I have been involved in a lot of arty talk recently about slowing your audience down; drawing the viewer to take those extra moments to look into a painting and begin to enjoy the subtleties, examine the finer points, get lost in the marks. How do we do it? What prizes should we deliver for them? How do we ensure that there is something special at each stage of looking?
As if to back up that thinking, I came across a post from the Olsen Gallery in Sydney about an exhibition of works by Melbourne artist, Andrew Taylor. It reads: ‘Andrew Taylor invites us to slow down. His new paintings reward a studious viewer who takes time to look beyond their surface, to the layered oil gestures that have been built up over many days. Taylor recognises that our bustling reality cannot simply be captured, and instead its likeness must be made anew – slowly.’
I can’t pretend that I live a ‘bustling reality’ – I know many who do – but I do tend to hurry, to prize efficiency over depth. The desire to slow a viewer down in front of my paintings could, just as easily, be turned towards myself. I have been known to bolt around a gallery dismissing, in an instant, works that don’t grab me at the most superficial level. I am improving, I am pleased to say, but there is greater progress to be made. And especially now, when I am tackling in my own art the very thing I have been guilty of, I need to strive to take more time.
I also need to ensure that I give in my artwork. As someone toiling on the other side of the gallery wall, I need to invite the viewer to stop and gaze, or study, or question. It’s a joint effort, certainly, but my part is within my control whereas the viewer has their own motivations and bustling reality over which my influence is fleeting at best.
So I’ll slow down, in both my looking and my practice. I may discover things in both that, in my rush, I missed before.
Until next time,
Momentum is the thing. In Physics, a body that is in motion has momentum proportional to its mass and velocity. Motion is vital – if the velocity is zero, there is no momentum.
Newton’s First Law of Motion states that ‘a body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force.’ Basically, the second part of this Law means that, in a vacuum and frictionless setting, once something is on the move it will stay that way forever, unless one actively inputs energy to stop it.
Clearly, far from vacuums and ideal theoretical states, we don’t live in a frictionless world. There are stoppers all around us. Thus, any momentum we achieve will wane unless we deliberately inject further (and continuing) energy into the system. To keep up the forward motion we have to keep working.
That may sound exhausting. I don’t mean it to. It’s just a reminder for me today that coasting for longer than the indeterminate ‘little while’ isn’t possible. One needs to pedal that bicycle at least occasionally. That steam train needs its fire.
I guess things do it all the time. Draw to a close, that is. A piece of music proceeds to its final chords. A lovely meal inevitably comes to a conclusion. A holiday will always have its last twenty-four hours.
Things drawing to a close can inspire different feelings; we can be relieved, we can fear we’ll never capture that time again, or we can have hugely conflicting emotions. But, as the saying about doors opening and closing goes, a coming to finality is rarely the end of the story. Our memories, our learnings, our new directions carry us forward. And yes, opportunities emerge to explore the follow-ons or to create new experiences.
It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that a close is not an end. If we choose, we can see it as a beginning, a kick-starter, a call to action.
So let’s act.
Until next time,
The barista in my adopted café has had her eyelashes done. They are luscious, long and black. On her, they look amazing and the wonderful thing is that, even with a mask, we can still see, enjoy and compliment.
This is not the time for lipstick-wearers to experiment with a new shade. Eyes are the current fad – they are responsible for expressing our all. Luckily they are, as the saying would have it, ‘windows to the soul’ and, therefore, quite up to the task of communicating. Certainly mouths, noses, cheeks and chins are of assistance but, in these times when they are out of the equation, we are managing very well. The bright eyes of smiling table service are eminently readable, warm and engaging.
And not just because of the eyelashes.
I am having a morning coffee to gather my thoughts
and then I thought
what a gorgeous phrase:
‘gather my thoughts’
as if they had fluttered a short distance away
or were growing around my legs like wildflowers.
I will gather my thoughts in an imaginary basket where they will mingle in a mess
until I can order them.
I don’t deliberately try to listen in on conversations. I’d hate to think anyone was doing that to mine. Sometimes, though, those little scraps of talk pop out of the ether. Usually they pass by unnoticed. Occasionally, they trigger a thought.
I came to writing today with no conviction that I had anything worthwhile to contribute for this week. That would have been fine – just enjoy a coffee and head home. As I walked in, though, the café owner and two staff were having what seemed to be an impromptu discussion on the back deck. As I walked past, I caught a definite ‘We have to think outside the square, don’t we?’
It’s by no means a new phrase or exhortation, but it caught my ear.
For some time, I’ve been musing about the fact that painting and other two-dimensional forms of artistic expression are so often confined to a square or the like. Straight sides and right-angles are, regularly, the essence of what we choose as our surface. Certainly that’s what I, unthinkingly, grab when preparing to work. We look for fluidity and looseness in our craft but limit it inside a box. There are occasions where that contributes to the piece. There are times when it is simply the default.
With an intensive period of painting approaching, and a roll of unstretched canvas at my disposal, I am resolved to experiment with some other shapes: torn and ragged edges, kooky corners and the like. Those pieces may never see the light of day. They are unlikely to ever be stretched on a frame although you could mount them as you might paper. I am encouraged to think beyond that default square, further out and down than a straight edge allows.
It may come to naught, but at least I will have pushed the boundaries. It may be successful as an adjunct to more conventional approaches. Let’s get the stanley knife and the hand-tearing onto my six square metres of canvas and see what happens.
I’ll let you know!
New things can be really exciting. New things can bring with them opportunities and potential. New things can be shiny doors through which we can find amazing experiences. New things can bring anticipation and hope.
New things can also bring fear. Even small new things can carry some anxiety. Fear and change can go hand-in-hand. The ubiquitous ‘they’ say we’re hard-wired to keep ourselves safe so willingly stepping into an uncomfortable situation can be counter- intuitive. Thus, we like to avoid fear when we are able.
There’s no shortage of esteemed quotes (and some not so esteemed) about fear and dealing with it; about fear and not letting it stop you. Susan Jeffers wrote a famous book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. George Addair, American businessman, suggested that ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.’ One I particularly like, although it doesn’t mention the word itself, is Karen Salmansohn’s ‘The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.’
You can, of course, read all the guidance in the world and it may assist with girding your loins and pushing forward. But you still have to actually do it; to look past that trepidation and remember the excitement and anticipation that attracted you to the new thing in the first place.
It is hard sometimes, though. Good luck!
Vincent Van Gogh spent a portion of his life in a psychiatric facility. I believe that, during this time, he was artistically prolific. I can imagine him throwing himself into what he loved to escape the mental pain he was feeling. It is purported that Vincent only sold one painting in his life. My question is this:
Where the hell did he keep all the rest? As someone who acutely understands the challenge of storing many artworks, I can’t even begin to imagine how cluttered his room, ALL the rooms, may have been. Pieces would have been stacked in every corner, along every edge, in the cupboards, on top of wardrobes: small ones, medium ones and, most inconvenient, the large. I suppose he couldn’t encroach on others’ living areas, or bedrooms (as I do). He was, perhaps, more constrained (more polite?!).
My problem is one that won’t go away any time soon. In fact, and obviously, it is a difficulty that is only going to get worse! If I could talk to Vincent, there are many questions I would ask but, without a doubt, I would certainly include one about that ever-growing volume that exceeds an ever-shrinking space!
So, I got this:
“Hi Kirsten, your COVID-19 test on 18-Jun-2021 is NEGATIVE”
Well, that’s positive.
If my test had come back positive, that would have been a BIG negative!
Context is everything.
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!
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.
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.
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,
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.
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,