Bucket lists

The other day I was looking at a box that once contained beer. Printed on the outside was an invocation to enjoy your ‘Corona Bucket List’ which probably involved drinking the Mexican brew somewhere exotic. I’m unlikely to do that but it did get me thinking about the phenomenon of bucket lists.

The jury is out on when the term was coined but the general consensus is that it was, indeed, first used and popularised by the 2007 film of the same name. A list of things you want to do before you ‘kick the bucket’ is the premise. But what does the presence, or not, of a bucket list mean?

So, what are bucket lists for? Do they keep us moving forward? Perhaps they give structure to our planning. Do they guide decisions or provide topics for conversation? Are they a list of things to look forward to, something to hope for, or chronicles of exciting dreams? Are they a focus for financial saving or a great source of birthday present ideas? Are they inspiration for joyfully using up the inheritance money, a final, delightful fling? Do they serve to keep us young? And can a strongly-held and un-completed bucket list lead to disappointment in the world, oneself, resources available?

Are goals and bucket list items the same thing? I’m not convinced they are. Goals, perhaps, grow out of existing pursuits. Bucket list items, perhaps, are more discrete – certainly the image of a catalogue of one-off experience is the classic version.

I don’t think I have a bucket list. I used to have things I wanted to do – run a marathon (definitely missed my moment of enthusiasm there), walk the Camino de Santiago (not quite so keen now), go back to New Zealand or the UK (not, much to my very good fortune, new experiences). I haven’t got a hankering to jump out of a plane or try rock-climbing – although I don’t want to suggest that a bucket list needs to be a litany of adventure activities. Far from it. Maybe my bucket list consists of reaching a ripe, old age before I die!

A bucket list. What’s on yours? What are the steps you need to take to cross some of those off? Or maybe your direction and progress comes from other drivers. Interesting thinking.

Until later,

Kirsten

Face the world

I have been playing with portraits – firstly as part of a drawing project focussed on self-portraits and now in paint to get my brain/brush back in tune.

It’s given me time to think about portraiture in general. As an inveterate visitor to the Archibald Prize in Sydney each year (sadly, not in 2020), I have enjoyed the art form for some time. Having now dabbled – not even stepped on to the ladder; more like located it in the garage – I have been thinking about what a portrait should depict – indeed, what a portrait COULD depict.

The most obvious answer is a likeness; of the face and possibly extending to indication of the physicality of the subject. But is a face necessary? Several years ago, to some degree of consternation, Tim Storrier won the Archibald with a self-portrait without a face. On careful inspection, you could possibly see a face flying away in the wind with a sheaf of papers but it was not placed in the conventional setting by ANY stretch of the imagination. So, you could ask, is the physicality equally as important as the visage? Does it tell as much, or more, about the subject?

And even if we take the facial likeness as vital, what else can it show? I saw, in recent years, a portrait of Paul Little, former Chairman of the Essendon Football Club, who battled through the accusations of and investigations into the drugs scandal. This portrait depicted a broken man. Although the painting was utterly conventional, there was, emanating from it, the desperation and exhaustion of defeat.

So, while my new foray into painting is still struggling for a basic likeness, my drawn portraits are heading towards broader goals. What can we see? What is the emotional quality? What is the history? What is that instant secret that is given away – captured by the artist in a moment of connection? That’s certainly something to aspire to.

I’d better drag that ladder into the studio.

Until later,

Kirsten

The cafe lifestyle

There is a long history of creative people gathering in cafés. In Italy, at the end of the 17th and into the early 18th century, cafés became popular places for intellectuals, the middle class, aristocrats and the penniless to mingle. By the 19th century, in France particularly, a more modest cafe could see a collection of thinkers and artists, or ‘Bohemians’, exchanging ideas and inspiration. Even my friend and artist, Angus Nivison, speaks of art students in 1970s Sydney gathering in establishments to discuss their art and the ways of the world.

So, as I sit here over my (second!) coffee, I feel the history warming me and, although I drink alone, I do find inspiration and a chance to quietly muse over life and art. There is a gentleman sitting near me (not TOO near in this time of COVID) enjoying his toast with bacon. A mum behind is feeding her tiny baby as her coffee goes a bit cold. The staff, in true old-school hospitality style, make me feel welcome and don’t seem to mind me whiling away a few hours in a little corner.

