Friday, September 12, 2014

Ventura Adventure--Part II

Life Cycle Imperative #1
After my introduction of salmon eggs into the first painting of the workshop, Katherine gave me an "A+" for a unique idea she'd not seen before. She is very much about setting an artist's work apart from others. She wants her workshop participants to find ways to set their work apart from other artists and be recognizable as their art.

So after my first painting and some angst about where I would go next, Katherine met with me again. We looked at Life Cycle Imperative #1 and again I was given a challenge. How could I take 3 symbols and make a painting out of that? Katherine suggested I use the salmon eggs, rocks and an unusual shape as a format for my work. The term "surrealism" had come up in my first day's talk where Katherine said my work was slightly surrealistic.

Life Cycle Imperative #2
Watercolor 30 x 22 inches

My second painting started with the idea of a kimono. I wanted to paint again my open-winged heron that had been subject of an earlier less successful painting. How could I make that surrealistic? My roommate/art friend Kathy Tiger and I discussed it at some length, throwing ideas around. Finally it came to me that the real heron could walk from it's realistic landscape into the fabric of the kimono, joining it's partner who was already at home in the kimono shape. I included the falling salmon eggs again, and put five subdued stencil images to indicate the brocade fabric a kimono might be made of.

The more I worked with the salmon eggs and used my iPad to look at images and read more about their breeding habits, the more I realized that the life cycle of the salmon is very representative of all living creatures' journey, including humans. The eggs struggle to hatch, the smolt and fry dodge nature's predators to mature, swim out to survive in the ocean for a few years, take the swim of a lifetime to return to the river and very spot where they hatched, lay their eggs/fertilize their eggs and then provide their offspring the nutrients to thrive and grow by dying. So in a very symbolic way the salmon egg epitomizes life and death itself.

With much greater thought, I began to strip my paintings to a very minimalized image: rocks, eggs/smolt/fish, water/air. I made a smolt stencil to decorate my stylized rocks. Katherine called this one a poem and used the word ethereal.

Life Cycle Imperative #3
Watercolor, 30 x 22
My last piece came home a bit unfinished, but again it is quiet and mindful of one message. We all answer to life's imperative commands. In this one the salmon is leaving her eggs behind, seeking the end of her life cycle.

Life Cycle Imperative #4
Watercolor, 30 x 22

I came to Ventura with the notion that I would begin a series of paintings of and about my daughter and her last year of struggle, treatment for MS, recovery and my parental grief, support, and effort to make it all happen. At the end of the two weeks I realized that I had done just that in a deeply symbolic way.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Ventura Adventure--Part I

After two weeks in Ventura, CA, a week and a half waiting for my art box to return to me, I finally have my paintings and art supplies home with me in Blue River. This morning I photographed my paintings and thought more about what I learned while there and how it might affect my art-making.
Katherine Chang Liu and yours truly

Katherine Chang Liu is the mentor for artists using all sorts of media--found object assemblage to traditional painting. She does not teach any techniques, nor does she show her own work even though she is a well-known and gifted artist. I was one of only three "newbies" in the class of 29. Many artists have been studying with Katherine for years.

Every day started with a program of images Katherine collects from a wide range of artists from all over the world. Each program embodies a particular genre of work such as new realism, working with shapes or assemblage. By the end of the two weeks I felt like I'd taken an advanced course in Modern Art along with the many studio hours of creating my own art.

On the first day she advised the participants to clear one's studio from all other artists' work. She feels strongly that an artist needs to eliminate other influences in order to find one's own source for creating art. So right away I started thinking about the many times I've "borrowed" ideas accidentally or on purpose. That led to digging into my brain, trying to figure out just what would be my own unadulterated creation of art. This is heavy stuff!!

In the first two days, Katherine schedules a private meeting with each artist where the artist shows 6 images of their work to discuss and set a goal for the first week. I had planned a particular avenue to travel in the two week, but Katherine veered me off that course immediately. She challenged me to take one of my River Tapestry series paintings and turn it into a vertical painting, which she told me was my natural bent for creating art.

The other observations she made about my work are that my art is based on thought, not reaction and  I use a lot of symbols and icons in my work. She noticed that I used circular shapes in many of my pieces and suggested I think about something circular to place in my river series. I especially liked her comment, "You are sitting on the bridge between realism and abstraction."

River Tapestry #4
Because I was there to listen and learn, I released myself from what I thought I would do and set about painting a vertical piece incorporating elements of the River Tapestry series and filling my circles with a river related symbols. To the left is the piece I was challenged to use as inspiration for a vertical piece.

Life Cycle Imperative #1
Mixed Media, 30 x 22 inches

And here is the first piece I painted in the Ventura Workshop. I included water, stenciling, rock, fish from my previous work and added a new element--(get this) salmon eggs. I learned to respect and relate to the salmon's life cycle over the next 10 days, which I will talk about in my Part II post. I'll also show the other paintings that came from this beginning. I was surprised and perhaps you will be too.