Liking, or not

I was watching Richmond v Essendon the other night. Richmond is not my favourite team and, as they were winning, it was making me quite disgruntled. There was not a lot of pleasure in it.

Jerry Saltz, in his book How to be an Artist, acknowledges that, sometimes (perhaps often?) we will come across art that we don’t relate to, we don’t find beautiful, leaves us cold or we, quite simply, don’t like. He points out that it is easy to think there is nothing to be gained from these works, that they can slip out of our minds with no loss and, hopefully, never be seen again.

But then he says, ‘Instead, when you come across a piece of art you don’t like, ask yourself: what would I like about this work were I the kind of person that liked it?‘ He encourages us, as artists (and viewers) , to find a couple of good qualities, note a couple of interesting approaches to ‘colour, structure, space and style.’ These are elements we can take back into our own armoury of artistic knowledge. Don’t write it off, he begs. Imagine you like it and think about why you do.

So, Richmond. Brilliant footballers. Slick skills and a club cohesion to be envied. If I liked Richmond, I would be excited by their success and entranced by their play. I would be delighted by recent premierships and eagerly anticipate the next. If I liked Richmond, I’d be sitting pretty happily.

Not sure how I can take that into my art ….. but it will make watching this week’s game a lot easier!

Until later,

Kirsten

Chucking in the towel

It’s the very early hours of Tuesday morning, Australian time, and the fourth round of the French Open is underway. After winning two tiebreakers, Lorenzo Musetti has pushed Novak Djokovic to a five set match. The best in the world, however, has fought back and a tennis lesson is taking place. At 4-0 in the fifth, with seemingly only two games to play, Musetti withdraws; pulls the pin, dips out. He chucks in the towel before the job is done.

In his subsequent press conference Musetti confirmed he wasn’t injured but simply that ‘There was no chance that I could win a point so I decided to retire’. In a sport that has heavy sanctions for ‘tanking’ – the perceived lack of best effort or deliberately losing – the decision seemed risky. Moreso, though, it spoke of a lack of courage. The tennis world was disappointed, at best. The great Boris Becker pointed out that ‘ It’s not just about playing tennis; it’s about character …’

We all tank at times. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s essential. Sometimes our choices are limited. But there are other instances when we’ve simply had enough of trying. It’s that half-finished painting that poses the difficult question. It’s that drawing that’s too hard to even begin. It’s the abandoned ideas, the concepts, the visions that threaten to take too much work or feel beyond our capabilities. The last two percent, or ten, or more, requires the most effort and we often fall short of that effort. We walk away before the job is done.

Of course, there’s no international federation to impose fines on us. Of course, we need to recognise when it is better for us to let something slide. But there are situations that might benefit from a bit of stickability, and perhaps we would too. Big things or small, sometimes chucking in the towel may not be the best option.

Until later,

Kirsten

Perspective

I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy at all. The painting lacked life. It was dull; not in colour, so much, but in spirit. It was big and, dare I say it, boring. I couldn’t imagine passing on this painting to the recipient with any sort of pride. I moved it aside and painted another one, aiming for greater energy in the work. I was even more embarrassed by this second effort. ‘Amateurish’ and ‘clumsy’ were my descriptors. Now I was in a bind.

The paintings were large so were laid out on the lounge room floor. In the confusion of moving them from the studio, I had inadvertently unrolled the first painting upside down. Standing at the foot, I was now viewing it entirely differently. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I liked it. Suddenly, and somehow, it had found those elements that had been missing. It was a new painting. It was the right painting.

In our big world, the ubiquitous ‘they’ say that one’s perspective can determine the way we view events, or react to them, or enjoy them, or are affected by them. Perspective is born out of context, personality and experience. Our perspectives change with age, situation, expectations, aspirations or knowledge. Our perspectives can differ from those of others, or align, or both. The almost infinite number of perspectives across the population seem to weave themselves into the shifting fabric of our lives.

Inverting a painting gave me a new perspective and a new reaction. It isn’t always so easy to find a new way to look at life matters, and perhaps it is ourselves that we need to turn upside down. The view may be interesting, though.

Until later,

Kirsten

When is it finished?

I have a painting – a special commission – and I’m very, very keen that the recipients love it. That is always the case, of course, but there is even more of an edge of nervousness this time.

I thought it was finished. I was happy and I thought I liked it but, on this last possible day of painting before varnishing and packing, there is something that is niggling at me. I have realised it is fear that the new owners may be a little disappointed.

And so, at the eleventh hour, I have decided I need to make some relatively drastic additions. There is the risk it may not work out; it may cheapen the piece or make it look amateurish. On the other hand, it could lift it from good to great. It could lift me from quiet internal apology to pride.

Now the alterations are in my head they have to be put into action. It’s like that thing you can’t unsee. I have to take the leap.

