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My Desert Vacation 2: Petroglyphs and Premonitions

Grey Magic, acrylic combined media on paper, 10" x 10", Suzanne Edminster

Premonitions, by definition, come first. But, like ancient oracles, you never know what they really mean until you get there.

In hindsight, this little painting foretold our desert trip. I did this in October as a collage painting demo. Now it strikes me how much it is like the petroglyphs we saw at Painted Rock State Park, just outside of Gila Bend, Arizona, in late November. In fact, there’s a lizard spirit slithering gila-like through it.

Petroglyphs are the abstractions of the ancients. Were they a semi-precise writing or language, like heiroglyphs? Religious spirit encounters: “Hey, the Deer Dancer possessed me here!” Maps?

It’s interesting how there seems no real distinction between realism and abstraction in petroglyphs.  The deer with bulging belly seems so obviously pregnant, but the squared-off labyrinth delights  in the design-play of geometric abstraction.

Petroglyphs are vigorous and melancholy at once.  Here people met, prayed, danced, hunted, ate, and spent days and weeks creating with what they had– stone and imagination.

Boo!

My Desert Vacation 1: Angels in IHOP and Dead End Beauties

Angel of the Special, 5" x 7", Suzanne Edminster

How do we stay in touch with our art on the road? 

You don’t need to produce profound masterpieces, but it helps to ask the spirit that drives your art to go on the road with you: playfulness, or abstraction, or folk art, or even food.  It needs to be a break, so serious work should be avoided.

I took the Sprocket Rocket, but those old-style film photos will take a while to develop.   I enjoyed the play of my sketchbook… seed ideas seem to be what it’s about when you travel. It’s not good to be too ambitious, as anyone who has a pile of blank notebooks and sketchbooks lying around can tell you.

Floating Condiment

The “Angel of the Special”  in the IHOP picture was a statue across the highway that I could see from our booth.  The Floating Condiment was an extension of the notion of an angelic diner. Or maybe we had just been traveling too long, or had something funny in the syrup for the  Pumpkin Pancakes.  These little sketches, done in around 7 minutes each,  make me feel relaxed and at ease.  It seems to be important to paint them at the moment of making.  I never complete the ones where I say “later” to the color. 

Beyond the End by Suzanne Edminster

The desert clears my head.  I like the monotony, and the inverted feeling of the landscape… with so little as a classical focal point, it practically begs for a kind of X-ray vision, an aboriginal approach.  I’ll write more on this in the next petroglyph post. The apparent “Dead Ends” of the desert lead to new perception.  Little or large things, sometimes quite alive, wiggle on up to communicate.

Daniel in the Lion's Den by Suzanne Edminster

I try to use the camera to record what I feel more than what I see.  These little arti-facts, the images, stir the pot.  We didn’t eat at Tonopah Joe’s after all.  We were invited to an impromptu, delicious potluck .  We ate in a reclaimed building near El Dorado Hot Springs with a fire outside and the stars really close. This beautiful meal, in the company of wanderers, was a real tribute to American hospitality.  We found  great Thanksgiving bounty, on the road and off; in the middle of desolation, a sudden bloom of fellowship.  For me, that’s the essence of the desert– a radical clarity of heart.

Mythic News: The Desert is the place where prophecies and prophets thrive.  Revelations abound, whether they come from an old desert hermit or a UFO visit.  Cowboy heroes themselves have a sort of monk-like quality.  First the White Hats fix the bad guys, then vanish, eaten by the endless horizon. The West is the place of death and sunset, and I did have the sense sometimes of crossing a great monotonous Purgatory.   But it is also the land where one can see forever.  Vision is both challenged and purified.   After all that, a cool beer tastes really good.

Thanksgiving Eye Candy for Your Virtual Feast

Sea Garden, acrylic on paper, 5" x 7", Suzanne Edminster

Dear reader, I wish you a delicious day.  I shall be dining in a truck stop in Arizona,  Tonopah Joe’s, made famous in the movie Alice’s Restaurant, with Scott, my husband, and other travellers.

Pure paint is so enticing. I put these on your eye’s table, for your enjoyment.  I make them by painting a bright background, then squeezing on globs of color.  Then I press another surface on top of it, peel it off, and let it dry.  They are deceptively simple;  most don’t work, but when they do,  you’ve just received a chocolate from the candy box of Fate.  Now that I’ve told you how easy they are, do you still respect me in the morning?

We can celebrate with words as well.  I offer you synonyms for  giving thanks, from the lumbering Thesaurus: praise, benediction, paean, grace, recognition, bless one’s stars (archaic, but beautifully true),  acknowledge, appreciate. My thanks to all of you who have invited my work and words into your in-box in the last few months. Sniff. 

