The Exactly Right Word

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“Map of the Elusive Waterway”
11″ x 14″ acrylic

Over the past year, I’ve been working my way up from small collages to larger canvas pieces and then up to even larger canvas pieces.  I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.

The larger canvases gave me freedom to push some boundaries and experiment with new techniques – loosen my stays, so to speak, and get a little crazy.  And I did all that.  Some of my favorite pieces came out of that larger work, and I still have blank canvases in bigger sizes waiting patiently for me against the wall.

But a friend and I are considering a pop-up gallery in my neighborhood during the summer.  The summer starts in May where I live and the tourists start filling the sidewalks and streets, so it’s time to get ready.

I’ve been doing a little research and visiting a local year-round art fair, keeping my eyes open to learn what sells and what doesn’t.  A pop-up gallery, like a weekend fair, appeals more to folks who are passing by than to collectors (although you never know).

For this venture, I need to scale down.  I’ll show a few of the large canvases (in case one of those collectors happens by), but the bulk of sales will likely come from smaller pieces that can sell for less and be easily carried away.

At first, I was loath to give up those bigger canvases, felt as if I were taking a step backward to go smaller.   I wanted to keep working with color but I had to make adjustments in the way I worked and the tools I used.

At the same time, I began working on poems for a chapbook.  Poetry is, of course, all about compression.  When I teach it, I advise students to bring in drafts and then tell them to cut the draft by a third.  Their “oh no!” looks are pitiful. Thirty lines down to twenty.  Fifteen lines down to ten.  It’s the compression that makes a good poem what it is – tight, concise, solid.

And so it was with the paintings.  The smaller canvases gave me a great exercise in compression.  How could I say with the paint, with the colors, what I wanted to say in “fewer words”?

As the poems and the smaller paintings proceeded, side by side, I felt the joy of discovery, of finding not the almost right word, but the exactly right word.  Not the almost right splash of color, but the exactly right splash of color.

Life is full of lessons.  Some of them are worth the learning.

 

Hippos in Tutus and Other Odd Thoughts about Art

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As I work at my continuing/continual self-education in the art world, I read a lot of articles and blogs about art.  They’re often quite helpful and informative, but I realized recently that few of the articles I read actually have to do with the work of art – technique, problem-solving, materials, tools, etc.

Rather, nearly all the articles from any art source these days are about marketing.

So much talk about price points and the relative salable merits of oil over acrylic over watercolor.  Talk about which sizes sell best and advice on salability of paintings that are (a) larger or (b) smaller.  Realistic paintings vs abstract.  Competitions vs art fairs.  The marketing discussions never seem to end.

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Let me say that I know most of us want to sell our work . Let me say further that I am not a cock-eyed optimist who believes some major buyer will one day – sooner than later, I hope – see my paintings and the clouds will part, angels will sing, I’ll get a one-woman show in a well-known gallery, and I’ll sell every painting I’ve done.

(This scene is related to the one in which the plain young secretary takes off her glasses, unpins her hair and  the young executive says – breathlessly, “Why, Miss Havisham, you’re beautiful!”)

Yeah, it happens in the movies, but hippos dance in tutus in movies, too.

In many arts – theatre, dance, and music for instance – it’s understood that you keep “taking class” as long as you keep working.  You keep learning all the time – practicing, rehearsing, polishing, perfecting.  Sure you audition and try to get paying work, but not without continuing to make your work better.

That’s where I am, this recently fledged artist who is no longer a beginner, working on the craft every day, rehearsing and practicing and then evaluating as best I can what I’ve done and what more I need to learn.  Plenty.

As I do this, the through-line for me (to use a theatre term) is color.  It’s the consistency I want and can depend on and which makes my heart sing.  If your heart doesn’t sing, why are you doing what you do?

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I can draw and I thought recently that I’d try something a little more realistic, but my mind, body, and art spirit just balked.  So unless something changes, I’m in the colored world of abstract expressionism for the long haul.  I don’t think I’ve found my voice yet in visual art, but I do know where to look for it.  I’m guessing it will turn up somewhere among the azurite blue, cadmium red and Naples yellow.

