Sunday, April 28, 2013

ponderings of a constrained wild child

A fly creeps across the sliding glass door. What does he think of while walking across a transparent floor ninety degree angle from the earth?

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working with pencil, felt pen and watercolour pencils-all very nice but very controlled and disciplined. Part of me wants to break away from that and discover my wild child. My wild child is not exceptionally wild. It just has a desire to be less constrained; one willing to walk on transparent floors.

Like last week, I used my  old calendar to find a muse. This time the image of August Macke’s The Turkish Jeweller pulled at me. I like the loose suggestion of shapes, the unworked brushstrokes and the colours. I have no desire to copy the subject matter since I know nothing about Turkish jewellers, but I keep the work by me as a touchstone while I figure out what to do.

I have a decent sized canvas which I painted, didn’t think worth keeping then painted over again. I like working on beat up and used canvases. They are less precious than untouched ones.

A photo I took of my son while visiting Victoria became my subject. This choice has more relevance for me than unknown Turkish jewellers. Progress has been slow since I have a number of mundane chores and other bits of daily living that need doing. At night I work on it for half an hour or so before I get tired. It feels good to have a project on the go however. Nicer to have something on the easel than nothing at all.

I knew nothing of the artist when choosing the image, but noticed on the calendar he did not live very long. August Macke died in 1914 while serving in the First World War. How sad it was that his life was cut short. Yet so many men’s lives were and are cut short by battle and for what? We’ve lost not only artists but thinkers and innovators, men of the land and mechanical world due to the demands and agonies of warfare. 

Are wars the ideas of humanity or an earworm planted by the Universe to alter the course of progression? Most likely the first but I wonder sometimes about the second option.

The Industrial revolution was already occurring prior to the First World War. I am currently reading a book on Mathematics. In the introduction it mentions that computers were an invention born from the need in the Second World War to create and break codes. No other modern invention has so altered the course of progress than the computer. We have become completely reliant upon them to the point that if they disappeared we would have difficulty functioning. If the first and second world wars had not happened, how would our world be today? What kind of world would August Macke have painted if he had lived? 
Perhaps the birth of computers would have occurred regardless of war simply to keep pace with the demands of commerce. That is Western civilization’s idea of progress: the expansion and growth of the populace. I’m not convinced it is the Universe’s idea of progress. I sometimes wonder if the Universe sees us like microorganisms in a compost pile; driven creatures designed to keep feeding until we burn ourselves out with the heat we generate. War, industry and technology are the fuels we consume until they consume us.

Perhaps tonight I’ll light a candle to brighten the darkness. I won’t. I love technology too much.I also listen to the earworm.I need to be more like the fly and find my own walk among the transparent floors.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

finding a muse in a long legged fisher

Whenever I finish a blog post I have a feeling of relief followed by a moment of trepidation. What will I write about next week? Will I think of anything? Nothing ever happens that’s exciting in my life, will it be interesting? These are my worries just as they are the worries of any blogger, writer or creator of music, art and whatever. Where will the next inspiration come from? They just come and one must learn to trust and get on with it.

After drawing mandalas last week I felt a bit at a loss. I was in creative mode but didn’t want to do another mandala. When stuck I look to what others have created in the past. This made me think again on the act of appropriation. Artists do it all the time. We borrow styles, techniques, subject matter and composition. Sometimes it is blatant. Sometimes it is not. Yet among artists it is seldom called appropriation. It is called inspiration or learning or following a muse. I don’t see a problem with it most of the time. I do think it important to acknowledge the muse and not to de-value an art form that has spiritual or cultural significance; dreamcatchers are one such example. 

Recently I went through an old desk calendar of artworks which I’ve kept for inspiration and instruction. I flipped through the images until I found one of a tile created by Walter Crane I liked because the colours were soothing. The subject of a heron also appealed; especially this heron which looked like a cross between a long legged fisher and flamboyant peacock.

This was just a practice piece on cheap paper to learn how another artist does their thing. I have no art gallery to go to in order to sit, study and copy masterpieces so my little calendar steps in as a half decent replacement. I knew nothing about Walter Crane before I started, so I googled him to learn a little more. Turns out he was friends with William Morris whom I did know a little about.

Now I understood why the tile had such a mediaeval look to it. William Morris, a socialist writer and designer, was against mass production but also totally enamoured by the beautiful labour intensive artwork of the Middle Ages. I had read Morris’s book News from Nowhere years ago. I’ve forgotten most of what the book is about since I read it in a hurry for a University class, but I remember it's call to appreciate items of quality made by hand. It was something I could appreciate too.

So I finished my drawing of Walter Crane’s heron/peacock and added a border not quite from the Middle Ages in homage to William Morris. The forgetfulness to leave an edge of empty paper was entirely my own dumb ass doing. Like I said this was a practice piece. I’ll know better next time.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


This past week has been one of work, rest and quiet contemplation. It has also been a week of creating mandalas. After humming and hawing about it for some time I finally took the plunge and gave it a try. You know what? Its fun.

I was afraid of appropriating an art form that wasn’t culturally mine. This was one of the main reasons for not attempting it. Another reason was I’ve heard individuals wanting to put mandalas on just about everything including vehicle roundabouts. This diminishes the art form’s power in my mind. I did not want to tackle this project with a flippant attitude.

