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

Antiques Roadshow

We watch a bit of Antiques Roadshow. I know that drops us firmly in a ‘certain demographic’ but it seems that it’s the best of the options whenever we’re looking.

The history, manufacture, design, social context and value of the items presented is, of course, what the show is all about. It’s always exciting to see something appraised at an enormous figure but just as intriguing is the range of items that people love and treasure. As they say, ‘there’s no accounting for taste!’ Beauty is certainly rooted firmly in the eye of the beholder.

There is no doubt that, these days, we live in a battle zone between minimalism and ornamentation. Visually and artistically, this can manifest in clean lines versus busy shapes, single or analogous colours versus varied decoration, or simplicity versus elaboration. Judgement about which of these is more desirable will, of course, vary across the population which is why the collection of extant objects is so rich. I think, even individually, we all have a mixture of preferences depending on the age and purpose of the item. I may place a beautiful antique carriage clock on the mantlepiece but would choose a very different-looking product if I were purchasing for a renovated kitchen. Perhaps we do have a leaning in a certain direction but make departures for sentimental or aesthetic reasons.

Many questions and dichotomies exist in art. Where on the scale of abstract to realistic does your preference lie? Is the work of the great masters more pleasing than modern pieces? Is art meant to be beautiful or functional? Is the role of art to entertain or to make social comment? Is Picasso more innovative than Renoir? It is possibly true to say that our answers to all these questions may differ from day to day depending on what’s in front of us at that moment? In addition, we can deeply appreciate the skill and workmanship in a piece while not necessarily wanting to hang it on our wall. We can agree with a political sentiment without finding the work attractive.

Not all art will inspire us or fall within the parameters of our individual taste. Emotional connection is what drives people to love a work and, even on an individual basis, those connections may seem disparate at times. Choices become an expression of preference for that instant and that piece alone and the art collection that results could seem wildly inconsistent in terms of style, age, subject, medium, colour or meaning.

Clearly, we are drawn to different things. What speaks to me may not say a word to you. We could meet at some points and depart dramatically at others. At the place we do meet there will be a bonding – some sort of recognition of a similarity of mind. When this doesn’t happen, though, it’s not a problem. Artists throughout the world and across time have depended, and still depend, on the enormous breadth of opinion, appreciation and value placed on pieces.

Whether you love paintings or ceramic bowls, militaria or jewellery, furniture or oriental objet d’art, within those genres will exist the full gamut of design from minimalism to ornamentation. The battle will continue but it is a battle that we can only win – there are no losers when connection happens. When you fall in love with a piece it won’t matter where it sits on the continuum. What matters is where it sits in your home or in your heart.

Until later,

Kirsten

Hoping

As soon as someone, and that someone is usually me, says ‘don’t get your hopes up’, I get my hopes up. It’s the power of suggestion. I may not have thought about it before but then I do and start dreaming of what it might be like to come in first.

Which is crazy in a competitive world, including that of the arts. There will always be someone more skilled, more appealing, more insightful. That doesn’t mean what we do isn’t valuable. Not at all. It just means we are less likely to end up on top when compared to all the others.

And, of course, with hopes heightened, the fall of disappointment is a little greater. The silly thing is, we know that’s going to happen and yet are unable to keep that initial anticipation at bay.

But, expecting nothing, hoping for nothing, is a bland way to live. If we don’t imagine that this painting will have success or that piece of writing will get published or we can win a different job, what will keep us trying? A lack of hope is a dangerous thing.

So, I will keep my hopes up and wear the corresponding disappointment. It’s a small price to pay for enthusiasm.

Until later,

Kirsten

Recalibrate

A wise friend of mine uses the word recalibrate.

That is the key, she believes, to managing in this ‘year of wonders’.

She posits that we need to recalibrate the way we see things in the light of what has played out. We need to recalibrate what we call successful:  what is success at work, what is success personally. We need to recalibrate what we expect of others and of ourselves.

Were we to apply our current measures of achievement we would be very likely to fall short. ‘Circumstances out of our control’ have rendered the terms normal and usual foreign for a time. Heights we would normally reach, tasks we would usually complete, are no longer appropriate yardsticks for this year. We need a new view which takes into consideration the disruption and change that has, and is, occurring.

I was in line to achieve my goal for 2020 of a solo exhibition in a capital city. My recalibrated aim is not to allow any disappointment to diminish enthusiasm for later shows. I was planning to establish gallery contacts with regard to future representation. My recalibrated timeline is to tackle that in 2021 when such bodies are back on the level. I was pushing myself to develop a vibrant and growing studio during this year. My recalibrated goal is to maintain a regular art practice despite the lack of outlets for the work. Different times. Different measures.