Meadow, acrylic on paper, 5" x 7", Suzanne Edminster

Mythic news: The Cornucopia  was the horn of the goat that suckled Zeus.  It overflowed with inexhaustable food and drink. Everyone who’s anyone among the gods loves it. Fans of the Cornucopia include Demeter for the harvest of fruit and vegetables, Dionysios for the wine, Priapus for the sexy fun, Flora for the flowers, Earth, Autumn, Hospitality, Peace, and Concord.  May we all dine at this table!  Hear, here.

Studio news:  I’m traveling in Arizona this week with my Sprockett Rocket in my pocket!  What’s that, you say?  More soon, when the images are developed for your pleasure.  Yes, it’s real film.  Remember those days?  Please comment if you like something here.  I’ll respond as soon as I am back in civilization.

Over Underworld Vacations in Graton

Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48, Suzanne Edminster

Over Underworld is going on a vacation in Graton.

This painting is part of a meditative abstract series on the links between worlds. I’ve always found it fascinating how much of our lives are lived in fantasy, dream, reading, and contemplation.  These are whole worlds that float beneath us. I wanted to paint the notion of a thin “skin” of organized thought, houses, civilization, geometry, over a beautiful chaos of creative form.  Ladders link the worlds, so, that with focus, we can climb up and down from one world to another… ladders without the chutes!

Painting process:   I established a horizon line for the three paintings, then started a gold and orange spatter process underneath, working on all three paintings simultaneously.  I tried various stages for the top.  You can see some of these in October Underworlds.  I opted to paint the whole thing rather than adding on the black and white paint compostions I had considered mounting.  Then I used areas of intereference paint mixed in with other paints over large areas of the painting, so that they would shift with the shifting light.

The Underwood, 5 x 7 watercolor collage sketch, Suzanne Edminster

I’ve spent little time in Graton, but the painting is currently on loan to Catherine Devriese and Isabelle Proust.  That’s mighty fine company, I would say.  And I did have a drink at the Underwood with Susan Cornelis last night, resulting in this immortal masterwork of a sketch.  Overworld, underworld, Underwood–  after my martini and some fun with Susan, watercolors, and ripping up the Underwood menu to collage, the horizons between them seemed to become , delightfully, more permeable.

Tell me, what lies Under your Overworld?

Mythic News:  I’m going to Rome this Christmas, and had forgotton that in one version of the Trojan myth,  the last of the remaining Trojans fled to found Rome.  I don’t know how this fits in with Romulus, Remus, and the Wolf Mom, though.  I’ve been feeding my soul with the classical warrior heroes, and only periodically get patriarchal indigestion.

Studio News: my new weekend workshop is called Spontaneous Construction and will be offered in the spring.  More soon.

5 Tips for Painting with Collage

What’s collage painting, mixed media painting, or combined media painting? How does it differ from collage? 

How can you use collage elements in painting without being highjacked or overwhelmed by the collage image?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: A collage painting is more paint than collage elements.  The paint is 60% or more of the painting.  The collaged parts merge and meld seamlessly into the whole. 

 How to do it? Here are 5 tips. All paintings shown here are acrylic paint on paper or canvas.  I affix collage pieces to the surface with glossy acrylic gel medium.

1. Use only your own images whenever possible, including photographs, text, and your own sketches and handwriting.  You can also use copyright-free black and white images.  Copy and recopy the same  images in larger and smaller sizes at a copy store or using a laser printer.  Black and white is easier to incorporate, and leaves the color elements to the painter and paints.  I prefer to avoid colored magazine images, as tempting as they are.  The more you play with a single image by altering size, color, dimension, the more freedom you will gain  in painting.  You’ll own the image, rather than the image “owning” you.

2. Choose a theme. I used non-copyrighted Dover deer. Avoid themes that are intensely personal, like pictures of your dog, your mom, or your child.  You need to have a bit of distance to use images effectively, or to rip one up.  Eventually you’ll develop image banks of differing themes that become your private visual language.  

3. Paint first.  Put color on the surface, or paint a very sketchy painting, then affix images, then paint some more.  Painting first, before applying images, establishes that it is more a painting than a collage.  For all of these I chose a crucifix composition and applied paint first.  Then I put down ripped black and white collage images.  A warm background is good, as it can glow up through layers of paint.

4.Be willing to sacrifice the image.  Let go of the image you love and let it disappear, if the painting demands it. Show only a part of it.  If you want to keep it perfect, do regular collage, not collage painting.  This is one of the hardest parts of using collage elements in paintings.

5. Cover your images with glossy gel medium or UVLS varnish as you apply them.  Then you can pile on coats of paint and still wipe back to find them.

