Looking for Your Lost Joie de Vivre? Try Art!

“Boplicity,” 20″ x 24″, acrylic on canvas,
copyright 2017, Molly Larson Cook

I read a question the other day on one news site or another, a question about art.  I’ll paraphrase here, but it went something like this:  “With all the craziness going on in the world and in the United States, all the corruption and politics, threats of war or actual war, why does art matter?”

My first thought in my often smart-alecky way was “Well, it keeps a lot of us busy in our studios and off the streets.”  My cardio doc would add that it keeps a lot of us healthy.  Only the Fortunate Few would say that it makes anybody rich.

On one level, I understand the question.  But on another level, it makes no sense to me.  It’s kind of like saying “With all the craziness going on in the world and in the United States, all the corruption and politics, threats of war or actual war, why does eating matter?”

There’s a sense of fatalism in this question about art and another more bothersome sense that art has no value.  That we should be stewing and fretting about serious matters instead of indulging in the frivolities of art.

I’m reminded of a moment during the Cold War when Richard Nixon went on the air to say that if there was an enemy attack, he would come on television to reassure Americans.  A kid somewhere in America apparently responded to this by saying that all things considered if the bomb was going to be dropped, he’d just as soon watch “I Love Lucy” reruns.  Amen to that.

But joking aside, art matters even more in desperate times because it reminds us while the economy goes to hell in a hand cart that there is, indeed, still beauty in the world.  Art is the joie de vivre of the human animal, the human spirit.  And there’s something for everybody.

Landscapes, portraits, still lifes, sculptures, collages, abstract expressionism and more.  It’s a free camp. From Damien Hirst’s colored circles to Monet’s garden, from  O’Keeffe’s sex-on-a-stem flowers to Whistler’s mama just a’sittin’ and a’rockin’.  From the caves of Lascaux to Venus on the Half Shell (I say this lovingly).  From the Mona Lisa to the drawing your kid posted on the refrigerator.

Joie de vivre! 

Let the naysayers try to steer us ever thus to the serious business of life.  It is the artists who will always be there to keep us on the wide and playful side of life.  They’ll inspire us, delight us, annoy us, confuse us, offend us, make us think and laugh and wonder.

In troubled times, and baby we got ’em, art is our defense and our protection against the slings and arrows of the serious business of life, the 24-hour news cycle, our dwindling retirement accounts, arrogance and pomposity and meanness.

I’m off now to finish preparations for my own art show.  I’ll be delivering the paintings tomorrow, “The Colors of Jazz,” my small contribution to help counteract all that’s going wrong in the world today.  If the paintings make even one person feel better about things, I’ll call it a success.

 

 

 

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Art, TEGWAR, and Sweet Songs in the Halls of Creation

“These Women in My Life”
Mixed media collage
24″ x 24,” Molly Larson Cook, 2015

“I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.”  —Raoul Dufy

“Do what suits you…try to paint in the moment…
forget everything you have learned…”
–Jan van Oort

The words of these two painters are near and dear to my creative heart.

Dufy was a French Fauve painter who lived and worked at the end of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century.   In addition to being a painter, Dufy was a draftsman, printmaker, book illustrator, scenic designer, furniture designer and public planner.

van Oort is a contemporary Dutch abstract expressionist painter as well as an architect, composer,  jazz saxophone player, writer and advertising concept designer.

In other words, neither of these artists put all their creative eggs in one basket – or even two.   The word polymath comes to mind.

As I look at their short biographies, I begin to detect the great appeal both these artists have to me and why their advice which is essentially advice to break the rules resonates so strongly.

One of my favorite novels and without question my favorite movie is Bang the Drum Slowly. This is a story of baseball, rain and human understanding.  On off days or when it’s raining, the players sometimes engage in a game called TEGWAR – The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.

I’m not proposing a full monty game of TEGWAR for artists and neither were Dufy or van Oort.