So often in life those last-minute, gut feelings lead to a much better outcome. Those sudden urges to alter direction, those uncomfortable feelings of not being quite sure, that unexpected desire to make a move can draw us towards a gentle (or explosive) realisation that we need to make a change, a tweak, a move.

There’s always a risk, of course. I guess we have to wear that. But the upside can be worth it. Our moments may be enriched, our days fuller, my painting markedly more satisfying. So, I’m taking the plunge.

Until later, with fingers crossed,

Kirsten

The big picture

I like to be organised. I like to know what’s coming up in the diary. I like to have at least a rough idea of how things are going to play out commitment-, travel- and work-wise. I guess I like to see the big picture.

I also like to know what’s happening today. My daily list is the guide leading me through the things that should be done to keep the immediate future ticking along. You could call it small picture stuff, I suppose.

With my recent move into a new style of painting, I am excited by the idea of creating on a large scale. I love the thought of pieces that invite you in with sweeping strokes and intense colours. My new enthusiasm lies, quite literally, in the big picture. But it’s daunting when you don’t know what you’re doing. When there’s little or no reference material, where do you start? How do you proceed? Where is that endpoint that isn’t just a mish-mash of paint with no unifying features? How do you create a meaningful big picture?

So I have left the large canvasses for the moment and pulled out little ones. I have scratched around for meaningless little scraps of paper. In a move that took me FAR too long to come to, I have transferred my gaze to the smaller scale as a way of starting. The big pictures seem too hard. The small pictures are the way in.

There are lots of big pictures that seem too monumental to solve – not just in the studio. There are also lots of little pictures that are easier to tackle on our way. Long live the 20x20cm boards, the cut-up bits of abandoned works, the small differences we can make and those incremental daily steps.

Until later,

Kirsten

Remembering

I gravitated towards two of my favourite paintings: John Olsen’s Five Bells and Brett Whiteley’s Balcony 2. Large-scale, detailed, full of incredible depth and, oh, those blues, they sat comfortably as part of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ permanent collection.

We popped into the gallery shop afterwards (oops!) and somehow emerged with posters of both, carefully rolled, surrounded in brown paper and inserted into a long tube for the trip home. Treasures.

Of course, they are not the real paintings – the colours are not as mesmerising, glimpses of the painterly strokes are hard to see and, of course, they are smaller – but they are not meant to replace the actual items. They are mementos.

Mementos are reminders that something or somewhere or someone exists or existed. They are not the thing. They are their own thing, infused with meaning. They connect us with otherness over time or distance. They are junctions in the webs that we create to link us with the world – to experiences, places, people.

I’ll frame and hang the posters. They’ll remind me of the majesty of the originals, the feel of Gallery, the specialness of my companion and the sunny Sydney day. They have a majesty of their own – not merely mementos but richly layered and valued possessions in their own right.

Until next time,

Kirsten

Ripple effect

The other night I went to a fundraising event for an organisation called Moorambilla Voices. The group provides access to music and the arts to children of central and western NSW to address the scarcity of such opportunities in these regional and remote areas.

Their aim is no less than to change lives. Through their choral and drumming programs they provide the framework for children to develop as people: their resilience, work ethic, confidence, connection to their communities and, of course, their creative and musical skills.

But it was the mention of the flow-on effect of the program that most stayed with me – the fact that allowing a contributing young person to emerge and can, in turn, raise other people. A positive individual can have a positive effect on a group whether that be a family, a friendship group, a town or region. It is that famous ripple effect. By improving one part, the whole is enhanced.

Of course, I thought of painting. By improving one element of a piece, the entire work is lifted, or at least on the way to being so. Sometimes we look at the whole and tackle that. Sometimes we look at a small element and devote time to it. Both are important – the overall and the detail. They work together but there is no doubt that the success of the small parts makes everything stronger.

Via Moorambilla Voices I am warmed by an image of little seeds of creativity, confidence and contribution spreading and germinating throughout the regions. In turn, I am inspired to give more attention to the corners, the quiet moments, the little announcements, and the subtleties of my canvases. Those parts don’t have to draw all the attention, but their well-roundedness will make the entire painting live.

Until next time,

Kirsten

Something might happen

As some of you know, I recently visited the Adelaide exhibition of works by Clarice Beckett, Australian painter of the early 1900s. The collection included still life works, streetscapes, seascapes and landscapes. The streetscapes were my favourites.

There were many blurbs on the walls highlighting aspects of Beckett’s life and artworks that allowed us to more fully appreciate the exhibition. One description, in particular, caught my attention. It was relating to a street scene of a wet road on which travelled a motorbike, either receding or appearing over a crest (I don’t remember which). The motorcycle was both unimportant, in that it was barely fleshed out, but it was also the focus of the work. I don’t know how, or if, such a phenomenon can even happen but that’s how it seemed.

