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 café.

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

Doing it deliberately

OK. So, probably much to my shame, I glanced at one of those stupid Facebook games. It was one of those grids filled with apparently random letters and the instruction was ‘the first three words you see will be your mantra for 2021’. Highly scientific and well-reasoned, OF COURSE!!!!! Nevertheless, I stumbled in to see what would pop up.

The first word I saw was POWER. I reckon they rig it so everyone sees that one. The third word was GRATITUDE. Valuable. It was the second word, however, that triggered my thoughts. It was PURPOSE.

Over the years, I have been to a couple of workshops with Melbourne painter Robert Knight. At one of these, he instructed that we should never apply a brush stroke unless we knew what it was going to do, how it would affect the whole. There was a deliberateness to his approach rather than just a flailing about. Effectively, he was mandating we paint with forethought and purpose.

This skill – of knowing how an application of paint is going to contribute to the work before it hits the canvas – is obviously one honed over decades of practice. In addition, I can’t quite apply it to all artistic practice and all media. It does, however, call us to work intelligently and with consideration. It calls us to create with purpose.

There are so many ways to slide from purpose in art to purpose in life. I don’t need to spell it out for you, or for myself. It is sufficient that we are reminded that PURPOSE is a thing, a deliberate act, a choice. And who knows? Perhaps it will even succeed in squeezing its way into some sort of resolution, or goal, for the year. Ha! Dare I say, Facebook wins again!

Until later,

Kirsten

Reset

I guess you’d say that things in my creative world have entered a difficult stage. I feel stale, there is a lack of quality in my painting, techniques that have served me well are proving not to be so reliable and I am frustrated by all those things.

So, I approached an artistic friend/teacher/mentor. (Jody Graham is her name and I encourage you to check out her work. Quite amazing drawing). I was seeking some guidance for how to, not just get through this period, but also to take the next step in the development of my practice. It is time to work to get better – enough of feeling like I’m standing still.

Jody’s advice was swift and directive. She prescribed limits. Restrictions. ‘Only draw what fits in your hand or only paint with two colours or paint using the back of a rubber thong or draw blindfolded every day for a month’. Jody advocated a drastic narrowing of the material options, coupled with a daily discipline, to open up more expansive possibilities.

I once mused, in this blog, about generalisation and specialisation. This is a time to specialise – to push hard in one area, to plumb the depths, to dig a deep hole in one place and mine whatever treasures may be found there. I have usually tended towards generalisation so this is a new and interesting path.

I’m sure there are applications of the sometime need to set limits, to shut down the breadth of options, in everyday life. Sometimes we compartmentalise in our minds – a method of dealing with overstimulation by setting the boundaries of what we will think about at a given time. Are there others? Now that we’re looking out for them we will probably see them everywhere.

Until later,

Kirsten

P.S. And for the record, for the next month I am going to paint only with watercolours, only with two types of insulating foam and a stick, and only concentrate on faces. Let’s see what happens!

Be a beginner

Much is discussed in the art world, and in works dealing with creativity more generally, about the gift children have of expressing themselves without fear or censure. Children draw with a freedom that is not weighed down with expectation or judgement, they speak honestly of their thoughts and their ideas are unfettered by silly practicalities.

Many writers warn against ever feeling like an expert. With expertise can come a belief that everything is known, that there is no more to learn. This is a static state and one that stops us in our tracks – forces us to repeat behaviours that have worked in the past and close our eyes to new possibilities.

Child-like vision is, of course, something to strive for in a creative life – in any life. Can we, as adults, burdened with our hopes, critical faculties and sometimes unrealistic aspirations capture some of the bright and shiny beginning-ness of childhood.

We learn most voraciously as a beginner but, somewhere in our teens, middle or older years, we move to avoiding things at which we feel less than competent. We like to feel in control, as if we are presenting a capable face both to the world and to ourselves, and we usually don’t feel comfortable fumbling around with uncertainty. We believe that because we are grown-ups we are meant to be able to do things.

Whether in a field in which we have some knowledge or in a completely new pursuit we should strive for that innocence of the young – that delight they take in whatever they do without feeling that they should be something else. We learn that feeling, or perhaps develop it within ourselves, in order to function in our world but we can still try – try deliberately and hard – to become excited beginners again.

Until later,

Kirsten

Telling the around

In art, negative space is the name given to the area around and between a subject. Conversely , positive space is the subject itself. Negative space and positive space meet at the edges. Together, the negative and positive define the image – give it shape.

I recently read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The title character is largely created through the stories of others: little vignettes of other people’s lives that are pasted, like a collage, and create or flesh out the character of Olive by sitting beside her – being, if you like, the negative space that firms up her edges.