It is not the year to be criticising ourselves for functioning differently. We can’t expect the same pace in our lives without the same drivers and rewards. We have been thrown back on our own resources which are rich but, perhaps, inconsistent and we need to take that into consideration when tallying up the year’s numbers, either at the end or during the current disorder.

2020 is a remarkable year. We have not encountered anything like it before. This pandemic is exposing rough and uncharted territory. It is, as the world likes to say, ‘unprecedented’. Looking back, we will perhaps forget the frustration of thwarted attempts and under- or different achievement. At the moment, though, we need to recognise that they are inevitable and embrace them, if not warmly, at least politely.

Until later,

Kirsten

Looking and thinking

I have a professional artist friend who had one work hanging on the wall in his home for a whole year before he decided it was finished and ready for public consumption. This same artist would say that, in his studio, he spends more time looking than he does painting.

Both those things are, for me, a salutary reminder. My tendency is to rush to get things finished because I like the completed item.  At this time, however, with few deadlines, it is eminently possible to slow down and really contemplate where a piece is at, what it still needs and what would give it that ‘final 2%’ to lift it to its best possible being.

I think it extends beyond art. I think our default position in life is to hurry. The concept of ‘smelling the roses’ is not our natural state. Indeed, it’s a concept of which we need reminding via affirmations, inspirational quotes and the like. We have apps to help us remain calm, we have posters advocating a peaceful existence, some have Netflix to give them an excuse to stop.

What would our world be like if we spent more time looking than doing? More time thinking than acting? I find it hard to imagine. There would be a slower pace, I suppose. More consideration would be given to undertakings and perhaps there would be fewer mistakes made.

In some ways, the current pandemic has caused just such a slow-down as both the capacity for our output and the availability of input has been compromised. COVID-19 has interrupted the commonplace bustle of life with a more relaxed rhythm, enforced and not desirable, certainly, but our daily reality nonetheless. Target has sold out of jigsaw puzzles, my daughter has taken up cross stitch, online browsing and, inevitably, shopping has taken over from belting around the shops. People are making games in their houses, dressing up to put their bins out, taking their children for walks. Even those working from home, while the intensity of business may be heightened without the usual interruptions from colleagues and occasional informal chat, the commute is non-existent, the necessity to present in quite the same ‘work mode’ is reduced and the daily dislocation from one’s residence removed.

Many things are flourishing. Care for others, contact with friends and family and humorous offerings in all sorts of places now fill and characterise my days. The environment is breathing the fresh air of reduced traffic and industry. The speed of passing time is different and I wasn’t even particularly busy before. I can only imagine how some people are having to adjust. That won’t be easy for many, especially those forced out of work, and their memories of the pandemic may not be as generous as those of others. Frustration, boredom, desperation, fear and risk-taking are almost certainly heightened in some quarters. Such is our societal unaccustomed-ness to a slower and restricted pace.

This is our chance to smell the roses. This is our chance to take a moment to look and evaluate. This is a time to think about what we need, what will make our lives better when this is all over. I suppose most things will ramp up to their previous rate – so many things depend on that now – but there may be some imprint left, some leftover sense of quiet that we keep for a little bit longer.

Until later

Kirsten

Keeping it interesting

I recently drew together a collection of images of new-ish artwork to see how I was tracking for an August exhibition. I was surprised to see that almost all the works employed basically the same colours – blues, turquoise, muted violet, a muted green. To a casual observer, some of them may have been largely indistinguishable from the others. I knew that those colours were my favourites, and certainly, being cool colours, they fit the bill for backgrounds, but I hadn’t quite realised how prevalent they were in the body of work. Not just prevalent. Almost overwhelming.

Obviously, in my mind, these colours are safe. They blend well, they are analogous, they allow the warmer colours of the trees to come forward, they are, simply, lovely. I suddenly discovered that, en masse, they are also boring. Where is the vibrancy? Where is the variation?

I would never suggest that safe is necessarily boring. In this case, though, it is true. Although my colours are strong, there is a lack of experimentation which is rendering all the works too much the same. Perhaps that is the key. Safe is not necessarily boring but, maybe, same is.

At the moment, with the restrictions placed on our lives, there is a danger of the days becoming the same. Routine is promoted as a key to keeping up mental and physical health – but routine can also become drudgery. It is vital to also keep some vibrancy in our lives, some variation.

