Friday, November 27, 2009

Sabbatical Recap IV - Adventures in Art

I spent a good deal of time in the art world during my sabbatical, and for that, I am grateful. Not only did I visit local museums to appreciate others' art, but I had the opportunity to enroll in a couple of art classes: another monotypes class at New Grounds Print Workshop in Albuquerque and a unique course called "Bridging the Gap", with celebrated local artist Deborah Gavel.

Deborah's class was about bridging the gap between Eastern and Western ideologies in art and thinking through using the five senses. For example, in one class, she had us work with encaustic (melted) beeswax to evoke our sense of smell. In another class we worked with precious metal clay to exercise our sense of touch. She had us work with subtle shifts in color to use our visual senses. Next week we'll be going to a video art installation in Santa Fe to engage our sense of hearing. We never figured out how to do taste, but we did talk about creating art with food. An intriguing idea....

We read the book Smile of the Buddha and talked about each chapter as a class once a week before getting into our work. Each class was a meditative exercise for me, and transported me to a calmer, more thoughtful place in my creativity than I had experienced before. I thank our friend Shelby for introducing me to the class and to Deborah, who was a fantastic guide through what I find to be complex terrain--the world of art.

The book introduced me to artists I may have heard of but knew nothing about: Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Constantin Brancusi, and others. While I didn't like all of their work on the printed page, I was particularly inspired by Agnes Martin. One evening, Deborah brought in a guest speaker to our class, Mary Lance, an award-winning film producer who had interviewed the elderly Agnes Martin in her Taos studio before she passed away a few years ago. Mary compiled the interviews into a movie called "With My Back to the World", which we had the unique pleasure of viewing in class that night. After watching Agnes paint and hearing her views on art and life ("I’m very careful not to have ideas, because they’re inaccurate" and "when we are born we are full of ambition and ego, but as we get older we begin to understand that we have to adjust"), something switched in me. The simplicity, honesty, and innocence of her work inspired me. This piece is my tribute to her gentle, thoughtful, lonesome soul:

My other piece from Bridging the Gap class may not show as meditative or calming, but the process of making it was. I'm calling this piece "Red Tornado" because it represents a recurring nighttime dream about tornadoes that I've had for decades, while also representing the turmoil of the daily struggle we all experience. This piece originally began as a grade-school collage project cut from old magazines and glued onto cardboard, but as we continued to work on the pieces, more and more layers of media, such as encaustic wax, string, fabric, and even precious metal clay pieces, fused into them. To me, it was the process that was the art, more than the finished piece itself, although I'm rather pleased with it and want to continue to work on it.

I also pulled out some old pieces to reminisce about classes I took in San Francisco, where I first learned to paint. Here's the first reductive charcoal piece I completed in Nina Wisniewski's "From Drawing to Painting" class, which started the evening after 9/11/2001. It was my very first painting class, and appropriately so, as I had been completely changed by the events of that dreadful day in human history. The class was an emotional haven for me during that time, and perhaps because of my heavy, contemplative heart, new channels of artistry opened up within me that I didn't even know I had. I'd like to do more of these reductive charcoals now that I'm looking at this really elementary piece again....

During my time off, I also enrolled in another beginning monotypes class. I didn't feel as inspired as I did in my last monotypes class. I felt more whimsical, and ended up producing a chain of nautical pieces, which goes with my longing to be near the ocean during this sabbatical:
I also relished the opportunity to visit local art museums and galleries: Bright Rain Gallery in Old Town Albuquerque with my mother, Albuquerque Art Museum with my mother-in-law during her visit (an artist in her own right), I even joined the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe as a member after taking a long, languorous tour of the museum again for the first time since it's opening day more than 10 years ago, when I lived just off Canyon Road in The City Different. I also watched the made-for-cable-TV movie about Georgia O'Keefe, starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. She had such an intriguing yet complicated and somewhat sad life. I suppose that's true of so many great artists. Perhaps that's why I can't seem to produce anything "great"--I'm too normal and happy. :-)

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