Years ago in Australia; the mist clings to the tree top canopy somewhere in the Blue Mountains, Sydney’s Botanic Garden pathways are fluidly lined with purple flowering Jacaranda trees in Spring. Cairn together ~ diving the Great Barrier Reef. One night in said “steamy tropical town” we had a few girly drinks sporting umbrellas. On our way home the walking down a rust colored road reminiscent of bolts on a tractor that drives us back to the Garden of Eden. For some reason, I can no longer recall, we tried to make friends with “bug nation”! You knelt down to a rhino beetle the size of a small matchbox car and said, “hi there” well. This creature from no longer Eden reared back on its’ hind legs and hissed not quite the serpent. If you were spying, you would have seen two tipsy girls running full on down the road screaming.
I painted the Pacific Ocean in Cairns and in Sydney. As an artist invention, painting water is one of the most challenging subject matters. The movement, the light. In Norfolk, I’ve begun a series of paintings that capture the movement of waves upon Cley beach.
This past August, I submitted recent works that would qualify me as artist capable of painting in this years’ Paint Out Wells Competition 16, 17 & 18 of September 2016. Standards must be adhered to! I was relishing the opportunity to meet new like-minded people and to paint outside with them. It’s a full on painterly experience and it’s one of my most favourite things to do, ‘en plein air’. I submitted three recent landscape paintings, all of roads telling every truth. I believe there are unseen mysteries right around each bend in the road.
Two plus years ago, I sold most of my belongings, gave away what I could, and shipped the rest in a small container to Norfolk. It took 7 months on a cargo ship bound for England from NYC via Portsmouth with my stuff ending up at Wildacre in North Elmham. I haven’t painted for years, and moving to the UK on the invitation of my now husband, began painting again.
Thankfully, I had the foresight to ship my silently sleeping French easel that hadn’t seen use in over 20 years. The easel itself is a thing of beauty, made of mahogany with the remnants of oil paint left behind as a residue of my former creativity. I sent my brushes, too, in the hopes of somehow resuming my career as an artist. You know, life gets in the way of our plans sometimes.
While working in development at the Sainsbury Centre, I met the larger than life Amanda Geitner who is my light in the darkness, astute curator, fellow traveller, mother of a blended family, sage, and a bit of a soothsayer all rolled into one. She encouraged me to paint last spring, and then sent me the link to participate in Wells-next-the-sea Paint Out after seeing me post on social media where I was painting en plein air.
When you paint outside in the landscape you are in the beating heart of nature, you loose yourself in the environment. The wind informs your work. The changing and shifting clouds find their way in to your brush, elusive and constantly rearranging themselves. The sun, or lack there of, leave long shadows that invite you to trace their moving shape, or not; as when the sun is not out, you are left with diffused light that lets you know that light doesn’t have to be directional.
I started painting again last May, trying to find my brush and get back my hand eye way of seeing. I had to find a new palette, it was my way of finding home as my feelings of being an expat is a bit like being a bull in a china shop. Things here in England are slow to change, and new ways of doing are received with trepidation and scepticism. Still, I press onward, being true to myself, while simultaneously learning the ways of these heritage loving, culturally literate, pun-making Brits!
At Paint Out Wells, I rocked up with my trusty old easel that I had lovingly oiled and dusted off. I prepared four 12” x 36” pieces of paper with gesso it was a new format for me. The sky here is big and the horizon seems infinite, so this long rectangle has found it’s way into my work. I paint mostly squares as I trained by someone who trained with Joseph Albers who does squares, and the square is what I know. A local printer generously donated the paper I was using, thanks, Hussey Knights. I emailed well over 25 print houses locally in search of free end of rolls leftover when a job was completed. Most printers said they used sheets of paper, but one, gave me three large end of rolls left over after a print job was finished. So it seems I was back in the art business.
I left all my oil paints in the USA and with money from my job as a business support staff; I bought new acrylic paints at half price. I bought a limited palette, I bought yellow ochre it’s not a colour I normally use. I bought two citrus yellows, and four blues. The light on the sand, the gray mist on the morning field, the greens deep in hue so unlike my familiar colours of the Endless Mountains that I painted on the east coast of America.
Last week the weather was so hot, I wore a sleeveless sundress to an awards dinner for my daughter in Norwich. I was looking forward to painting on the beach with the sun shining on the water wearing a tank top and smelling of sun cream, sporting my big floppy hat and loosing myself in the movement of the water. That was not the reality as often, reality is not what we imagined, but more flinty and gritty in actuality. Friday dawned and I dropped my daughter at the bus stop and went back to my studio to pack my supplies needed. I made some crucial judgement errors and packed the large tubes of paint. Next year I will buy small travel tubes and carefully select my pastels as in the high winds and heavy rains, I wish I had packed lighter. I had my easel, my large board with paper stapled to it, and a large basket filled with my art supplies. Too much, too heavy, and it slowed me down.
