Wednesday, June 29, 2011

barn dance

A few pictures from my art opening last night. Nice to be barefoot. Needed to ride my bike for a while afterward to let off some accumulated energy and to gather daisies.
full moon, 6"x6". tiny field, 2"x2".
us & the bus.
doesn't everyone loll in empty bathtubs at their art openings?
You can see why I'm reluctant to vacate this workspace. On the wall's an oil painting in progress, that I hope to finish in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

of nature of art of memory

Grass, oil on canvas, 30"x30"
Orange cup & saucer, acrylic on wood, 5"x8"
Mike's guitar, acrylic on canvas, 6"x6"

I'm still painting, and soon we'll be readying the barn for an art show this evening, which is open to the community. Last night we made a really pleasant outing to a friend's tiny island in Goose Bay (off the St Lawrence River) for swimming and a cookout. Very beautiful. There have been many different kinds of inspiration to be found here, in the people as well as the environment, quietly and profoundly affecting me.
I just reread The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa (by Michael Kimmelman), I'd read it 5 years ago but thought it was time to check back in, especially after reading Dyer's The Ongoing Moment last month. Each essay illuminates a different perspective of art's effects on everyday life, its truths and its power to transcend the moment. Not only visually, but in terms of things like exploration, adventure, collecting, survival, artlessness, deliberation. Living life more alertly through deeper understanding of all the ways art 'gets down in there', as I like to say. I've been on board that train all my life, but I am always looking for new ideas and reminders of why it's important, or as he puts it, its 'consolations'. The final chapter, The Art of Gum-ball Machines, feels to me like a culmination of some of my own thoughts on why I make art.
Much of the commentary centers on Chardin, Thiebaud and Hopper. Their pictures prompt something more than joy, closer to the nature of memory. The 'gap between what was and what we wished the world to be'. (From my vantage point in history, all I have is my own observations and daydreams, besides the stories of those who did experience them. The act of painting those objects now, provides a new context for looking.)
Joy yielding to memory yielding to melancholy yielding to a satisfaction in good craftsmanship- the dedication to pictures lovingly and expertly made. The American can-do spirit, and the sometimes deadpan wit evolving from that combination of joy and melancholy. The humor (which deflates pretense) and the abundance is there but also a faint dread in isolated shapes and wide open spaces. But they can provoke happiness because they are content to be what they are, which is plenty.
Quality of paint being the measure of subtle change; whether affectionate or detached, the works are far from mechanical. In a ruthlessly forward-moving world, this isn't always easy to find. They conjure up feelings and associations, if we choose to see them. I may have my own motives, and I am actually moving into more self-expressive work (readily apparent or not), but they also appear as free-floating signs, wide-open to our dreams.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I've been subsisting on only 4 or 5 hours of sleep each night, but I still feel so good every day, clearheaded and full of energy and cheer. There's a few reasons for this, of course, the main one being that I get to fully inhabit the life that I want. Following my natural rhythms as I move through my day, clearing the space to create and be free, easy, myself. Or as close to it as I can get, with the mind that I have and all the stuff that's in it. Yes, I am starting to feel a bit glum about the approaching end of these two months, endings are always hard for me. But that's why I need to do these things, to get used to the changes and to look forward to what's next, which hopefully, is to continue working, wherever I am.
Can't find the cable that connects my camera and computer, but I've finished two more small paintings that I am very happy with, and working on another large oil. I've spearheaded a few 'art parties' in the barn, urging the interns to come down and paint stuff in their free time, and it feels good to provide them the space- not that it's my barn or anything, but to welcome & encourage anybody who wants to be creative, and to be around to help with materials or whatever.
On Tuesday I'm going to hang the work and have an art show. I'll scrub the paint off my knees and we'll have a grand time. I won't miss the mosquitoes but I will sure miss walking into that barn with a cup of coffee and starting my day, painting or thinking or talking to people who make me feel like I AM getting closer to understanding what some of this is all about and figuring out how to make life work better for myself. It occurs to me that this may all be fuzzy because of those 4 hours of sleep 16 hours ago, so I'll retire and aim for clarity in the morning. Today I was thinking about the last essay in a book I just finished rereading, so maybe I'll begin with that thought tomorrow.. or maybe there'll be something else.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I was going to post about why I haven't been posting very often (compared to the regularity of last month's entries) but that seems unnecessary. When I hadn't written in my journal for a long time I would self-consciously start off by writing about why I thought I hadn't been writing, and feel like I'd never be able to catch up with myself. And that was only for me. There's been too much going on in my head these days and I lose track of writing, internet, telephone. I spent half an hour staring at a butterfly. I know that upon my return I'll need to attend to things while continuing to process my experiences (from last month too), even though I'm not certain where I'll even be spending my time. I'm uneasy that I won't have a conducive, steady place to work anymore. I admit that with only a week left, I've got mixed feelings and wish I could continue living like this. The challenge will be to keep generating the momentum and energy that I've found. It's not even that I am making prodigious amounts of work, although I feel good about what I've done. It's that I get to think about it more steadily; bigger (and more unsettling) concerns occupy my thoughts beyond the one or two pieces before me. I tend to get reflective anyway so it's hardly surprising that I should feel both grounded and restless, emotionally and creatively, at the same time. This was what I wanted-- to stir up the pot, toss in fresh ingredients, close the cookbook and start improvising downright. (Been doing a lot of cooking/baking with & for everybody.) I've gotten really used to having a bunch of cool people around to talk with and listen to. This can distract me, but I know I need and welcome the interaction. I absorb and redirect the energy inward while sharing my own, and feel stronger for it.
I just painted the inside of the birdhouse. I was the first to perch here and feel honored to be able to leave my mark as a contribution to the farm. Part of it is inspired by a bird mural I did last year, but it (and the other elements) felt right for the space, and I was able to use paint I found around. Today I'm finishing a small self-image in oil using a photo my friend took. Both aspects outside my realm of comfort, which is why I need to do it even as it evokes some strange feelings. I used to say that the objects and places I paint express something about myself too. There's still plenty of truth to this but it's starting to feel vaguely disingenuous, as if something inside is trying to emerge.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