The writing drew further attention to the bike, suggesting that it, as did all of Beckett’s figures in the landscape, lent to the work the ‘possibility of something’. There is a life depicted. There is a human element. There is the chance that further action could take place.

This simple concept has excitingly called into question for me so much of what I do, and have done, in my art practice. Where is the humanity? Where is the unpredictability? Where is the possibility of something? I fear all those things were in limited supply. But I’ve been challenged! I have been tasked with finding humanity, unpredictability and possibility within the framework of my particular inspiration and style. Watch this space, people! A step forward could be coming!

Until later,

Kirsten

Paddocks

I have just finished a painting for a show in Naracoorte. It is an abstract piece based on the view of paddocks and fences from the air.

Understandably, the piece is fairly ‘blocky’ – rectangles and lines, mostly right angles and confined areas. I like many aspects of it; it is layered with colours and neutrals, some scratched back to reveal the underneath; the composition is balanced and pleasing and it has worked out as I envisaged which is not always the case.

It lacks something, though. Not enough to prevent me submitting it but enough for me not to completely love it. It lacks movement. It lacks a random element. It lacks surprise and unpredictability.

Independently of all of that, I am planning a road trip into NSW, similar to one that I undertook two years ago. Some of you may remember. I have carefully arranged it, contacted my friends and family with whom I’ll stay, booked motels for any in-between nights, mapped the route and calculated travelling times. I’m very much looking forward to heading off.

It lacks something though. It lacks movement (apart from the 3,000 km). It lacks a random element (let’s not hope for anything too random). It lacks surprise and unpredictability (I know, as far as possible, what I’m in for).

But it also lacks the unknown. It is respectful to those who know exactly when I’m coming but, therefore, lacks surprise. It is comfortable but perhaps lacks a sense of euphoria?

Perhaps my painting is like that too. Comforting rather than exhilarating. Stress-free, not challenging. True-ish to its subject, not completely abstract.

While I’m definitely happy with the way I travel, I’m not at all convinced those are good alternatives for my art. Perhaps my painting goal this week is to be wild and adventurous, to not know where I’m finishing, to have no idea of the back roads I may take and to land somewhere totally unexpectedly. Therein, perhaps, lies the triumph.

Until later,

Kirsten

The birth of something new

I saw a headline: ‘Bindi Irwin gives birth to daughter.’ Brilliant for Bindi but, for my purposes, the fact that it was her in particular isn’t important. What struck me was the phrase ‘gives birth’. We use it so much but I’ve never really thought about the intricacies.

Gives. Birth.

Endows upon someone or something the quality of having been born. Bestows upon someone or something a born state. Presents someone or something with born-ness.

We give birth to many things: people, ideas, creativity, solutions, epiphanies, concepts, awarenesses. We gift to these things life, validity, a presence and the ability to create consequences. These givings occur on a regular basis. They can happen after struggle or so naturally we don’t notice we’re doing it.

So I wonder, what will I Give. Birth. to today? How about you?

Until later,

Kirsten

Starting with a plan

Most times we begin with some idea of where things will end up. We’ll commence a task with some sense of a conclusion; the endpoint is the motivation for the starting. ‘I’m going to read this book until I finish’ (or decide it’s not for me – still an endpoint). ‘I’m going to cook this meal until it’s ready to eat.’ ‘I’m going to buy this coffee with the purpose of drinking it.’

Even if we don’t realise, there’s usually some sort of plan – ignition on, seatbelt fastened, car in gear, mirrors, look, drive. Many of our plans are automatic – the act of showering or walking from here to there. Even in the case of tasks that may take some extra thought – using the ATM, following a map – we are setting some sort of process in train to achieve our aim.

Our days would be fairly rambly, or downright impossible, without a sense of where we’re going. Those destinations don’t have to be particularly special. We can be going into the studio to work, we can be striving to successfully put out the rubbish. Of course, there can, indeed, be grander plans. We can be striking out to be rich by our fifties or fulfil a dream of travelling to Paris. We can build our lives around being a good person or reaching any potential that may be lying dormant.

But on the very odd occasion, we start something without a single thought about what it’s for, how we’ll manage it or what the result will be. We creep along, a step at a time, oblivious to any goals or strategy. And thus, we chug away, let our thoughts wander, keep writing and, all of a sudden, it’s been two years.

In gentle celebration,

Kirsten

New roads

I could have taken the usual route, I guess. I wouldn’t have had to think too much. The car could possibly have driven it on its own. It may have taken a bit longer but the roads would have been familiar and I knew they were of a safe standard.

I decided, though, to put on the GPS and take a back route. It was unfamiliar and different. I harboured a little nervousness but, with that, came excitement: new territory, new turns to negotiate, new towns to glimpse.