The recent 8″ x 10″ pieces here are my latest step on the journey…

 

 

Everything Counts

“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. ” — Oscar Wilde

I don’t make any claims to speaking to the souls of others in even one way, let alone a thousand different ways.  But I will admit that choosing abstract expressionism with color “unspoiled by meaning and unallied with definite form” speaks to my own soul. Shouts. Whispers. Sings. Teases. Promises.

Looking back – and it’s a long and winding road – I can see that my love of color and of art began back in those kindergarten and first grade classes before computers and kid-size electronics.  We used a rough natural color drawing paper that made a wonderful canvas-like ground for our Crayola crayons.  Most of us had standard boxes of 24. Opening the box and looking at the two rows of pristine points of color was a wonderful moment.

Lucky kids had boxes with forty-eight colors, but some of us had already figured out that we could make all the colors we wanted with twenty-four. And we’d also figured out that it was fun to do that.

I didn’t come from an artistic family that encouraged me to paint or draw.  I was encouraged to write but my grandmother saw through this and bought me my first real painting set when I was ten.  My mom gave me a paint-by-number set when I was twelve, but beyond those two isolated events, I was on my own, and writing filled my days until I got to college where I took my first art history course and was blown away by the way modern artists used color.

Eventually, I did get to art school and other workshops. I learned to draw and learned about the tools of an artist. I’m still learning.  Artists, musicians, dancers, actors never stop “taking class.”

Over time and with more than one detour I’ve found the way to my own abstract expressionist paintings, and I’ve not forgotten a single thing I learned about or loved on the way from there to here – all the way back to kindergarten.

Two new pieces:

I Took a Trip on a Train
I Took a Trip on a Train
While Listening to Thelonius
While Listening to Thelonius Monk

Those Who Follow Tao Make Use of the Straight and Round*

"Frank and Vincent Consider the Sunflowers and How They Grow"
“Frank and Vincent Consider the Sunflowers and How They Grow”

I no longer think these new paintings are being delivered by pixies, elves, friendly spirits or anything/one else.  They’re mine.

And here’s the progress…all are 18″ x 24″, acrylic on canvas.

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“Deconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright”

"Frank and Vincent Talk About the Weather"
“Frank and Vincent Talk About the Weather”
"Frank and Vincent Consider the Sunflowers and How They Grow"
“Frank and Vincent Consider the Sunflowers and How They Grow”

(all images copyright 2016, Molly Larson Cook.)

For my next number…I’m working on a piece with a similar design, but instead of using color, I’m working with neutrals.  So far, so good with the grays and browns and white which are, after all, colors too.  It’s a change, but even a color animal needs a breather now and then.  Stay tuned.

My self-education continues, and the book I keep closest at hand is Simon Jennings’ Artist’s Color Manual.  The book was published in 2003 and is a wondrous compilation of the history and technical qualities of color together with a virtual catalog of possibilities.

This color animal recommends it.

 

*From Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony.

Frank and Vincent Have a Conversation

"Frank and Vincent Talk About the Weather"
“Frank and Vincent Talk About the Weather”

Another gift from the Art Pixies who come in the night and leave things for me.  Things I never dreamed of painting myself.  Things that seem at once familiar and strange to me.

You have to understand that I’m not a follower of “automatic writing” or “automatic painting” or the idea of art rising out of my depths.  I’m a follower of doing the work.  A follower of, “Painting is about paint.” So I do the work and I paint.

When I finished this one, the colors reminded me a little of Van Gogh.  Please understand, I am in no way comparing my work to his – it’s just the colors.

But the color of the circle/ball/orb in this one really belongs to Frank, so I thought perhaps he and Vincent had something to say to each other.  I hope it’s more than the weather.

Who knows, really, where abstract images come from?  For me, it’s still all color, all the time.  Adding the discrete circles is new, and they’re challenging.  They’re also imperfect, the space within the circles broken or incomplete.

It’s easy to make assumptions or to assign meaning beyond what’s on the canvas.

Here’s what’s on the canvas:  Paint.

 

 

“What You Need for Painting”

New piece in progress 20" x 20"
New piece in progress
20″ x 20″

When I taught writing, I told my fledgling writers to “Read, read, read.”  Now that I’m a fledgling artist, I tell myself to “Look, look, look.

I bring books home from the Library every week to add to my own small collection of art books.  As you probably know, art books are big and usually heavy, so I congratulate myself on also “working out” as I carry the books to my car and then from my car to the apartment.

