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.




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:


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


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!






Imagining Forth!

As both a poet and an artist, I tend to wander back and forth, crossing the invisible line between the two like a drunk on a bicycle.

I give many of my paintings poetic titles and I write poems about art.  I’m not the only one who does this.  One of my favorite books on the practice of writing is titled The Writer on His Own, and much of what’s here applies just as well to my painting.

Take this one, for instance, one of the many short bits of advice from author David Greenhood:

“Our main effort should be to imagine forth, rather than to be always backtracking.  Ruing. Picking up stuff that fell off because we were overloaded or so badly loaded that we couldn’t carry it.”

I like this thought a great deal – for art, for writing, for life.  “Imagining forth” strikes me as just the thing to keep the energy and excitement of the work, any work, going.  And in my head it goes nicely with the great line from one of the songs in A Chorus Line:  “Keep the best of you, do the rest of you.”

As we work in any creative arena, we learn new things all the time – at least we hope to if we’re creative and not robotic.  Our work builds on these new things, and we either figure how to incorporate the old with the new or we drop the old.  We “imagine forth” instead of backtracking.

It’s pretty simple, really.  We start with our ABCs, but once we can read poetry and novels, we don’t backtrack to saying our ABCs every morning.  Art, writing and life are about building, incorporating, imagining forth.

When I got back to my art a few years ago, I did collages.  I’ve liked collages since I first saw those done by Picasso and Braque, so it seemed a good place to start – tissue paper, recycled images, a little paint.  I gradually moved on to more paint and less paper, finally going full tilt with paint.

This week I decided to “imagine forth” about what would happen if I combined the paint with paper but in a new way, so I gave it a try.  At the top of the page are four images of the result from start to finish.  The piece looks nothing like my old collages or my newer paintings either.   And it sure doesn’t look like Picasso or Braque.  It was an experiment.  And every time I try a new experiment, I am a happy fledgling again!

I really want an “Imagine Forth!” tee-shirt now.




A Body for My Body of Work

Since my last post regarding the need for a body of work, I’ve had a conversation with an artist/instructor who gave me some much-needed feedback on what I’ve done so far.  He also introduced me to new materials and techniques.

Before we finished the conversation he let me see pieces of an exercise for one of his classes, not unlike the exercises I remember from art school.  I haven’t done anything like this for a while, but I liked what I was seeing.

A couple of days later, I did my own version of the exercise which meant creating six different papers – four of mine were hand painted or stamped on plain white paper and two were modifications of already printed paper with stamps or pen and ink.  After everything was dry, I got out my paper cutter and cut each piece of paper into a lot of strips and other rectangles in a variety of sizes.

I used a sheet of Bristol board for six 7″x7″ supports.  Bristol board is not really heavy enough, but I was vamping and it was handy. Then I started to play.  The goal was to use at least a small piece of each of the six papers in each of the six collages.  It was rather like doing six jigsaw puzzles, each different.  I was pleased with the results and especially with the cleaner lines than most of what I’ve been doing.

My favorite piece of advice from an instructor at Maine College of Art was:  “Rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.”  I’ve held those words as a measure of my writing over the years and even of life in general.  Now I was applying it again to the art.  But the pieces seemed perhaps too clean, a little sterile and I wanted more richness, more complexity.

I’ve had a wonderful little image of a nude woman sitting on a stack of books, back view, for some time now and I realized she was the right image for these pieces.  A single image on each of the six pieces.

They’re finished now.  I like them and I laugh to think I have a start on my “body of work” with a real body in the picture. Honestly, a writer’s mind never stops…!

A "body of work..." Molly Larson Cook
A “body of work…”
Molly Larson Cook

The Map and the Body

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

I love maps.  One of my uncles was a surveyor and he taught me a lot about them when I was a child, made up map games and generally instilled in me a love of these beautiful and useful tools for finding one’s way.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop at The Studio Door in San Diego, a wonderful, relatively new gallery/studio/workshop space.  The workshop, titled Art To Market Road Map and led by owner/artist Patric Stillman, was exactly that.

I came away with pages of information and ideas especially helpful to the fledgling that I am.  I keep thinking of the wise words of an artist friend I knew years ago:  “We are all richly gifted with inexperience.”

Believe me, I’m incredibly wealthy when it comes to inexperience!

