Adventure of Another Sort

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Making art is available to anyone!  The only vehicle you need is your imagination and a bit of daring.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, we are all artists.  We are all writers with a story (or more) to tell.  We are all poets because we each have a voice.  We each have an imagination.  We can engage fantasy worlds if we allow it.  And, there is value in this.

I had a special friend, now gone, with whom I could engage a sort of time travel–imagining places we’d never been, people we hadn’t met, odd creatures, other times, alternate realities, outer space, the vast universes.  We had enlivened conversations.  We wrote poetry together.  He always rhymed–it got annoying at times.  I asked him if he could try not rhyming.  I don’t think that he could.

It is true that writing, poetry and making art, whether it be painting or crafting or knitting or sculpting…these provide the means and opportunity to access deeper ways of being and seeing.  When we take the time.  When we make the time.  We give ourselves excuses that we aren’t an artist or poet or writer.  I beg to differ.  It is perhaps that we don’t dare ourselves to explore these aspects of ourselves.  Some of us have more time on our hands these days, forced as it is.  One young man has decided to systematically learn to read and write Japanese during this pandemic!  What challenge could you give yourself?  Something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to explore.

And it is an exploration.  And it is an adventure.  It involves discovery of the inner landscape.  The one where we don’t dare go…might we not return?  There truly are universes within.  We are a reflection of the macrocosm, our little inner microcosmic world that we often overlook because we’re outward oriented.  Which is good–actually a balance between both is better.  These days, with the virus dictating our movement in the world, what an opportune time to take this journey.

Who is in there after all is said and done?  Who wants to be seen and heard, primarily by yourself?  Do you give yourself this time and space?  Are you going to make it happen?  Get a journal, write, draw, splash color, cut and paste.  Express what’s been untapped on the blank page or canvas.  It’s a good thing.  You might discover–yourself.  Begin.

Good Fortune

cat.

Good Fortune.  This piece began as a painting of a nautilus.  I lived with it for awhile and then, I changed it into something else.  A cat of good fortune.  I remember the figurines of Chinese porcelain cats from my own childhood.  Perhaps I’d seen them in magazines or in my Irish/German grandmother’s house in Bernal Heights in San Francisco.  Maybe I had seen them in the little trinket shops in Chinatown.  Regardless, I could use a stroke of good luck.  So I painted this cat to symbolize good fortune.

We do that, don’t we, imbue an object d’ art with symbolism.  I recently realized my tendency towards mixed media.  While I paint mostly with acrylics, I like dimension, texture and sometimes a 3D effect.  As if the subject is coming off the canvas a bit and announcing its presence.  I have some of my mother’s costume jewelry…two pieces were perfect for the eyes.

Lucky times.  Luck of the draw.
Reminding me of this Taoist story of the father and son…

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.

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Do we make our own Good Fortune, I wonder?  Is it unrealistic to consider that we are going to always experience only good fortune?  Is every event and circumstance intended for our growth?  Is any experience, whether perceived as good or bad, only for our evolution?  “Maybe?”

Forget Perfection

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
― Salvador Dali

 

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This face is hiding amidst my journal pages–a practice piece.  She looks worried…or sad…her eyes a bit glossy.  Has she been crying?  This is not a perfectly drawn or crafted portrait.  With that, she conveys something, doesn’t she?

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Several years ago, one of my younger sisters held her wedding in Lake Tahoe.  As many of the eight siblings as could get there, gathered with the newlyweds to celebrate.  When she and her new husband were leaving the celebratory party we had staged, as they were getting into the elevator, her new husband made a comment about my sister not being perfect.  His comment came across as derogatory.  I looked at him and I said, “She’s the perfect Robin (her name).”  Isn’t that what any one of us can aspire to be…the perfect you or me?  Or him or her?

How does one even establish a standard for PERFECTION?  It seems that we need to measure it against something that’s been confirmed–(the highest score) or someone else (a society’s idea of beauty)?  So to describe perfection, we make a comparison.  In science, that might work.  But in a world of variety, diversity, melange–in the sheer array of humans on the planet, how can one even begin to establish a standard of perfection?  If we consider that perfection is overrated or invalid, what can we strive for?

Ah, to be you and me, each in his/her own wholeness, what greater thing to design for yourself!