But they, and so many others who came before us, know the value of learning the rules and then tossing them aside in pursuit of our own voices, our styles, our artistic ventures into new territory.  As Joseph Campbell once said (and I paraphrase), if you’re following a path, it’s somebody else’s path.

I know this from another side as well.  I’ve taught creative writing for several years and my goal is to teach the writers the basics and – yes – the “rules” of whatever genre we’re working on – poetry, fiction, nonfiction.  They sometimes ask to see samples of my own work and I show them.  But I don’t want them to write like me.  I don’t want them to write like any of the writers they read.  And I don’t want them to be slaves to the rules.  I want them to use the rules as a foundation and the writers they read, including me, as samples, but I want them to write like themselves. 

When we look at the art of those who’ve come before us, when we browse the magazines with the newest art, when we walk the galleries and museums, we get ideas and appreciate the art that interests us.  But we don’t want to paint like those artists – we want to be inspired by them to paint like ourselves!

There’s a kind of poem called a “nonce” poem in which the poet creates a one-off poetry form just for that poem.

I’m all for nonce art.  One-off paintings that will please the artist and won’t be repeated.  The artist will make the rules and the result will be the artist’s voice sweetly singing in the halls of creation.

 

 

Breaking Rules and Making Art

Simon Jennings, trained as a graphic artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, authored a number of books for artists. He worked as a designer and graphic artist in New York, Chicago, and London and taught at several British art schools, including the Royal College of Art.

My favorite among his books is his Artist’s Color Manual which includes valuable information about the history of color and pigments, a section on the characteristics of individual colors and a section titled “Creative Directions” which describes and illustrates techniques with various media.

Jennings includes a number of quotations from artists and also his own sometimes deliciously irreverent narrative about painting.  As the sometime poster woman for irreverent behavior over the years, I particularly like his suggestion that we break the rules.  After all, it’s art!

Of course, artists have been experimenting and breaking rules for years. It’s the nature of the best of the game.  Just as in writing or music or any other creative endeavor, we learn the rules (the scales, the grammar, the classic steps) and then we get to fool around.  We get to make choices and discoveries.

Here’s Jennings on “Experimenting with Color:”

“Experiment with how you look at colors in nature; the colors are rarely like you think they are.  Use any materials that are available and ignore correct usage–try gouache over acrylic, mix it with ink, and scribble over it with colored pencils and pastels.”

A friend sent me a card recently with a quotation from actor/comedian Danny Kaye: “Life is a great big canvas. Throw as much paint on it as you can.”  To which I might add “and in any media you choose.”

Jennings continues:

“Rub, scratch and scrub into the surface, using a simple limited palette of two or three colors to avoid the results looking too muddy. Use thick and thin paint, draw lines and apply washes.”

Even before I read this passage, I began – in my own irreverent way – to “rub, scratch and scrub.”  As I’ve written before, I no longer use brushes – I use tools, and the rub, scratch, scrub technique is perfect for the palette knives, rollers, scrapers and anything else I pick up.

Jennings ends this sidebar as follows:

“Forget about making an accurate drawing of a photographic likeness of the object – just apply the paint as fast as you can. All you are trying to do is capture a vibrant impression of the simple still life in front of you, so concentrate on the colors. See what turns out. If you like what you have done, keep it. If not, discard it and try again.”

I don’t work from a still life these days, but my first serious drawing from many years ago was done in pastel and was of an apple the instructor had set up for a still life. I pulled the drawing out recently to remind myself of the long distance from then to now (on a lot of maps).

Back then, I was pleased that my pastel looked like a real apple, the one on the table, and told the instructor so.  She smiled and said, “That’s good. Now do one that doesn’t look like an apple.”

Looking back, I realize that her words may have been my beginning in the happy world in which I now reside with abstract expressionism.  All color, all the time. A world in which I always “concentrate on the colors” and in which I wait to “see what turns out.”

Here’s a new piece, “Dreamsville,” and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.  It’s 20 x 24 acrylic and it’s available.