seeing, freeing, being

I finished this Rufus Smith Building painting (36"x36" acrylic), the commission that I was working on concurrently with other paintings. When the light was good I dragged my canvas & supplies outside to work, which I like; the grass is soft to kneel or stand on (I found an easel to use), I can hear the birds and sounds of nearby activities (guitar, gardening). I'm happy with this painting; I had guidelines and some freedom to work with. It's based on photos emailed to me, which I made good use of in the basic accuracy, I think, while still employing my slightly skewed sense of perspective. I appreciated having others around to check out the work as it progressed and as I was finishing. After staring at a piece for a long time I can't always see it clearly anymore, and I received some thoughtful and constructive comments. I've been absorbing a lot from the people around me. This residency has been more socially interactive than the last, where, while I made a couple of great friends who gave me a lot to think about, I was mostly on my own as I went about my days. Both dynamics have been really good for me. I get to learn more about my own process, where I'm at and what I want to work on, and about living communally in a sociable, creatively supportive place. I also love traipsing barefoot across the grass between the house, the barn and the birdhouse. Making a big salad for everyone with stuff picked from the garden. Piling my friends into the truck bed and driving into town for ice cream, or swimming in the lake, or jumping across hay bales.
Now I plan to get back to some other pieces I'd been messing with, and start more work, I'm a little over halfway through the month and want to fully live every moment of this time I've been granted (granted it to myself, really, and immeasurably glad I did).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

more photos

A taste of the Better life, as well as two of the paintings I've completed. One is from Abiquiu (el Pinon), the other is an adding machine I saw in Cerrillos that I liked. For me, taking the photo starts the painting in my mind, and I see it the way I want to paint it. Sometimes the object I photograph is enough in itself; nothing I need to do with it; this jumbled old sign on the side of a barn is an example. I'm bouncing back & forth between images I took from my time in New Mexico, and impressions of my surroundings here, as well as the building commission. Feels good to do this. Also to see the full moon from two different places, two months in a row. Last night, I watched it rise over the trees and then, back in the barn, made a moon painting (6") while listening to strains of violin wafting across the yard.
Other pics: peacing out in the garden, tree felling, lake jumping (or, uh, cowering), and some pretty flowers sweetly gathered.

