you create the background first and let the image arise from that?  Or do you begin by painting your subject first and then try to figure out a background to support and enhance the central image?  This painting was all about designing a background first.  As taught by a wonderful artist, Jenny Grant.  PAINT BIG is her way of painting on a large cotton canvas (from a roll) that you later cut into portions and then paint the canvases individually.  You extract a central image from each canvas and embellish it.  Interesting process.  Really!

Creating the background first can be a fun and freeing exercise.  Almost anything goes…except perhaps that you try to use colors that are complementary to one another… or not.  Collage is part of the process as is stamping, mark-making, stenciling, writing, etc.  Once the background is to your liking, you might get an impression of an image that wants to come forward or you might decide to impose an image on the painting.  You don’t typically start off with a subject in mind.  That central figure or image emerges once the background is complete.  This is very much an intuitive process.

Then, there are those who are fearless when it comes to painting a background.  They start with the blank canvas, paint the central image, portrait, figure, whatever it may be. Afterwards, they develop the background around it…again, it could be anything, a complementary or contrasting color, symbols, stenciling, stamping, mark-making, abstractions, etc.

Do I have a preference?  For me, it sometimes depends on what I want to convey.  Creating a background first, in a sense, is easier for me.  The blank canvas is intimidating to many.  And then, sometimes I want the challenge of diving right in to that white of white that is a blank canvas, taking the dare to start there.

Try both and see what your preference is.

As far as this particular painting goes, I was in my painting angels phase.  And they don’t always have to wear white draping garments.  And their wings can be cloaked under a royal purple cape.  I want to stress the freedom to follow your own bliss as an artist.

Enjoy.

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Butterfly Offering

Butterfly

Once upon a time, I walked along a sandy beach, depressed and not clearly seeing the way through.  The proprietor of the motel where I was staying happened upon me in this state of being.  He said to me “We’re here this long,” gesturing a miniscule amount between his thumb and forefinger.  “We’re as insignificant as a grain of sand on this beach, so enjoy your time here [on the planet].”

For me, in the moment, that was what I needed to hear to bolster myself.  And, it was only part of the story.

I love the principle of the butterfly effect.  “The Butterfly Effect” is not a thing in and of itself. It is just a metaphor for the principle of Chaos Theory.”

Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

The term is often ascribed to Edward Lorenz who wrote about it in a 1963 paper in the New York Academy of Sciences.”

“Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary theory stating that, within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals and self-organization.  The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions).  A metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas.”

…In The Vocation of Man (1800), Johann Gottlieb Fichte says “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”…

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We are all looking for meaning to our lives, singly and collectively.  That “a very small change in initial conditions [even from a far away location] had created a significantly different outcome,” gives me hope somehow.   Considering the times that we are living in and that we cannot see the whole that is unfolding, how can we find comfort in considering The Butterfly Effect?

We cannot know the effect we have on others, on life, on weather patterns, planetary momentum, even politics.  On a microcosmic level, was there someone along your life path who said just the right thing at the right time in a moment of your life where their words caught somewhere in your psyche and turned you around?  Was there an action you took one day, that looking back, was pivotal in the whole of your life?  And then, you cannot determine how a word you spoke or an action you took affected another person or perhaps a weather system.  What is true for us personally, is true for the macrocosm.

Everything is connected in such an intricate way that it is hard for the mind to comprehend.  It’s truly beyond logic and has been labelled quantum physics.  To my way of seeing, that’s another term for mystery.