In this sort of paint out competition, the ability to land someplace you don’t really know, find a spot to set up you outdoor studio against the elements, draft a composition, and execute a painting against the clock is thrilling and daunting at the same time. It’s not a spectator sport. But it is a sport of endurance against the elements with your own internal creative demons playing on your team. I had wanted to paint big, with loose brush strokes, panoramic composition, and somehow creating an intimate space yet moving through the landscape to give a sense of deep infinity. It is what interests me, intimacy with deep space that reflects a sense of safety, coupled with the trill of the unknown.
I arrived at the Albatros in Wells and listened to James Coleman describe the competition, what we were going to execute in just a few short days was highly ambitious and I loved being part of the energy that is championing en plein air, (A legacy of the Norwich School of Art, Turner and Constable and the big sky painters of old). Paint Out has the intention to reinvent en plein air, to give it a sense of being current with a nod to tradition without being trapped by it.
James offered me a ride to the beach, as my original idea was to paint the layers of landscape: the beach, the channel and the island on the other side. He dropped me off in the rented van and we made arrangements for him to pick me up at 5 pm. It was just a bit after 2pm. I tried to set up my cabana to make a dry spot from which to paint as by now it was raining horizontally and the rain was cold, visibility was limited as the mist totally obscured the island but for a line of trees on the horizon. I quickly abandoned the idea of putting up my cabana and spotted the beach huts. I knew I had to find a place of shelter and I lugged my supplies under beach hut 33- shelter from the storm.
I set up my easel, squeezed out my paints, and began sketching with a graphite pencil. With the wind seriously in my face, I tried to focus on the work at hand, laying in the colours for the sky, then tree-line, then beach, then water then beach again with some seaweed. Thrilling. I’m almost finished and a young man carrying a blue rubber garden tote comes over to me and asks if I was doing “Paint Out” to which I respond, “absolutely”. He asks if he can paint near me and I say “yes”. We laugh about the weather. I introduce myself and he tells me his name is Alfie Carpenter.
Turns out that Alfie was this years’ first place winner at the end of the competition, but we bonded that day there on the beach in the rain and wind. When he returned to the Congregation Hall he joked with me that he took my cozy spot as I had found the best place on the beach to stay warm and dry! We painted together for the rest of the competition. We expanded our little circle to include Tanya Pawsley after we painted the Salt marsh at Burnham Overy together on Saturday morning. I painted behind a gorse bush using it a protection from the wind. Tanya joined us and we chipped in a £ each to share the expense of parking to paint the woods near Wells Beach.
Heading back to the car after the three of us finished painting a few hours, my nose was running and I had to put down my bag of supplies. Alfie said, “ is your nose running too?” I laughed out loud. There is something very extraordinary about forming friendships in circumstances that act like a catalyst. We band of arty painting brothers and sisters, creating against the elements, pushing ourselves with our chosen medium to the artistic limits and making something out of nothing.
Neil Welliver: On Finding your Mark
In the late 1980’s, the University of Pennsylvania’s Fine Arts Department was chaired by Neil Welliver and he was even back then the-larger-than-life, exhibiting-the world-over, staple in the Marlborough-Gallery-pantheon-of-talent; yet he walked into my studio to critique my work and we always had plenty of things to discuss. At the time, I was working on 4 life size figure paintings that a friend of mine offered to sit for me on sunny afternoons in my Morgan Building studio.
Neil came in dressed in his usual brown corduroy blazer with elbow patches and brown khaki pants with a pre-requisite New England flannel shirt. He said, “you know, when Alex Katz and I go to the outlet stores, he come out looking ready for a black tie event and I look like I am ready for the farm. It’s just who we are!”. Neil always told me to paint from that position. To paint from the point of who I was. He then demonstrated how to lay wet paint into wet paint. ” Look, you have to mix the paint like the consistency of Colombo yoghurt to get it to flow into one another” He showed me by doing a little painting of the Tutarosso tomato can that I used to hold my paint brushes on my glass covered pallet.
That was how he did it, he talked with you about something he felt you needed to understand about painting and then gave a demonstration. “Right, I’ll leave you to it” He returned roughly every fortnight as he lived and painted in Maine. He had in his teaching contract that the University had to fly him to Philadelphia to teach the MFA students’ as he wanted to focus most of his time on his own work. That was another lesson I filed away, find a way to earn money that doesn’t interrupt your artistic growth. In England, almost 30 years later, that lesson rings true as I have found a way to “Norfolk Girl it!” and cobble together 3 bits of work to make a living and all are flexible so I can grow artistically.