So, although Matisse, Manet, Nivison, Hugo, Balzac and many, many other artists and writers aren’t joining me over coffee today, they are here in spirit. We are encouraging each other, turning over ideas and recognising the challenges and rewards of the creative life. Actually, they are quite good company!

Until later,

Kirsten

Remnants

Among this current trend of minimising and de-cluttering, I am particularly aware of how much stuff I have. I don’t expect for a moment that I will slim down my possessions to anything like Marie Kondo’s ideal but I am conscious that I could probably get rid of some gear.

And so, I’m not sure where I stand having brought home from Adelaide twelve large paintings which are currently stacked in the front hall. Obviously I will not be getting rid of them, except to a loving home, but it does beg the question of what I am going to do with them and where I am going to store them! Furthermore, in six weeks I am likely to have another dozen equally large works to pick up and add to the collection. Ah, such a volume of space!

I think the main bedroom and the kitchen are the only rooms in the house free of art- related materials, and even the kitchen is often commandeered on a single-task basis. Renowned Australian artist Margaret Olley was well known for having a home crammed full of paintings, both finished and in progress, wilting flowers from past still-life arrangements and, of course, the utensils of the painting process. While I’m not there yet, without a bit of care I could be heading in that direction!

So, I have a renewed vigour to cut back on the other stuff so that the net tonnage of my possessions is not entirely shameful. The first place will be the wardrobe! That’s well overdue and, who knows, I may be able to store a stack of paintings in the newly created space. But, then there will be paintings in the bedroom too! Haha!

Until later,

Kirsten

The end of July

Twenty-ninth of July. We’ve made it this far despite all the challenges of 2020, but still there seems to be more ahead. My thoughts are with all my family and friends in the more easterly states who are still struggling with difficult times. I am not convinced that we here in South Australia are immune, so we may join you at some stage.

The sense of isolation is growing here for some of us but the behavior of people in our little corner of the state is gradually and subtly creeping towards pre-covid style. I, myself, am guilty of hugging close friends, which I know is bad. I think, as we have been so distant from confirmed cases in this region, it’s easy for people (me) to conveniently forget that it could actually be brought across the border as we’re so close. We have been described by incident management bodies as being in a vulnerable position, despite the ‘slamming shut’ of the crossings. Certainly, some close to me are significantly concerned.

Goodness knows what Christmas will bring. It could look very different this year for those who depend on travel or gatherings to spend it with family. Still, I am trying to think of it all as a bit of an adventure and like most adventures there are inconvenient and uncomfortable times. Of course, for those who have been directly affected by the illness, mine is a very trite description and I acknowledge that and apologise.

I sincerely hope that COVID-19 is a 2020 experience and doesn’t carry on for too much longer than that. Perhaps I am being hopeful. That’s probably best, as the thought of dodging the virus and negotiating the restrictions for years ahead is too daunting for everyday processing.

I am grateful for the technology that allows us to remain in contact. It is a reminder that there are people out there, there are things to learn and things to look at. I certainly look forward to looking at all of you in person once this is over.

Until then, or until next time,

Kirsten

Invest, gamble, leap

When I get a painting framed, it is an investment.

It feels like a gamble.

It is actually a leap of faith.

In most cases, my work is not a saleable item until the final investment has been made. Choosing what is framed, and how, is a clear business decision. There is no point investing in second-rate works or cheap framing. There needs to be a calculated choice made regarding what may sell, what is going to be exhibited, what will attract a positive response.

On the other hand, for my sanity, there needs to be some sense of light-headed, ‘hell, why not? Let’s give it a go’. When I do this, I am gambling on it paying off. There has to be some logic behind the punt though – perhaps like placing money on a well-researched horse race rather than in a poker machine. It’s not as calculated as an investment decision, but it’s not ridiculous either.

It all actually boils down to an enormous leap of faith—a leap embedded in the hope, the optimism, the enthusiasm that it will all work out and, eventually, you might recoup those funds and a little bit more. The leap is exciting, adrenaline-filled and keeps you coming back.