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Solo Show in the Works – The Organic Artist Asks the Paint

When Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Wait, I hear you say, we haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet.  True enough, we haven’t, but Spring is on my mind for a happy reason.

I’ve been offered a solo show in San Diego that will go up at the end of March and run for three months – April, May and June.  The gallery is one in our Liberty Station arts venue, a popular and busy place in the heart of the city, and I am more than delighted to have been offered this opportunity.

Spring is not that far away when it comes to generating enough pieces to fill not one, but four walls!

Yes, I have a lot of pieces already finished, but mounting a solo show means putting the very best of my work together in a coherent and cohesive manner.  As I’ve said before – rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.

Since color is my animal, I know that much of what I put together will be connected by color.  But not only color.  Even as I think about new work, I’ve begun it, but being an “organic” painter just as I am an organic writer means that I have no clear, pre-determined plan for any piece.  (See below.)

I have a general idea, but I let the paint take me where it wants to go.

Architect Louis Kahn, who designed the Salk Institute building in San Diego, was asked how he came up with his beautiful designs.  His answer was that he asked the bricks what they wanted to be.

I ask the paint.

To those who want more structure in their lives (and their work), who want to know exactly where they’re headed on any journey, an answer like that can be disturbing.  Possibly even irresponsible.

“What do you mean, you don’t know what you’re going to paint when you start?” (Or write. Or visit.)

What we mean is that we’ll engage the media – words, paint, the wheels beneath us – and journey together.  We’ll sing and dance and explore.  We’ll take some risks and laugh at ourselves when things go wrong, because we know there’s no “wrong” when it comes to the creative life.  There are only ideas that don’t work.

One of the best things about the creative life is that we get endless “do-overs”…and every one of those – every new layer of paint or different word – gets us closer to who we are as artists or writers or dancers or inventors or musicians or cooks or any other creative thing we want to be.

Because each try, whether it succeeds or not, becomes part of our history, and we are richer for it.

Those who keep learning and experimenting and refining their creative work will be like Titian. As Robert Henri has it in his The Art Spirit:

I believe that keeping one’s faculties in full exercise is the secret of good health and longevity. It made Titian a young man at nearly a hundred.”

We could probably say the same of Grandma Moses, too, but Henri’s book was written long before Grandma Moses came on the scene.

Here’s a recent example of my own experimenting and refining.  On the left is a painting I posted more than a month ago.  First draft, as it were.  And on the right is the recently finished piece.

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I asked the paint what it wanted to be, and I got an answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing It Up for the November Show

Today was a gallery day as I rearranged the work from last month, switched things around and added two new pieces.

The new additions are from an earlier series. and I wasn’t sure they’d work with the more abstract pieces already in place.  I loaded the trunk with an assortment, so I’d have plenty of options.

I had fun and smiled to myself when I realized this felt like pulling things out of the closet, trying them on and discarding them one by one as I shuffled the paintings around – put one up, take two down, take those two down and try something else.  It was all about color balance and also – for me – about symmetry.

I’m never quite taken with shows where the work seems to be placed at random on the walls.  It’s a matter of taste more than anything, but also a matter of knowing how you want your work to be seen.

I want my work to be seen in a relatively ordered manner allowing viewers to focus on each painting without distractions.  Quietly. Thoughtfully.  Other artists are going for something else.

When I had things the way I wanted and had used all the tools of the gallery hanging trade including the handy level, the gallery owner dropped by and gave me a thumbs up, noting too the symmetry. “I wouldn’t add a thing.”

And the new pieces from my “Frank Lloyd Wright” series worked beautifully.  Here they are. I’ll have a picture of the entire wall in a few days.

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Deconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright
18 x 24, Acrylic on canvas, c 2016

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Frank and Vincent Go for a Walk
18 x 24,  Acrylic on canvas, c 2016

I’m ready for the Friday opening and grateful to have this terrific opportunity to show my work and for the sales that have been happening every week. Small steps, but this artist’s journey of a thousand miles has begun with one small show in San Diego.  Who knows what’s next…

 

 

 

 

Another Month in the Gallery!