He brought in working artists like Red Grooms who told me when a painting doesn’t work that I should draw from life till I found a way through. He brought in artists like Archie Rand who came around your studio at 2 am to find you still working only to admire one’s rigour. He brought in artists like Harmony Hammond who’s uncommon individual passion was presented in a way where personal vision overtook societal expectations another lesson for an artist.
When I visited Neil at his home in Maine with my friend Laura Von Rosk, we spent the better part of three weeks on an island in Penobscot Bay painting every day. We stayed at the home of my friend AnnMarie who I worked with at the National Gallery in DC the year before, she let me use her husband’s family home and in return, I left her a painting of birches indicative of the Maine landscape. Laura and I scheduled a time on our way home to visit Neil. He took us to the Harbour in Camden and we picked the lobsters fresh off the boat that the shack boiled up for us. We had a few beers and laughed lots as Neil told story after story about his life in Maine, and his hope for the future. It was magical, the light, the stories, the deep respect for creativity and the search for something more than ourselves. Laura still paints trees that are sublime. And I paint the landscape full of mystery and evocative of the change man imposes on nature. Neil painted the Allagash Wilderness a very remote part of the world. Most people living in England can’t imagine the square miles of wild unspoilt land that is left untouched. Neil told us a story about a parcel of land next to his 600,000 acres that he bought because he didn’t like the sound of quads drifting over the miles to him when he was painting the wilderness.
He painted burnt out stumps the remains of a fire after the sudden loss of his son. He painted the glorious birches that transform themselves into pillars and remind you of a sacred sanctuary. I learned from him that honesty above all in your artwork is what enables you to jump. He told me to start a painting to finish a painting and that is what I am doing here in East Anglia. Starting all over again.
Art as a Way of Life
I’ve read plenty of book about painting. I highly recommend reading as a way to fuel creativity. Some of my favourite books include: Gaston Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space” of course, Rilke’s “Letters on Cezanne, James Elkins “What Painting Is” and Anna Audette’s “The Blank Canvas: Inviting the Muse”.
But let’s talk experience. Using your life to make art. On this topic one of my all time favourite thinkiers is John Dewey. He wrote extensively on esthetics.
Dewey had previously written articles on aesthetics in the 1880s and had further addressed the matter in Democracy and Education (1915). In his major work, Experience and Nature (1925), he laid out the beginnings of a theory of aesthetic experience, and wrote two important essays for Philosophy and Civilization (1931). His theory, here, is an attempt to shift the understandings of what is important and characteristic about the art process from its physical manifestations in the ‘expressive object’ to the process in its entirety, a process whose fundamental element is no longer the material ‘work of art’ but rather the development of an ‘experience’. An experience is something that personally affects your life. That is why these theories are so important to our social and educational life.
In Dewey, this statement can be taken several ways: the term ‘ethereal’ is used in reference to the theorists of idealist aesthetics and other schools that have equated art with elements inaccessible to sense and common experience because of their perceived transcendent, spiritual qualities. This serves as a further condemnation of aesthetic theory that unjustly elevates art too far above the pragmatic, experiential roots that it is drawn from.
Another interpretation of the phrase could be that the ‘earth and its contents’ being, presumably, the ingredients to form ‘ethereal things’ further expounds the idea of Dewey’s pragmatist aesthetics. In other words, the ‘earth and its contents’ could refer to ‘human experience’ being used to create art, (the ‘ethereal things’) which, though derived from the earth and experience, still contains a godly, creative quality not inherent in original creation.
Art and mythology, according to Dewey, is an attempt to find light in a great darkness. Art appeals directly to sense and the sensuous imagination, and many aesthetic and religious experiences occur as the result of energy and material used to expand and intensify the experience of life.
Returning to Keats, Dewey closes the chapter by making reference to another of Keat’s passages, Beauty is truth, and truth beauty—that is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.
Concerning the passage, Dewey addresses the doctrine of divine revelation and the role of the imagination in experience and art.
Reasoning must fail man—this of course is the doctrine long taught by those who have held the necessity of divine revelation. Keats did not accept this supplement and substitute for reason. The insight of the imagination must suffice…ultimately there are but two philosophies. One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities—to imagination and art. This is the philosophy of Shakespeare and Keats.
Having an Experience
John Dewey distinguishes between experience in general and “an” experience. Experience occurs continually, as we are always involved in the process of living, but it is often interrupted and inchoate, with conflict and resistance. Much of the time we are not concerned with the connection of events but instead there is a loose succession, and this is non-aesthetic. Experience, however, is not an experience.
An experience occurs when a work is finished in a satisfactory way, a problem solved, a game is played through, a conversation is rounded out, and fulfillment and consummation conclude the experience. In an experience, every successive part flows freely. An experience has a unity and episodes fuse into a unity, as in a work of art. The experience may have been something of great or just slight importance.