And so, my mantra develops:

Invest wisely, gamble responsibly, leap joyously.

… for the moment, anyway!

Until later,

Kirsten

Lists

I am an inveterate (some might say obsessive) list-maker. Writing this blog post was on my list for today and it is hard to say whether it would have happened had it not been written down. Because my listing is extensive, it does take away the need to remember things in the heat of the moment. Thus, it is possible that, should ‘blog post’ have been omitted from my daily plan, it may have slipped through the cracks for a day or so.

Not only do lists stop me forgetting things; they also contribute to my self-directed lifestyle. I must remain self-motivated to keep moving forward and crossing things off a list helps to keep the wheels turning. My lists also contribute to a life largely lacking stress over those little things. Tasks are rarely forgotten, or late. I don’t have to think about what to have for dinner each night or what to buy in the supermarket. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

There are, of course, amazing people who function without a list; people who remember things, plan things, achieve things without having to write everything down. I do admire that. I’m not sure I aspire to it, though. My system suits me.

There are, no doubt, degrees of list-making behaviour—a continuum if you like. I am, without a doubt, holding up one end. Friends of mine recline comfortably as the opposite. What about you? Where do you find your place along that list-making line?

Until later,

Kirsten

Exhibitionism

When back in Adelaide for the week it’s important to reconnect with the café-slash-blog lifestyle. I am in Mile End in a funky little place with a lovely coffee and a banana smoothie on the way (I never suggested I was sophisticated! Haha)

I am in Adelaide for my exhibition, of course; a fact of which many of you will be all too aware! I was looking, out of interest, at the Oxford definition of exhibitionist – ‘a person who behaves in an extravagant way in order to attract attention’. That gave me a giggle. It is, presumably, not synonymous with exhibitor – ‘a person who displays works of art or other items of interest in an exhibition’. I think I prefer the former! It sounds like more fun.

I’ve written before about writing as performance. Exhibiting is performance as well although, like writing, there is sometimes a distance between the exhibitor and the audience. The exhibitor is often not present which can give a sense of safety! I need to spend some time at the gallery this afternoon actually being present to chat so that will take some energy. You need to maintain your faith in your work in the face of the walk-straight-past-it people or, worse, those that express some sort of active disapproval. I know my paintings are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like them and, really, that’s the largest part of the battle. I am actually looking forward to my time of being present, tiring though it will be. There are worse things than being surrounded by your extra children, all in one place, like some sort of matriarch with the entire family in attendance.

So, as a team, we’ll perform for the month, singing and dancing—silent and motionless, present or not—but hopefully speaking in clear (and appealing) voices. I feel enormously privileged to have such an opportunity to get those voices out into the world. Let’s begin! Let’s become a bunch of exhibitionists!

Until later,

Kirsten

Exhibition time

The printed invitations for my July exhibition in Adelaide arrived in the post today. There’s no getting out of it now! It is, at once, an enormously exciting and a bit of a nerve-wracking thing. The excitement wins out over the other which is, of course, excellent and as you would hope it would be.

My front hall is home to thirteen pieces of me; labelled, wrapped and ready to be taken to the city next week. I will leave them there for a month, alone, and go back and retrieve those that are coming home early in August. It’s a bit like sending them away to boarding school. You know they’ll be safe …. but what are you missing out on? Will any of them return to different homes, never to be seen again? A precautionary farewell is mandatory.

And, as when your young child goes to visit others and you desperately hope she will behave and be polite, I hope that the paintings present beautifully; that someone likes the exhibition, or at least I don’t make a complete fool of myself. Therein lies the nerve-wracking part. But I have no control over that now. For better or worse, this is what I’m presenting and, probably most importantly, I love the works.

Seeing your paintings up on the wall is very satisfying (they look so much better there than they do stacked against the spare bed!). The gallery they are going to is lovely – light, white, interesting in (movable) shapes. They will be well looked after and, hopefully, well looked at.

Best of luck, my painty friends. Enjoy your time in the sun!

Until later,

Kirsten

Beginning

It’s a nervous time when you begin writing. Where do you start? What are you trying to say? How should you put it and when will you know whether the message is going to get across? Words, if they stumble out at all, do so in fits and starts, peering around the corners and, at times, retreating uncaptured.