October has been a happy and busy month with the show at HYPE Gallery and my gigs as a participating artist gallery-sitter through the month.  I don’t know about the other artists in the show, but I love being at the gallery and talking to any and all who wander in.

The good news now is that the show has been extended through November.

I’ve met so many interesting – and interested – people and have enjoyed engaging them in conversations about the work on the walls as well as, in a few instances, their own work.

Artists like to see what other artists are doing, so it’s always a reasonable guess that some of these folks are also doing creative work.  A few of them have been musicians or working in some other creative field.  More than one has been involved in high tech, and my abstract paintings have been of particular interest to them.  I like hearing about what they see in the abstractions.

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“Blue in Green,” ©, 2016, 20 x 24 acrylic on canvas

One of my choices to do abstract work is the whole idea that the viewer can add his or her own narrative.  When I have the chance to hear that narrative, it’s especially gratifying for me.

I’ve also sold some pieces, always good news, including one that’s on its way to Germany, purchased by a young couple touring the western United States.  I was happy to meet every buyer and to know where the pieces would eventually find their homes.  Although selling artwork online is popular, I don’t think it’s for me.  I have too much fun getting to know the folks who enjoy the work, although I’d be happy to make the sale to any of my readers who might be interested.  We’ll just have to get acquainted some other way.

One couple who started taking art history classes “just for fun” during their early retirement bought one of my first collages and were already discussing just where it would go in their home as they walked away, happy owners of one of my own favorite pieces, one I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to sell.

Selling one’s work, all of mine are originals – no prints, is a lesson in letting go.  But when we know our work is making someone else happy, that’s a good thing.

In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm wrote about generosity and noted that the most generous among us are not afraid to let things go because they know they can create more of whatever it is – money, love, art…  I keep that in mind.

And now I’ll have another month in the gallery – more art, more conversations, maybe more sales.  As we say in southern Cali, “It’s all good.”

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“Celestial Bodies,”  ©2016, 11 x 14, mixed media collage on illustration board

Hype Gallery/Studio Door in San Diego’s North Park Arts District
3750 30th Street, San Diego, CA
For information, contact The Studio Door, 619.255.4920

 

 

 

 

Another Opening, Another Show!

As September winds down, and summer as well, my attention is fully on preparations for the gallery show in October.  Selections have been made, titles chosen, labels printed and postcards mailed.  In other words, I’m ready to get this show on the road.

As someone who has done a turn or two on the stage, I can easily compare this first show to opening night – the anticipation, the touch of anxiety, the knowledge that anything can happen, and the pure joy of finally bringing the work into the world come what may.

At the same time, I’m already thinking ahead.  I’ve built a good body of work with my most recent pieces, many of which will be in the show, but I’m itching to explore further and new ideas come to mind.

I don’t question that color will be the defining aspect of my work, but the possibilities are many.  And they gypsy in me wants to travel a few new roads.

I didn’t do much painting over the summer, but I did create a few 8×10 pieces to sell at the show.  Here are samples:

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I’ll also include a few collage pieces from my Celestial Bodies series:

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Again, color all the time.

And about that color, here are the opening lines of my Artist’s Statement that lend a little insight into how that all came about:

“Perhaps it was the 50-color paint set my grandmother bought me when I was nine. Or perhaps it was the technicolor movies, especially Walt Disney who animated music with color. Or it may have been my first college art history class where I fell in love with the vivid colors of Raoul Dufy and the Fauves (as well as my art history professor) when I was eighteen.

“Whatever it was, despite work with charcoal and pastels, clay, collage, or pen and ink, I’ve been hooked on color ever since.”

The show opens October 6 and the reception is Saturday, October 7 from 6-9 p.m. at Hype Gallery/Studio Door on 30th St. in San Diego’s arts district.  I plan to be there!