When I arrived at the Bow River this morning, late, Dad was low in the nest bowl, obviously on duty. Mama had all of the ducks and gulls freaking out and from one place to the next, there arose a tremendous cacophony. At one point, unbeknownst to me, she flew directly over my head and then I lost sight of her. As I made my way along the river’s edge, I was able to witness the exchange of duties and Mama settled down to take over for Dad. She’s much younger and not as experienced as he is…and so it delights me to see her intuitively taking part in the work.
Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life. Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.
My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting? Why don’t you paint?” and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself. As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”
I will paint again. But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego. It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment. It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together. My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached. I was terrified in front of blank canvases. I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed. I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.
Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.” I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone. She explained how those muscles work. She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.
Now…did the painting really stop? I argue, “No”. I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape. It just happened. It happened at the reading of two poems, the first, The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering. I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio. This is the painting…
and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou. I’m including her words, here. I hope you will read them.
In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.
Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.
The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.
The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.
I know them as mountains. I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs. They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.
This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash. Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen. Be mindful.
The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it. Make joyous noise if you want to be herd. Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.
She moves. She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth. The calf moves (as my son once did) deep in the dreaming place. The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her moving.
Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky : clear as mountain water scythes the earth.
Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form- coming through the trees.
The land reacts to our presence when we belong
Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs. To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play. To each, the necessary silence.
Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate. Allow a wild glimpse of self.
When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.
The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…
…coming together is a song I cannot bear for long. Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.
Promises shape who we are, what we will become –
His brow is unfurrowed. Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.
Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.
Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.
Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.
He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.
Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.
If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?
A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.
Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into – Amid bone, snow and stone – caribou. The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.
Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.
Memories permit us to speak of things –
our heart tends to in the night.
The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below. The words to the poem are written into the painting. It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.
So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter. It might take a lifetime to make sense of it. I don’t know. But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK! I write!
Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting, has made for this wondrous life of mine. It’s taken me out into the landscape. It’s caused me to notice more. It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer, Jack Breakfast.
And this morning, I met Doug Newman. It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man. The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river. There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone. Max and I headed out.
This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.
I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.
From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…
While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens. I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs. I saw him pan as geese took flight. I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time. Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.
It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds. We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments. It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day. It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement. He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.
A seed has been planted in the human spirit to nurture creativity and facilitate its perpetuation. Fundamentally, the visual arts have, since human beginnings, provided for this end. The artist experiences satisfaction of the deepest sense as the creative process leads to blossoming and the giving forth of fruits, (it is a commitment to the work to get there) whether emotional, physical or cognitive. Creativity brings the mind to life and conversely, life generates creativity. The seed, embedded in fertile soil, gives life to a plant. It’s spreading branches and foliage reach to the heavens. The roots, deeply founded, seek the earthly core and the trunk serves as a link between the world of Heaven and that of Hell.
Imagination, an essential prerequisite to creativity, I think, serves to generate connections between the conscious world and that of the subconscious. I could be wrong here…I am not an expert on either imagination OR creativity. These are merely my thoughts.
Some of the good stuff I've read on creativity.
In essence, I believe that the imagination, like a tree, unites Heaven with Earth as it draws images from a mundane experience of sensory perception, while bringing to light all that is mystical and awe-inspiring. Somehow, the tree has become of the most essential of traditional symbols and because it is culturally universal, artists of every background have sought to represent its meaning in the context of their own lives and art. In doing some basic research on the exploration of ‘the tree’ in art, I also found much in the way of written interpretation and in some cases even the artist took on the mantle/metaphor of the tree. A quote from Roger Cook…
Fir Tree 1940 Paul Klee
I use an image created by Paul Klee in 1940. In fact, it is said in Roger Cook’s The Tree of Life: Symbol of the Centre that Paul Klee, in a famous public lecture published On Modern Art and delivered in 1924, “used the image of the tree to show how the artist is a medium or channel for the transformative processes of nature. ‘From the roots the sap rises up into the artist, flows through him and his eyes. He is the trunk of the tree. Seized and moved by the force of the current, he directs his vision into his work. Visible on all sides, the crown of the tree unfolds in space and time. And so with the work.’ In this drawing Klee places the upright of the K in his signature through the centre of the trunk of the tree, thus symbolically uniting his own creative powers with those of nature herself.” This drawing is in Felix Klee’s collection in Berne.
In Klee’s work, it is easy to discover or re-discover the world of childlike dreams and imaginings. The symbol of ‘tree’ reoccurs often in his work and it is easily noted that beneath the surface of symbols such as bird, cross, house, fish and tree, it is possible to discover all sorts of alternative worlds. We are invited as adults to explore, once again, the naivete of a child, a time when creativity and imagination were ‘on the surface’ of everything. Subsequent to that, Paul Klee’s use of colour, texture and symbolic images evoke a response from the viewer that represents a very particular time or season of great significance. It tweeks memory. Wow! Art has such power and it reminds us of who we are and how we relate with our world. How does this tweek me?
So, I was out on yet another off-leash experience with Max this afternoon when I began to formulate an idea for another piece at St. Albert the Great church…a Giving Tree. I’m writing about the ‘jag’ (the initial action that follows a lengthy period of incubation for the artist) because it was so inspiring and so immediate. I wondered about the physical volume of or presence of a thousand golden leaves and I began instinctively to pick them up in piles of a hundred, only the yellow ones, freshly fallen today. Below, you will see three photographs of 100 leaves; 300 leaves. I will have to collect another 700. I will dehydrate these and then paint each leaf with metallic gold acrylic and later apply them as collage to the Giving Tree. There is something really ‘magical’ about gradually building up textures and layers. It is a truly satisfying process.
100 Poplar Leaves
100 Poplar Leaves
100 Poplar Leaves
It was these leaves that also inspired me to write this afternoon. While I only consider this a beginning to my exploration of the tree as symbol in artists’ works, it is a beginning. I would love to have you share your thoughts with me on this topic. Let me know if you have explored this symbol in your own work. Time for me to go and do some sanding in the studio. Next, writing about Piet Mondrian.