So, I jagged diagonally across Central and Western Victoria in defiance of the established road network radiating from Melbourne. I passed through hungry goldfields country, skirted the Grampians and traversed rich grazing lands. It was, in some ways, circuitous – many intersections, some counter-intuitive turns to the east or north, back roads between highways – but it was also direct – as close as you could get to the crow’s flight.

It was much more interesting than the usual route because of its novelty. It may have taken me to the same destination but the travel was lively and interesting – an exploration of previously un-traversed byways. Nothing was off the table – if a side road was suggested then I took it.

There wasn’t much traffic compared to the arterials heading back to the capital. Sometimes I travelled for significant periods without seeing another car. I felt like I was beating a new path that no one had travelled before. I was breaking new ground.

I arrived home, as designed, but was unusually uplifted by the journey. I’d seen new things, encountered new places and forged a new route. It wasn’t the comfortable way, or the easy way, or the normal way. It was better.

Until later,

Kirsten

Hospitality

I don’t have a coffee machine at home. There’s nothing stopping me – I could if I wanted to, and I don’t particularly object to them. It’s just never worked for me. If we’re going to imbibe, we visit the cafĂ©.

Recently, while away from home, I went to my preferred holiday outlet. The staff had changed (post-Covid, of course). While perfectly functional, they were not into that apparently elusive menu item called hospitality. While the coffee was still excellent, there was something missing.

It made me wonder why I have coffee at all. Perhaps I carry a caffeine addiction – that is not uncommon – but I suspect there’s more to it than that. Why do I always go to the same place where they know my name, my order and, often, where I tend to sit? Why do I feel so chuffed at getting a hug from one of the baristas after being away for a month? Why, while keeping out of their way while the staff are trying to work, do I love a quick chat if the opportunity arises? Why did one staff member, much to my delighted surprise, go to an exhibition of mine?

It has never occurred to me before (quite possibly I’m years behind) but the word hospitality is built on the word hospital. In its best sense, a hospital is a place that cares for people, makes them well. Hospitality does the same thing. It nurtures; gives security; begins, middles or ends the day with warmth. You don’t have to know the staff for hospitality to be given. For some workers, it’s a gift they share with all customers. That’s why I buy.

I think the coffee is immaterial. It’s merely an excuse. I might, in fact, order a second just so I can hang around.

Until later,

Kirsten

Judgement

So, we artists can bemoan and discuss the trepidation and vulnerability we feel at people judging our work when we ‘put it out there’. Not surprisingly, it’s a difficult thing to hang, or post, or produce what you feel is the best work you can do at the time and know the eye of the public is upon it. Judgement inevitably follows. Indeed, a wide range of responses results, from the overwhelmingly positive to the don’t say anything to the outright negative.

But we judge our own work too, possibly more harshly than anyone else. Judgement and a constructive ‘inner critic’ are, in the works of Mark McGuinness, what separate us from the league of amateurs. From tiny judgements about the shape of a mark to the big judgements about the quality of a finished work, the process is ongoing and vital.

But, it is a hard habit to break. I have recently undertaken to paint a large number of sketchbook-sized, meaningless, abstract experiments. The two rules? Just play and NO judgement; move through the process applying paint as the mood dictates and accepting the pieces that may be ugly, mistakes, stupid, embarrassing, too much like someone else’s, or just plain awful without attaching any of those labels. It is nearly impossible and takes great discipline or, perhaps more importantly, detachment. Just accept each one and carry on. It’s difficult and perhaps significantly against the grain.

I suppose judgement, in its purest form, is what guides us. It’s a word that has quite harsh connotations in our current age when directed towards others but, in essence and at its best, it keeps us safe, living our best lives and aiming for better.

Blogs, like artwork, can be judged too. Just putting it out there.

Until later,

Kirsten

Nothing is impossible

‘Nothing is impossible’. I actually don’t think I believe that. ‘Nothing’ is a big call. I also have great scepticism about sayings that promote the idea that, if you want something badly enough, you can get it. Perhaps I’m a cynic.

Having said that (and possibly dampened everyone’s spirits) I do think that many more things are possible than we might initially grasp. We shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to the obvious.

I was watching the tennis the other day and caught the post-match interview with Austrian, Dominic Thiem. He was questioned about his come-from-two-sets-down win. He spoke about being reminded to never give up and then turned us all upside down with the statement that ‘impossible is nothing’.

My immediate reaction was to put such a divine reversal of the hackneyed phrase down to Thiem speaking in his second/third/fourth language. The more I think about it, however, the more I wonder whether it was deliberate.

‘Impossible is nothing’: the concept of impossible is of no consequence, worthless, not to be worried about, undeserving of being any sort of limitation.

Short of running into Mr Thiem in the street and quizzing him, the real story behind the comment is a mystery that will remain unsolved but, when offered ‘nothing is impossible’ or ‘impossible is nothing’, I like the latter.

Thank you Dominic.

Until later,

Kirsten