I didn’t have a clear idea of how I’d start except knowing it needed to be a circle to remain a mandala, but it should be non-traditional, and the center a little off kilter, in keeping with my personality and personal conviction not to appropriate. I didn't have a compass lying about so I used plates and cups to create my circles. After that I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I knew I needed to break up the space though and get on with it.

I have a couple of oyster shells on my desk which I use as brush rests. It struck me that these would make ideal templates for the mandala rather than using a ruler or drawing freehand. What better way to draw something to represent the natural world than using an object that came from it? So I grabbed the shells and played with their position on the paper and drew around them.

When I was done I noticed the finished composition resembled leaves and an acorn. The shapes from the oyster shells also reminded me of iris petals. I never noticed before how oyster shells and iris petals have the same frilly shape. It seemed symbolic that the two were interchangeable on paper. So many of nature’s designs have similarities.

I kept going, looking at the lines already on paper and how I could add to them. The border around the circle reminded me of a plate rim. My father was once a master painter of plates. He learned his craft as a youth in Holland. The main reason he came with his young family to Canada was to start his own ceramic company. The dream never came to fruition but he never lost his skills or passion. I remember watching him create border designs with perfection. I didn’t want my design to be as perfect, I wanted more variance, but I did want the border to reflect this part of my history. If he had not had this dream I would not have been born here on Vancouver Island. I kept in mind how he created his borders but did not look for mathematical precision.

Once I finished the first mandala I was inspired to try another. This time I had a bit more of a plan in my head. This mandala did not alter greatly from the first but I thought more mindfully about the shapes I put inside and what they conjured up: seeds, rivers, veins, leaves, waves, snails, spider webs and fish eggs to name a few possibilities. The shapes could be one thing or the other. In my art I was able to reflect and quietly meditate on this quality of universal design and creation. The mandalas had done their job.

At some point I would like to try this exercise again. Perhaps using other objects as templates found on walks. A stone, a twig or perhaps a pinecone may be the inspiration for a new mandala.This spring and summer I will be on the lookout for potential contributors. Art is everywhere.

The design at the top of the page is less than 3 inches or 8cm across. It was done late last night in about 15 minutes.I was curious if it could be done on such a small scale.Pretty happy with the result and it has now become part of an art mailing card.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

telling stories

I belong to an online writing group where my friend Evi introduced me to book spine poetry. The concept is quite simple: take a look at the book titles on your shelves and see is you can turn them into a poem. This was just way too cool an exercise to resist so I quickly went to my shelves and put one together.

memory man
telling tales
in another place, not here
of the awakening
the origin of species.

I played with other book titles such as Just Kids, Factory Lives and Eating India which unexpectantly became a political comment of current manufacturing practices. Yet the poem of a memory man conjured up images appealing to the writer in me. Writers, I think, are naturally drawn to oral storytellers.

Memory man, in this instance, reminds me of oral storytellers who, around fires, divulged stories about a community’s past. Storytellers of Africa from what I understand were memory men capable of reciting long histories of their people dating back centuries.According to one memory man I listened to the tradition usually fell to women. I’ve been fascinated by this ability since I first read of it as a teen in the novel Roots by Alex Haley. I used to be involved in theatre and know how hard it can be to learn a few lines of script and so its difficult for me to imagine learning the entire history of a people.

I sometimes go to Around Town Tellers here in town. Once a month the group gets together for an evening of storytelling. A session begins with a gathering song and then the storytelling begins. An evening spent this way really connects with a time of communal living when stories were the main source of entertainment. These nights of story create a sense of belonging to something old and rather grand.

Odd that I should think of African tellers before even thinking about our First Nations people who are also marvelous storytellers. I won't try and relate them here, I could not do them justice, but I do urge you to search them out.This land is ripe with story. 

After I wrote the book spine poem, my son and I went for a walk around Piper’s lagoon. The little jut of land, according to my son, looks like a large animal crouched in the waves, ready at any moment to get up and walk away. I agree with him and it would make a good story in itself. From the rock bluffs in this area, one can view clear across to the mainland and the Coastal Mountains. I think of a time before European arrival and I imagine the people living here looking across the waters and creating stories of another place. 

The Snuneymuxw did travel the waters to the Fraser River on the mainland. Looking at the sea I envision those large cedar canoes paddled through the choppy waves and marvel how brave and adventurous those first people were. They traveled across to gather supplies for the winter but I’m sure the power of story was also a strong motivator to cross the straight yearly. They shared stories with others about what was behind those mountains or in the northern climes or south past the peak of Mount Baker. They shared stories about the origin of species and of awakenings.

When it comes to the power of stories, no matter where or how we live, we are not so very different. Our stories reflect our past, our knowledge and most of all our humanity.
small native flowers called Easter Lilies bloom in abundance at Piper's Lagoon this time of year

Through the spry green tangle of forest floor
canopied of Garry oak, Arbutus
mangled by ever blowing breezes
elusive blooms hover over root, moss, Oregon grape
reside as elfin dwellers on ragged bluffs, ocean side
sea winds shuffle their pristine petal skirts
little nothings jigging a sea shanty
to ever changing trios of banjo bellied gulls

I am intruder
unnecessary giant
among magic folk

old woman of the woods
is watching too
piper of the lagoon