This week, I found a relatively new book, 100 Painters of Tomorrow on the shelf.  In our fast moving century, the book is already two years old, but all of the artists are new to me. It’s quite a collection – something for everybody.  Paintings to love, paintings to question, figurative, abstract, careful, slapdash (although I know that’s an illusion)…all interesting and informative.

I look at the book every day and study what these painters of tomorrow (now today) are up to.  It’s a terrific window on the contemporary art world.  But I also find myself interested in what each artist has to say about his or her work.  The statements nearly all begin with a variation of “My work is about…,” “I am interested in…,” “These paintings represent…”

I started thinking about what I’d say if and when asked to speak of my work.  Granted, I have not yet painted enough to claim anything like a collection.  And I’m still exploring, or rather circling.  I know I keep coming closer and closer to “my work” with each piece, and my recent awareness that it’s all about color for me has put me very near the heart of the work I want to do.  “My work is about…”

Writer Raymond Carver included a poem in his collection Ultramarine titled “What You Need for Painting.”  This is a “found” poem taken from a letter written by Renoir and is largely a (lovely and poetic) list of pigments and painting tools, but it ends with this quote from Renoir, perhaps the main thing needed for painting:

“Indifference to everything except your canvas.
The ability to work like a locomotive.
An iron will.”

Whatever the work is about, it is first of all about commitment, focus, and will.

But mostly commitment.

 

 

Coming On Like Blazes

 

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copyright, 2016

Several years ago when I was offered two different jobs, both of which were good and both of which I was quite capable of doing, I found myself in a dilemma. One of the jobs paid very well. The other job paid a lower salary but was at a well-regarded art school and the fringe benefit was free (and quite expensive) art classes.

Going to art school was my dream, but I had debts and that larger salary called me, too. I conferred with a friend who offered this advice: “Take the job that pays more and you’ll be able to buy all the art you want.”

I took the other job. When I heard my friend’s words and felt my heart plunge, I understood that I was not a passive viewer. Or even a consumer. I was a maker.

Oh, sure I love looking at great art, and a person does a lot of that in art school – slides, exhibitions, trips to the city to visit museums. But in art school you do this with a different purpose and an entirely different appreciation because you are also a maker.

Trying to explain this to others is more than difficult. It was easier to explain my desire to write novels and plays, perhaps because so many out there want to be writers or because everybody knows how to write something or because best-selling writers get a lot of press, aka fame.

Best-selling artists are mostly dead.

I could write my novels and plays at my desk in the living room or at a coffee shop. I didn’t have to wear an old shirt when I was writing to avoid getting my good clothes stained. I could keep the pages of the novel or play, once printed, in a neat stack or a small box.

Painting is messy and takes up a lot of space.

I could, and did, do readings and other performances, sometimes for money, and others found these entertaining.

Holding up a painting is not that entertaining.

But still, still…Here’s what Bayles and Orland say about artmaking in their wonderful book, Art & Fear:

            Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.

It’s been three years now since I walked back through the Art Door. I started with small collages on cut up cardboard boxes. The only painting I did was covering the cardboard with a base color. I moved from there to include some drawing, worked on bigger pieces of cardboard and called what I did “mixed media.” I moved then to small canvases and entered a couple of art shows with my mixed media work. More recently, I’ve painted more and pasted less. Worked on larger canvases. Entered a serious art competition.  And now, the last couple of weeks, a light went on and I’ve moved to all painting. No collage.

When I walked into this particular room and felt the joy, I knew I was home. Color. All color, all the time. Abstract Expressionism. This is the art that resonated for me when I first began to see and appreciate serious art. I make no judgments here about what anyone else wants to do, and I’m not going to try to explain why this is the art I love best and want to make.

I have a lot to learn, believe me, but the joy has not diminished for a moment.

There are plenty of schools of art for everybody who wants to pick up a pencil or pen or brush. You may not find yours with your first efforts; in fact, you’ll likely have to play around, experiment, look and read, do some searching, but you’ll find the one that makes your heart hum.

When you do, I think you’ll understand why Bayles & Orland speak of the place you’ve found as “hearth and home.”

Now, I’ve gotta put on my old painting shirt and my red Chuck Taylor high tops and pour myself a cup of coffee and turn on some good jazz and start a new piece. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

I think the canvas is blazing!