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When making art, there is the artist, the substrate, the paint, the brush and what begs to be expressed through the artist.  Art is one avenue to express the emotions that want to run away with you.  And there are so many deeply felt emotions during these days of pandemic.  An artist is able to transmute a deeply felt emotion into a creative action through making art.  The chemical response in your body as you make art is felt.  Try it, don’t take my word for it!  And please do forget perfection.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen

Collage 2

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What I like about collage is that while there is an element of play, there is also a sense of a hidden meaning.  The subconscious is directing the show from its off-stage balcony.  You could look at this piece and see it as pure abstract.  Or a compilation of scraps of paper with a bit of integration through the central figure.  But it doesn’t really matter how anyone else sees this.  The artist is taking disparate parts and making them work together.  In that way, she’s also reassembling things in her psyche that she didn’t seem to know how to sort.  Collage is similar to dream work.  The work of dreams, in my humble opinion, is to help integrate complex elements that you can’t work out with the conscious mind.

You don’t even have to consider yourself an artist to do collage!  Anyone of any age at any time can create a collage.

Here’s how you go about it.

  • Gather papers.  Magazines.  Some of your writing.  Anything that speaks to you that can be glued on a substrate.  Tear or cut images or words that appeal to you in the moment.  I like to tear a paper as I prefer  the uneven edge.
  • Choose your substrate.  Heavy cardboard, cereal box panel, canvas, mixed media paper, watercolor paper (140# weight), whatever you have.
  • Matte medium is a good paste.  Or YES brand of paste.  Or Mod Podge if there is nothing else.
  • Brushes that you don’t care about.
  • Water to clean the brushes.
  • A paper towel.
  • Paints, I prefer acrylics…but gouache works or oil pastels.  I like Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels.

Give yourself time apart.  Put on some music if you like.  Arrange the torn or cut papers on your substrate in a way that is pleasing to you.  Take a picture with your camera.  Remove the papers and then glue them on the substrate according to your photo.  Splash or brush on color as you are inclined to (or not).  Let yourself get lost in the process.  Don’t hurry it.  Don’t let anyone or anything infringe upon this time and space.  Getting lost in this process is part of the benefits of this collage journey into yourself.  Don’t be afraid of it, surrender to it.  Let it take you deep and deeper into the unknown.  It is like walking into one of your dreams, only it’s a waking dream.  Trust yourself to go there.  Trust that you’re going to return.

What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

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This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

The Scroll

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These days, we rarely (if ever) see someone standing on a podium reading from a scroll.  At least, I don’t.  Decrees, notices, announcements, rules, regulations, messages.

This painting evolved from a class taught in Paint Your Heart and Soul.  The angel looks a bit worried.  As if she isn’t looking forward to reading the message on the scroll.  We all want good tidings.  Perhaps it’s time to write your own message and start sharing it with others.

When 911 happened, the soul plummeted.  A dear friend and I went for a walk in the forest.  He often recalled that was the best action to take at such a time.

Beyond that, what could we do–in the moment?  What did taking action at a time when we felt so helpless look like?  I opened my books of poetry and began searching for and finding hopeful verses.  I wrote them on postcards and sent them out anonymously to friends, old and new.  To family.

What message would you like to read from your scroll?  These difficult days, sending something good off into the world helps to counterbalance the barrage of challenging news. It’s an easy thing to do.  You don’t have to go anywhere (except to mail them) and  you don’t have to sign it unless you want to.

As I’ve noted before, we aren’t letter writers typically.  However, we can write a postcard.  Imagine what a surprise it would be for you to receive a postcard with a message of hope or support from someone you haven’t heard from in years!

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.

 

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.

 

She Stewards the Earth

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Do you upcycle your art?  Valuing her face, her direct look, her expression, I wanted to utilize her in a new painting.  This then became a mixed media piece.  I collaged her face, painted her dress with an earthy color and added symbols.  I did some texturing on the canvas prior to drawing and painting the buffalo.  I also used some “resist” to have the underpainting show through.

All of this to symbolize White Buffalo Calf Woman.

There are many tellings of this story.  Here is one.  (It’s one-and-a-half minutes long.)

I titled this piece “She Stewards the Earth,”
because I believe that women have a deep
connection to the earth.  That in some ways,
we are more deeply aligned with the earth
than men.  That perhaps we are an avenue of
communication between humankind and the earth.
I feel that our bodies are sensors to the disharmony
that the earth is experiencing due to our misuse.

What do you think?