Enter the genius of Mark McGuinness, UK poet, writer and creative coach. When he finds it difficult to begin, he says to himself

‘It’s not this, but ….’

And he writes something.

Commitment is scary. By putting something on paper we commit and anxiety about commitment can make it difficult to begin. If we knew, however, we could write something that would never end up in the final copy, maybe we would feel more freedom in our creating. We could perhaps enter worlds of invention without fear.

By not committing to the first output being the final outcome or, taking it a step further, ensuring that what he writes is definitely NOT the final outcome, McGuinness gives himself the lightness to release something. Anything.

It’s not this, but …

And it applies to more than writing. Painting, too, is a creation that can often be worked. Let’s not commit ourselves at the start. Let’s ease our way into it, thereby claiming the liberty to be wrong, to paint something ugly. If we know what we begin with is definitely not what we will end up with, then it doesn’t matter if our fumblings don’t take us directly there. Only towards the end should we firm up to meander less, refine to gain direction, polish to make a point.

‘What I’m going to write now, what I am going to paint at this moment, are NOT what I am wanting to say. These beginnings are NOT it, but I am going to launch in, nevertheless.’ A rough start, an outline, a phrase or sketch can be the beginning. And if the pressure of even that being correct is removed, so much the better.

So then, phrases like

It’s not this, but …

What I want to say is not this, but …

What I want to depict is not this, but …

perhaps, with greater confidence, become,

My final product is not this, so ….

 

Until later,

Kirsten

Just wondering ….

I’d hate to self-fulfil the prophecy …. but what is overthinking?

Is there a certain amount of thinking that could be called optimal? Certainly, underthinking could be said to be rife but how do you know when you step over the line and think too much?

That’s assuming it’s even possible. Perhaps the capacity of issues to be thought about is infinite. Perhaps the distinction, then, is the type of thinking. There is musing, ruminating, evaluating, comparing, remembering and anticipating, just to name a few. Does overthinking apply to one, some or all of these? Are some more damaging than others when done excessively?

Is overthinking a habit or something we do randomly? Can it lead to greater understanding? If so, can it really be called a negative thing? Overthinking has certainly had some bad press and I recognise there is no smoke without fire, but one could argue that thinking more than is necessary leads to concepts of greater depth, ideas of greater complexity, solutions of greater creativity. Overthinking might be what generates the great developments, the outstanding decisions and the history-making discoveries.

Perhaps overthinking is, in fact, a skill that is not universally possessed. Perhaps it is a gift exclusive to a few and learned by a few more through awareness and practice. Is it something we should actually be treasuring and cultivating?

But, I don’t want to go on about it …

Until later,

Kirsten

Embarrassment

I once read a book, quite a famous book, called Tuesdays with Morrie by writer and journalist Mitch Albom. This book was extremely popular, hitting the top of bestseller lists all over the world. It was a non-fiction account of Albom’s connection with elderly and dying Morrie Schwartz. Through these meetings and their discussions, Albom learned the wisdoms of life – what is most important; love, care, giving and that sort of thing.

I didn’t like the book, because I felt that any thinking person would have already known those things and that Albom had made a fortune out of stating the obvious. I was on my own there (a rather fiery book club meeting proved it) and I recognise that my evaluation is obviously skewed.

Anyway, the point of all that is, since reading Tuesdays with Morrie, I have always been nervous about stating the obvious or announcing some grand realisation that everyone else has filed away years ago. It must happen. I just feel self-conscious about it.

I was listening to an interview with US art critic Jerry Saltz about his book How to be an Artist. In this unfortunately short interview, Saltz pulled out a few things that he thinks are essential for creatives in all sorts of fields. To be creative, and to be a successful creative, one must be prepared to be embarrassed. He goes so far as to say that we need to become radically vulnerable. That’s a scary thing.