But where do we get this vibrancy and variation? We are thrown so much back on our mental resources now, whether working from home, not working at all, experiencing a great change in lifestyle or a less dramatic one and sometimes those resources can waver, or wear a bit thin, or become too narrow.

Vibrancy and variation come to us, not through our output, not through what we do or can’t do, but from the input we take on board, what feeds into our souls. Our vitality comes from what we read, what we see, what we learn, what creates a laugh, what gives us energy. It comes from contact with others, something that we now manage in new ways. It comes from books, newspapers, online offerings, unfolding opportunities that didn’t exist before. It comes from the larger world entering ours.

It is relatively safe in our homes. It can also be a bit too much the same. To prevent decline we need to sop up, to suck in every inspirational, intellectual, enjoyable, life-giving moment that we can. We can build vibrancy and variation. We can actively seek it out and cultivate it. I believe we need to do that, even in the best of times, but particularly now when the usual distractions or demands of activity and doing are limited.

Until later,

Kirsten

Evidence

I am making a collection. This collection, saved on my phone, is mainly made up of screenshots of items that float past, bits and pieces that relate to living through a global pandemic. It’s not an exhaustive collection, by any means, but I figure that, in a year, or five or more, I will want to remember.

History is being made. History is, of course, always being made at all times and in all places but it is rarely that the same history is unfolding the world over. The artefacts of that history are being generated by the minute. With the incredible amount of information that flies around we are bombarded with the true and the false in equal measure. What will survive through to the end?

News, official documentation, government releases, cabinet papers, medical records, photographs and the like will become vital sources for future historians. They will explain what happened. They will allow us to piece together the events, the procession of circumstances that currently seems to swirl in all directions around us. They will tell the basic story. They will provide, once the dross is removed, the naked bones of the matter.

Writing, art, music, theatre, dance, and other creative outpourings will tell further parts of the history. They will provide information about the feelings the pandemic generated in the population. The results will be the response of those who are willing and able to make a public statement. Some of these pieces will be permanent, some transient, but each will speak of an understanding of the human condition throughout this crisis. They will provide the flesh on the skeleton.

What I am most interested in, however, is the ephemera. The utterly disposable. The posts on social media, the funny quotes, the clever memes, the pleas for compliance, the taking of a stand by everyday people, the witticisms and the stories of generosity and humanity. These things are born of the resilience of the community. They are the support networks. They are apparently fleeting – we see them one day and they are gone the next – but they add to our lives, they give hope and light, they communicate essential information, they make us laugh, they paint a picture of our will to survive and our determination not to lose our collective senses of humour. These things are the soul of the being.

My collection is a tiny sample of these objects. It is a minute, digital, modern-day scrapbook.  I have notifications of state border closures. I have jokes about introverts, a coronavirus quarantine sign, a photo of a video conferencing lunch, memes that distract from the seriousness of our situation and instructions for staying home. These make up the third layer of colour that is no less important than the other two.

And so the history of the pandemic will be told in

the events OF it,

the response TO it and

our humanity THROUGH it.

I think we will come out on top. I also think the stories we tell about ourselves and the way we negotiated the path will make the most interesting part of the history. We have the chance to preserve it if we do it now. Hang on to a little bit and, collectively, we will be able to paint a magnificent portrait when we come out the other end.

Until later,

Kirsten

Circle the wagons

They say that Italy’s greatest strength is family. It has also become its most destructive element as multi-generational families living together are struggling with ‘the virus’. I can understand the need to keep close and here, in Australia, we are having to find different ways to do that given extended groups don’t reside together as a rule.

I have never known so many WhatsApp messages flying around on my family and other chats. Text messages flick backwards and forwards for the most tenuous of reasons. Wonderfully silly memes, photos and ridiculous comments are populating the satellite-waves, not just amongst those near and dear to me but across the whole community. I have used FaceTime and video conferencing for the first time in my life. It’s hard to imagine keeping in touch to such an extent without the technology that we have at our disposal. I wonder if the inventors or developers of these platforms ever envisaged they would become such vital survival tools.

We are mentally and emotionally and virtually gathering the clan, calling in those who are familiar and make us feel secure. The dings and bongs and dit-dits of the phone promise contact which, for those both strictly in isolation and those in stay-at-home mode, is connection with the world that we so desperately need at the moment. Hugs and shaking hands, even standing next to someone, are out but phone-calls, emails and messages are the heroes of the hour.

And blogs. Who would have thought?

Until later,

Kirsten