Monday, June 13, 2011

better days

Occasionally my dad would say to me, when I'd be going through tough times, "Better days is comin'." Probably it was his particular delivery, but it often helped, imagining these better days somewhere down the road, just waiting for me to get there. I've been having a lot of better days lately. In fact, this year has been going pretty well altogether, for the most part. One of the running jokes at the farm is that here, everything is "better". Best is good, but better is.. better.
I realize I haven't posted anything in a few days. During which, among other things, I finished a painting, built (with salvaged wood & nails) a raised bed with the interns, went dancing, hiked in a state park by the river, worked on more paintings, picked flowers, sank a single pool ball, and lay in the grass listening as a talented wordsmith here played guitar and sang.
I may have said this before, but I feel so fortunate to be able to live like this for a while, it makes me feel like I'd do anything to maintain this creative flow and focus that I've had in the past six weeks. Even when I'm not painting, I feel that I'm living everyday life with a heightened state of awareness, my senses more alert to everything around me. True, I've always essentially lived this way, in the intensity with which I process sensory, physical, intellectual, or emotional experiences. But I'm seeing that something like a residency, allows me easier access to the energy stirred up by my surroundings. Instead of tucking it away, I can follow it through to see where it leads. A couple of mornings here I tried to meditate with a friend. I can't say that I was able to quiet my mind, but I felt relaxed and there was a clarity and connectedness between thoughts I'd previously grappled with. While I still have troubling thoughts, it's like I'm able to tap into that aforementioned energy to strengthen myself and balance out my sensitivity.. well... better.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the art of life

A thunderstorm blew in late yesterday afternoon. It was the first rain I'd seen in six weeks, although the wind was more impressive to watch, as were the heavy gray storm clouds advancing over the sky. I liked all those sunny warm NM days, but I'd miss rain if I lived anywhere else for too long. I fell asleep to the sound of it drumming on the birdhouse's tin roof. The early part of the day was so hot, we rode in the back of a pickup down to the lake to jump off high rocks into the cool water. I'm not embarrassed to admit that, at the critical moment, I found myself unable to leap; I had to descend to a lower rock.
Pictured is a watercolor I did of the Better Farm bus parked next to the barn.
There's a lot of art & music happenings going on in Beacon this month. I'm a bit disappointed to miss it all, but then I remember that as stimulating as it is, it tends to be a distraction for me and I know there will be plenty more going on in the future. I'm proud to call the place home and to be a part of that creative community, and doing things like this (travel, residencies elsewhere) makes me happier and more constructive when I am there again. A ceramics show opening this weekend at bau is featuring the pottery & sculpture of my friend Faith. The following weekend there's an auction of the art guitars done by local artists as a fundraiser for Beacon Riverfest (happening the week after that!), one of which I painted. I'm also thinking of all the strawberries beginning to ripen everywhere and my mouth waters when I imagine their juicy, red, sweet-tartness, waiting to be picked and devoured by the crate. I'll be hunting some down later this month, to kick off the season of fruit/veg picking. As it is, I already wish I could return to the farm to reap the bounty being planted now by the lovely and industrious interns, and which I occasionally help weed or whatever they tell me to do.

Monday, June 6, 2011


This morning I awoke feeling chirpy after my first night sleeping in the birdhouse. I'd slept in the main house the first few nights as it was unexpectedly chilly, but I snuggled under a comforter and fell asleep while looking at the stars through the round window. Shortly after the sun rose I lay in bed listening to the birds singing all around me. Coming up on the longest day of the year, the light stretches leisurely from dawn to dusk like an ear-to-ear grin.
After a few hours of painting, I weeded a couple rows in the garden and planted some brussels sprouts. I decided this'd be my dinner-making day, so I am preparing a baked-bean-&-corn dish, brown rice with red pepper and just-picked chives, and the kale harvested from the garden today. I'm often more of a side-dish-&-dessert-maker, so that's how it goes. Afterwards it will still be light enough to work in the barn a bit longer. I haven't posted photos because I've been working on a few things at once, taking advantage of being able to spread all my stuff out and get messy, it's what I've always wanted to do, and makes me long to rent a separate studio for myself upon my return. That likely won't be possible for a while, though I will have to find some place to use for Beacon Open Studios in late September. While writing this paragraph I've shooed the big snake away twice already, it seems to like my canvases, but maybe I'm projecting. I guess we'll just have to share the space.
Photos: The license plate is an installation piece I just did. Below that is the lovely Better bus, part of the history of the farm, not currently operational but perhaps soon. Then we have my snake pal and the birdhouse.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