I have always known this to a degree but perhaps I didn’t realise. Saltz’s words drove it home. I remember, in my early days as a classical singer, being determined to perform even though I knew I was only a beginner. The experience would leave me drained and, yes, painfully embarrassed. The next time was harder as I knew what I was in for. Luckily, I persevered. Now it is visual art – showing it to the world and wondering what the world will think of it, hanging yourself, effectively, in an exhibition and wondering whether anyone will like you, or buy you. Radical vulnerability. It certainly gets easier as your confidence and skill grows but the agony of standing up, or hanging up, seems to be a rite of passage for life as a creative person.

I apologise to all those who already had these thoughts embedded. I’d hate to be restating the obvious or even expanding on the obvious. It’s been in my thoughts for the week, though, so it has been good to share.

Until later,

Kirsten

Life drawing

From time to time, I participate in life drawing classes or workshops. Life drawing, as a discipline, has survived centuries of artistic change and it remains one of the staples of art education. Draped or undraped models pose so we can capture the human form. Proportion, foreshortening, shadow, line, expression (and hands and feet!) are some of the challenges – a significant number.

The drawings I like best, and the ones I aspire to in my own practice, are the lightly rendered ones – the barely-there representations that suggest, rather than detail, the attitude of the subject. I don’t find these easy and am full of admiration for those who can see the essence and get that down with a few lines or a couple of pieces of shading. Although there may not be much on the page, for me these drawings, when skilfully executed, burst with the life of the model.

The same applies to writing, I believe – life writing, perhaps. The more lightly we can render our thoughts, the more deftly we can express our ideas, the more evocative they will be for our readers. Over-explanation, a trap for us all, kills the life in our subjects.  In visual art we try to leave something for the viewer to do, to fill in for themselves. Writing should be the same. Let the viewer do some looking, let the reader do some thinking. We should let the perceiver create within our creation.

Until later (in fear of over explaining!)

Kirsten

Songs and things

It’s a bit of a trap, this reluctance I have to halt a song in its middle. I have to wait until the track has finished before I hit the stop button. While I’m painting it’s not a problem but if I want to read or write I need silence. If I miss the end of a song, and that sweet spot before the next one begins, I am trapped into listening on. This can, sometimes, go on for a while, delaying my other tasks. Of course I have the power and the ability to override my tendency if necessary but I do find it hard.

I think it comes from a funny form of respect. Someone has crafted this song and to cut it off part way through is somehow disregarding their effort. Similarly, I also tend to buy songs in albums to get the full context and I don’t ever shuffle. The order of the songs was decided upon after long deliberation. Who am I to rearrange?

Does a similar thought process, weird though it is, apply to the visual arts too? Certainly the default setting of Instagram that crops your images to squares is something I make a point of bypassing. I want the whole painting pictured. The arrangement of works in an exhibition, the curating, does not happen by accident. It is a carefully orchestrated experience. You don’t judge the finished-ness of a painting by one section. The whole thing needs to be complete and satisfying. Books and shows devoted to one artist are more deeply moving for me than those containing just one or two works of many. You can immerse yourself much more readily in the former.

That’s all just me, though and I do recognise it’s a bit strange, particularly the song thing. Although, I think we all have a ‘thing’. What’s yours?

Until later,

Kirsten

Long strings and little pieces

I was reading the other day and came across this:

 

‘I don’t know how to make myself an education out of anything, even those things I love best in life; they stay with me as scattered images, nourishing my life with memories and emotions … I retain scattered impressions …’

Natalia Ginzburg from The Little Virtues

 

It rang so true. I see things, remember things, notice things, know things in scattered images, impressions, emotions. I’ve never seen anyone pinpoint that before.

Some people think in arches spanning rivers of knowledge or great stories. Evidently, some like me think in smaller bites. A friend and I once did a short-story writing course together. The idea was that we would compare writing as we went along, which we did. We both enjoyed the course very much but I came out of it reinforced in my desire to write poetry. My friend came out convinced of her desire to write novels. For both of us, the short story didn’t fit the way our brains processed the world.

It makes more sense to me now how people have great swathes of information about a topic at their fingertips. I admire that so much and have always felt that it is a lack in me that I don’t. Perhaps, though, the way I know things is not lesser but just different. Of course it is.

And so, I wonder; how do you see the world? Is it in big chunks or small? Is it in long strings or chopped up pieces? Perhaps it is a mixture and writing short stories would be ideal for you.

Until later,

Kirsten