So I am reminded, in my painting and drawing, to ‘tell the around’ as much as depict an object itself. The ‘around’ is the other side of the coin, the balancing factor, the limit. Its story is the other half of the whole. What isn’t is just as important as what is.

Until later,

Kirsten

Warring theories?

I’ve read a couple of books recently. One was The Middle Finger Project by Ash Ambirge. The other was How to be an Artist by Jerry Saltz. Both spoke about the way, or ways, to achieve a life as a creative.

Ash Ambirge had a challenging start but fought her way to life as a writer. One of her pieces of wisdom is that, in order to achieve goals in a creative field, one needs to be ‘radically self-reliant’.

Jerry Saltz is an art critic who has been immersed in the US art world for many years. One of his fundamental guidelines is that, in order to achieve goals in a creative field, one needs to be ‘radically vulnerable’.

Radically self-reliant? Radically vulnerable? My first reaction was to be amused at such disparate advice. How differently people in similar fields can think! As I digested the thoughts further, however, it became clear to me that self-reliance and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin.

In order to be willing to submit to, or to creatively survive, vulnerability one needs to be self-reliant. The presence of some degree of self-reliance allows one to ‘put it out there’ and be vulnerable. The two go hand-in-hand. Funny that two extremely different authors should each come up with half of the neat equation.

And the common addition of the word ‘radical’ adds the passion, excitement, determination and out-of-the-ordinariness that carving out any sort of creative, or any other, life asks of us.

Radically self-reliant. Radically vulnerable. We don’t have to choose. Be both.

Until later,

Kirsten

The stand-off

I walk through the studio and narrow my eyes at it. It stares back in a clear challenge to my authority. Even if I stop and give it a long, hard look, it is resolute in its defiance.

Who will win? In the words of that old TV gem, Iron Chef, ‘who will reign supreme?’ Will its chaos triumph and drive me to paint over it, or will I be victorious and press it into something worthwhile? The jury is definitely out.

Deep down, I fear I might be defeated this time but, by hell, I won’t be giving up without a fight. With layers and more subtlety, a strategic approach and a determination that I’ll dredge up from somewhere, I’ll give it a decent whirl.

It doesn’t have to happen today – I’m prepared for the long haul. Down the track I will either have a second-hand canvas primed for a new start, or a unique work ready for the framer. I am in the thick of a slow battle to see which it is. This will draw on every imaginative and artistic bone in my body – a challenge I hope I’m up for. And if, by chance, I come out on top, it will be a very special painting.

Until later,

Kirsten

Output and input

When I came to write today, I had to face the awful truth that I didn’t really have anything to say.

One might see this as an output problem – no ideas, no grand thoughts, no insights. I actually think it’s an input problem.

After a period of not much reading, of saving articles and interesting bits on the computer but not going back to digest the information, and a generally intellectually lazy time, I haven’t exposed myself to anything new. I’ve ground to a bit of a halt, mentally, and now it’s showing!

So it seems my task is to keep this post brief, find something bright and shiny to read and actually be inspired to think.

Until later,

Kirsten

Being friends

I decided recently, or perhaps I just finally realised, that having an art practice is having a friend.

Mine’s not too demanding – one might even say forgiving. It accepts times of inattention and superficial contact. It is patient. It remains constant during periods of my frustration and confusion, my indecision and fumbling.

An art practice is a long-term companion. It hangs around, present and comforting. It flourishes when we interact, as I do; retains its potential during all sorts of experimentation and failures; is stoic in the face of doubt. It celebrates with me and grows a little with each success.

It boosts me, inspires me to be better, draws out positivity and hope. It sits by me during long days and facilitates exciting opportunities.

My art practice is less something I do and more something I exist with. We walk together, often silently, sometimes joyously but always closely.

Until later,

Kirsten

There is a tension

For my family, Christmas is an important time – not in much of a commercial sense but as a perfect excuse to gather at our favourite place.

But although it is all a delightfully relaxed affair, I do harbour certain little rituals in the lead-up – the major one being that the fun of the Christmas preparations should (for me) be a December event (except the making of the cake ….. the earlier the better! Thank you, Mum xx). I do despair at the post-Hallowe’en Christmas influx in stores. Even the streets have already been decorated as the festive season becomes the fifth measurable period in the calendar.

But, I am a highly organised person and I have time on my hands. Therein lies the tension. It’s not even mid-November and I’m ready, set to roll, and already excited, notwithstanding the fact that celebrations this year, thanks to COVID, will look a little different. I hold the small selection of gifts, food, a box packed with essentials and a comforting collection of lists.