One of the pieces of information/advice from the workshop that rang a serious bell for me was the notion of developing a body of work.  I’ve done a number of collages over the past couple of years, many that I like a lot, a few that I’ve put into gallery shows elsewhere, most of them stacked against the wall, but a body of work is something different.  Even with all these pieces I realized, alas, that like the old song says, “I ain’t got no body…”

The notion stopped me for several days as I considered how I wanted to approach developing a body of work.  I’m an eclectic thinker and writer and now artist, and I tend to wander hither and yon, experimenting with this, trying out that.  A body of work means at least a semblance of commitment to a subject or form or idea.

After several days I settled on an image I’ve used more than once in my work – that fact alone led me to understand that the image was important to me in ways I had not yet considered.

I was in the middle of another piece that I’m in the process of completing and when I do, I’ll move on to explore the beginnings of my body of work feeling confident that it’s not only possible but the first step in a great adventure.  Ideas are churning all the time.

I’ll still experiment and try new ideas, but the very notion of the body of work has provided a much-needed anchor for all that experimenting.  I don’t feel constrained. I feel freed up.

And I have a good idea where I am on the map.

Now That I Found It, Where Do I Put It?

"Oh no, not again." Molly Larson Cook, 2014
“Oh no, not again.”
Molly Larson Cook, 2014


Working as I do in mixed-media collage, I’m an avid ripper and clipper and scanner – old magazines and books, old photos, images I love and want to use more than once, things I pick up on my walks – most recently a beautifully dried and partially shredded shiny brown palm frond.  I am a keeper of the scraps.

Like others of my ilk, I have boxes filled with bits and pieces, remnants along with books and magazines still intact but with pages ripped out for my arcane purposes.  When I buy used picture books, the sellers often note how beautiful the pictures are.  I hate to break their hearts by telling them I’m going to rip them up for art.

The upshot of all this is that about once a month I decide to organize my collections.  I have boxes and files and little drawers and all manner of places to store my bits, but I never get it right.  “Put all the people in one place,” I tell myself, “and all the plant material in another,” but as soon as I begin, I know I’m in trouble.  So I regroup and decide to sort by color.  This leads me nowhere as well.

The problem for me is that my mind and creative spirit don’t put the pieces together this way.  Other collage artists may be more organized or know exactly where they’re going, but I’m not there.  My eclectic mind wants to have fun with the work and I don’t know when I begin what I might want to put with what.  I work slowly and add images and color a little at a time.

Case in point:  I have a small collage in the works. I prepped the background in a new way to get some color combinations I haven’t tried before, rather quiet combinations, then I added the tissue scraps I use, a scrap of a dress pattern and then a bird I’d had in mind for this piece.  All in all a pleasant little piece, but I’m not about pleasant little pieces and something was missing in the upper left space.

While going through one of my boxes, I found just the thing and have now added a smallish image of a happy accordian player behind a row of red geraniums. I had no idea he’d show up here, but he’s quite perfect and it makes me laugh to see this guy with the lovely bird.

I realize once again that I can continue to buy boxes and drawers for all my treasures, but my collection will still be stored in my quirky random way because I never know what’s going to inspire what.  Or make me laugh.

My world has never been perfectly organized like some cosmic underwear drawer.  My boxes of treasures are, in my old professor’s words,  rich and complex to me, not complicated or confusing.  And that’s good enough for this fledgling.


The Riches of the City

It is only fitting
“It is only fitting…”

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Friends from many places told me I was going to find a spiritual home in San Diego – a home for my creative spirit – and sure enough I have.

When I look through the local newspapers, my one lament is “so much to do, so little time.”  Of course, I’m not a participant in all those activities.  I don’t play an instrument or sing (except in the car, alone), I’m not a dancer (except late at night in my living room, alone), and I’m no longer on any stage (except the private theatre of my mind, alone).  But I’m a writer and a fledgling artist.

These days I lean toward gallery openings and art classes and conversations with working artists whenever possible.  To my great pleasure, this is indeed a city of riches.  To paraphrase Alexandra del Lago in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, I’m not old, but I’m no longer young, “not young, young” anymore.  So the pressure is on to work at the visual art as much as possible, and there are so many ways to do that here.

I’m exploring all possible avenues and finding much encouragement in the city in which I now find myself.  Add to that my own late-hour willingness to explore and experiment, my new-found willingness to make mistakes and hope for “happy accidents,” and my memory of the words of an artist friend from many years ago:  “We are all richly gifted with inexperience.”

I remember those words every day, including the days when nothing goes right, but then again, nothing goes really wrong.  Learning to be a collage/mixed media artist is much bigger than simply putting pieces together.  I’m learning a whole new philosophy of life.

For a collage artist, every misbegotten scrap of paper or picture or tiny leaf or bit of detritus can be used to make something new – with luck something beautiful.  If that isn’t a life lesson, I don’t know what is.