not an island

Sitting on a table in the yard at dusk, I'm happily anticipating the communal dinner that is done here several times a week. It's so nice to have dinner made for me and to gather 'round together to enjoy it and get to know the others, all creative, hands-on sorts of people. Eventually it'll be my turn to reciprocate. I did make apple-walnut-cranberry bread for the house today. Yesterday afternoon I went on a ferry ride, with another artist resident and her 13-month-old, around nearby Alexandria Bay and the 1000 Islands. I saw enough of them to feel assured that there are indeed 1000. Just has to be 1 foot in diameter and capable of having a tree to be considered an island, and they ranged from tiny to grand- some had cabins, some had castles. We crossed briefly into Canadian waters. Just last month I was thisclose to Mexico (but was advised against popping in), and here I am dipping my toe into Canada.
We've had several bonfires so far, huddling sociably around the flames in the dark evenings, the sky overhead littered with stars in the style to which I have grown accustomed! How spoiled I've become in this respect. My paintings are coming along, though I must occasionally pause to evacuate from the barn an errant bee or dragonfly buzzing frantically inside the window, or wait patiently while a snake silently makes its way along the wall til it slips back outside. (I can handle glimpsing a harmless snake or two, but I can't blithely paint on while it is keeping me company.)
I fearfully turned my computer on tonight and it seems okay but for a water 'stain'. Cautiously optimistic. I cannot overstate my relief.
I just got invited to exhibit my paintings at a temporary gallery in Cold Spring, back in the Hudson Valley, in July. A friend and curator who supports my work will be mounting several short-run shows in a small space on Main St. I would include some of the new pieces I've been doing, as well as less recent work. More details to come.

Friday, June 3, 2011

better farm

One of the ideas behind Better Farm is that every experience can be an opportunity for growth, and if this is so, then up I grow. Maybe this is what's known as 2 steps forward, 1 stumble backward and land ass-over-teakettle in the mud. The 2 steps forward were the 2 artist residencies- the backwards part involved, 10 minutes after I'd arrived at the farm, spilling water in my backpack and most likely destroying my computer. It's been drying out but it don't look good, and so I haven't been online til today, on a friend's laptop. The days since I returned from NM passed quickly and soon I was on the road up to Better Farm in Redwood, NY. It's beautiful here in the middle of lush green fields, more wide-open sky and lakes all around. I'm used to this landscape having grown up in New York State, but the North Country is still different and will be a lovely place to spend a month.. I'm just rather distracted & anxious about my computer.. the last thing I wanted is to spend my early days here despairing over this. I try to get perspective by thinking of the people whose possessions (and loved ones) were wiped out by recent tornados. This is but one object- albeit an important, not-easily-replaced one. Hoping that my recent luck will kick in. On my way up, cruising along in the truck with windows down (no AC) & music blasting, large canvas blocking my rearview, I got pulled over for speeding- hadn't even noticed the cop. Either I managed to charm him or he was just feeling merciful, for he let me off without a ticket. 
So I might not be posting much this month unless I can sort this out. 
Other than that, I arrived to a houseful of friendly people and dogs, ate a communal dinner and settled into the human-scale birdhouse where I'll be staying. It's not in a tree, but at the edge of the yard next to the garden. 
My studio space is located in a large barn that was recently renovated with big windows, lighting & white-painted walls. In the morning, I open the back door and stand facing east, drinking coffee, watching tall grass wave in the breeze. Late afternoon sun slants through the front windows. I've never painted in a barn in the middle of such a place, and it's easier to forget that the internet exists or that my computer may be ruined. If so, here's hoping that my backup drive at home will step up to the task. Sure is an opportunity for growth.
I did a 2" painting of trees and field and have begun work on a few large canvases. I actually have a commission to work on, of an 1856 building in Perry, NY that someone asked me to paint- his office building. (Anywhere else I'd say it's "upstate" and jerk my thumb vaguely upward, but from here it's 3 hrs south.) The canvas is 36"x36", largest I've worked since the Cityscape last winter. I want to go back & forth among several pieces, some reflecting this green setting and some based on inspiration I found in New Mexico. For now, I'll leave the barn door open and listen to the breeze and the birds while I work.