Such an experience has its own individualizing quality. An experience is individual and singular; each has its own beginning and end, its own plot, and its own singular quality that pervades the entire experience. The final import is intellectual, but the occurrence is emotional as well. Aesthetic experience cannot be sharply marked off from other experiences, but in an aesthetic experience, structure may be immediately felt and recognized, there is completeness and unity and necessarily emotion. Emotion is the moving and cementing force.
There is no one word to combine “artistic” and “aesthetic,” unfortunately, but “artistic” refers to the production, the doing and making, and “aesthetic” to appreciating, perceiving, and enjoying. For a work to be art, it must also be aesthetic. The work of the artist is to build an exp
Paris in the 80’s
Paris transforms, if you are open. At 22 unfettered, unstoppable and incandescent the train to Paris brought me to Montmartre. To escape the stifling July heat of her 3rd floor walk up, we reclined on the floor sipping champagne cocktails. Seemingly a tradition of girly drinks even then. Together with dreams hovering above us like rain clouds we listened to the haunting techno strains of the Midnight Express sound track. It was unbelievably steamy as the day turned into afternoon, the light diminished as we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe to join the revelers awaiting the spectacle of fireworks. Out of the crowded gathering, a gypsy woman approached me on the street that Bastille Day all those years ago. I remember it with the clarity memory seldom affords. She appeared unseen out of throng of celebrating party goers ~ this seemingly total stranger, mumbled something incoherent, reached out to touched my belly and my heart, then walked around me twice clockwise and instantly vanished.
I spent the summer in Avignon painting the landscape. I have become a lover of light. I won’t go where the sun doesn’t shine.
Unexpectedly True Friendships
Unexpectedly true friendships arise out of common ground. In graduate school in the 80’s I met a bunch of talented and driven people, all whom have gone on to produce and amazing array of art. Sort of a “Justice League” of rag tag artists in a hotbed of creativity. We saw films together, drank wine on hot summer nights in Philly together and shared the best of times in pursuit of honest brushstrokes and painterly wisdom.
Thanks to the beauty that is Facebook, I am in contact still. We encourage each other from long distances. Some live in California, New York State, Pennsylvania, and I live more than 4,000 miles away in Norfolk, UK.
Katherine Lynch lives in Brooklyn and has paints haunting ships that pass in the night and forlorn landscapes with heavy paint and a boldness that is admirable. You can see her work here: www.kathrynlynch.com
David Brewster and I used to spend time in each others studio talking live, love and art. The best big bold brushwork landscape painter who works in oils and is fearless with his sense of space. David paints with transparent, rich dark tones that give a warmth to the ground underneath. He allows smoldering violets to move in and out of a black vortex. As an abstract landscape artist working today. He loves manipulating paint on the canvas. See his work here. www.davidbrewsterfineart.com
Laura Von Rosk and I went to Maine together to paint. We hung out in the studio and worked on prints together in the basement of the Morgan Building Print Room. Her work painting trees touches the divine. You can see her work here. www.lauravonrosk.com Laura Von Rosk’s paintings depict an experience of a landscape. Memories or impressions are refined: a sand ditch along the highway, a gravel pit, a cultivated field, or just a peculiar bend in the road. Some of her recent work stems from her role as field assistant on a scientific research expedition to Antarctica in the fall of 2011 and 2015. By recombining, emphasizing, manipulating, or inventing elements of the landscape she explores the tension between natural forms and memory. “There is a tension between form and what’s going on in the real world. And the form (dips, ditches, open fields, etc.) isn’t just a product of what I see, but combines what I know about constructing paintings with some deep and as yet unconscious memory system with what I see in the landscape. There may be a story hidden in the painting, which I myself am still only vaguely aware of.”
Maritza Mosquera and Roger Laib entertained all of us. I remember the best ever masquerade Halloween party. Her work delves into the human heart. Strong, intelligent, quick to laugh with a deep insight into what it means to be human. You can see her work here. www.maritzamosquera.com
John Harris and I spent a cold autumn night photographing the moonlight on a field in Bucks County Pennsylvania. We took trips to New York City on the bus and ate breakfast in a diner, visited Pearl Paint for art supplies and sent to as many galleries in Soho as we could fit in a day. John’s work is stillness and grace. It is movement and light. It connects to nature from multiple levels. You can see John’s work here. http://www.sheldonfineart.com/John-Harris.html
Marc Roder, Salim and Alex and I were on the 2nd floor of the Morgan Building. Our studios were next together. The three invited me in to the boys club. Marc’s work is incredibly inventive and originally and you can see his work here. http://marcroder.com/