So, I’m laughing at my wanton disregard for my previous self-imposed discipline! So much for willpower. Haha! There is definite tension, an agonising betrayal of self.

But if that’s my biggest challenge for this month then I am, of course, the most fortunate of people!

Until later,

With a smile,

Kirsten

Crossing over

I ventured into Victoria yesterday. I was delivering a load of paintings to the owner of Koopman’s Gallery in Dunkeld. I could only travel seventy kilometres into the state so she met me at a little town called Coleraine where we exchanged the goods.

It was quite a procedure to get there: an early-morning application and subsequent approval from SA Police and a COVID test before departing with a requirement to repeat weekly. Once I’d surreptitiously handed over the art work (maskless – oops) I felt like I’d been involved in some clandestine drug deal.

It is certainly a bizarre time when Australian state borders are closed or have limited penetrability. We are so accustomed to freedom of movement in our country that the flashing ROAD CLOSED sign coming into South Australia was slightly disturbing. It was a reminder, in this state where the Coronavirus is partially disappearing into memory and social distancing seems a product of mere politeness, that the world is still in turmoil. Increasingly so.

I am yet to see today whether Victoria has had a third consecutive count of zero new cases. From afar, this seems like an extraordinary achievement. I have no doubt it has also been arduous. And long. And destructive. But, perhaps, successful. I am overwhelmed, can barely understand, the rates of infection in other parts of the world. May our isolation protect us a little.

And so, as I head to the studio to paint trees in crazy colours, I wonder whether I should be creating some sort of artistic response to this phenomenon that is, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime event. On the other hand, there are others better equipped to do that and trees are a little bit alive and hopeful. I’ll probably stick to the usual modus operandi, now that I think about it.

Until later,

Kirsten

Shining through

I made a mess of a painting the other day. That is not uncommon and, while frustrating, not a cause for undue alarm. Because canvasses are reasonably valuable, I need to try to re-use them if I can. Not surprisingly, the design on this particular canvas was bold so I needed to cover it up adequately before being able to begin something new.

My first step was to paint over it with black gesso. Gesso is a primer used to give a good painting surface to canvas. The black is effective at blotting out previous images and, although it takes several coats of white to reinstate a clean canvas, it is still my preferred option.

The black seemed to work as well as can be expected (no over-layer completely removes the textural remains of the first work. Visible shapes and raised lines hang around – ‘shadows’, if you like, of a work now lost). So, onto the white gesso – the first coat of three.

What I discovered, though, was colour bleeding through from underneath into the new layer. The more gesso I laid on and the more I brushed, the more colour was drawn to the surface. At first it was a hint, and then an undeniable hue. Eventually, I had a fully-blown abstract painting! Two things became obvious; firstly, one of the brands of ink I had been using was not sufficiently permanent and, secondly, gesso was not effective as a fixing medium.

So I began to wonder about us, human and ever-changing. How many layers do we need to apply, and will there ever be enough anyway, to hide our true colours? Will what we deeply are, what we are really feeling, escape the confines of over-painting and, eventually, rise to the outside – joyously or reluctantly, well-received or otherwise? Or, on the other hand, can we take a piece that is perhaps flawed and create something new without traces of what once was?

Food for thought.

And I won’t use those inks again.

Until later,

Kirsten

I’m sorry. I drifted off.

After years of unintentional, involuntary and, probably, inevitable practice, I have developed a disappointingly short attention span. They say that is the fairly universal truth of the modern world but I would have hoped to hold out longer than I have. I read headlines without delving further, can take in only a few pages of a book before getting distracted and rarely watch anything on the television that requires more than a cursory investment.

I received an email (I skimmed the majority of it) from a workplace guru that I follow called Chris Brogan who spoke of people’s desire, or need perhaps, for ‘just the facts’. Stories and elaboration lose people. The current mode in articles, blogs, seminars and the like, is to cut straight to the chase, hit the guts right from the off . Newspapers have been doing it for years with their clipped paragraphs and carefully structured format of material of descending importance. The rest of the world is simply catching up.

When it is necessary, I can still focus but it does require a discipline that perhaps it shouldn’t. I tend to ‘psych up’ before and rest afterwards. Remember, this is activity that used to come naturally and now requires intellectual wrangling to get into that space.

I imagine that if twenty-first century habits have been cemented by repetition then it could be possible, through concerted effort, to reverse the rot. A deliberate program of gradual extension of involvement in each activity will probably do the trick. I could get lost in a book again, watch a movie or paint all day.

But maybe tomorrow. I seem to have lost my enthusiasm!

Until later,

Kirsten