Toss the collage boxes and go back to only a few images.  Use them  thoughtfully in series of paintings. And have fun! 

Please use the comment section for questions on the collages or techniques.  I’m happy to share what I know.  If you’re one of my student who gets the blog, please share something about your experience with collage painting.

Mythic news:   Deer are symbols of sacrifice and purity, often used in Christian iconography.  It was said that deer gathered at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung.  I used them here  in these three works floating up and down through a penetrable horizon of birth and death, ancestor souls.  Collage itself belongs to the realm of Kali: dismembering  of paper , appropriation of image, rebirth of pieces into a new whole.  The goddess of Necessity wields the scissors and snips the thread of life– or the image.

The Cave Painters Were Really Pretty Good Artists, for Cave Men!

Spotted horses probably existed way back then, says a new genetic report.  This means that the cave painters weren’t just having a great time making a cool, fun, repetitive dot pattern on their creations, but were somehow representing AN ACTUAL HORSE.  DNA now proves that the cave painters were “good.”  Good means realistic in painting.  We wouldn’t want cave painters painting their dreams, now would we?

I salute  the writer,  Alicia Chang,  for pursuing this connection. And the article in the NY times is more fleshed out… or more boned out, because that’s where they got the DNA.   But these articles proceed from a  number of assumptions that make me a bit crazy.  Here’s a list. Ancient artists couldn’t paint realistically.  Ancient artists make “primitive” art.  Ancient artists just sorta prayed to animals or grooved on them but didn’t observe them.  Ancient artists didn’t really know about paint application, media, and drawing.  Ancient artists weren’t da Vinci, or even Dali (who is actually a super-realist using the images in a surreal way).

In fact, recent research strongly implies that ancient people observed the animals so closely that they recorded the small changes in appearance and behavior in different seasons and during mating times.  They applied paint with brushes, air, organic materials like moss or hide, and fingers. They always used as many colors as they could, including greens and purples.  They used lamps and scaffolding to paint in high places.  And as Werner Herzog’s new film Cave of Forgotton Dreams  shows,  they clearly used the three-dimensional stone as part of their media, as well as animation techniques and a convention called “twisted perspective.”  Which I love, because it’s twisted. 

But the thinking remains either/or.   Was it realism or surrealism?  Science or art?    Why not both?

  And now I have  an excuse to put in my favorite little spotted horse, the Dawn Horse from my dad’s 1963 high school science textbook.  I also found newly released Lascaux cave photos from the 1940’s in this amazing Life photo essay.  I adore Lascaux with all my stone-and-iron-oxide  heart.

 I did a little Honey Bear sketch of  to honor Hezog’s cave bears, whose skulls decorate the floors of Chauvet .  My father, Bob Edminster, who passed away this year, loved  honey and told a mean Eeeeeeyow Bear bedtime story.  This picture is for you, Werner Herzog and Bob Edminster.

  Mythic News:  Hey, it’s 11-11-11! I give you here a link to my favorite visionary, Caroline Casey, who talks about eleven, and de-apocolizes the day.  Eleven is a threshold number: go ahead and step over.

Studio news:  the divine Laura Hoffman, along with her ladies, women, folk-art motifs, resins, and power tools– yeah, baby– will be our guest artist on the blog next week.  Don’t forget the A Street Studio’s innocent-yet-decadent Winterblast! Tomorrow!

A special thanks to Susan Cornelis, who has been encouraging me to sketch and shared her super-secret material list with me.  See her wonderful travel sketchbook-collage techniques here.

Ira Glass, Semiotics, Studios, and Salamanders

Salamander Winter, acrylic combined media on Fabriano paper, 23″ x 23″, Suzanne Edminster

Last night I closed my open studio after an impromptu party with three muses , one rather hairy, in which the absinthe bottle of La Muse Verte was emptied. Scott, Ed, and I ended up at the Ira Glass show at the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center.   Ira Glass, a semiotics major made good as creator and host of NPR’s This American Life, spent a long time giving out his trade secrets of storytelling, or story cultivating, or story minding, or whatever it is he does so well. 

I felt like I was watching– or rather, hearing, as the show celebrated the audial life of the radio–  an alchemist giving out his “secret”  recipes for turning lead into gold.  Open secrets: everyone can hear them, but only a few can use them. Storytelling, he said, is a semiotic pattern. One thing happens, then another thing happens, then another thing– an Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth– and it doesn’t matter a bit what the story is or who’s telling it. At the end there’s a bump, a pause, and a moral.   The elements of the story are the abstract bones.  If the substructure is strong, any story propels us into the other world.  Anyone and anything might work in these stories.  And you can tell thousands of them, like ScheherazadeOr Ira Glass.

This reminded me of abstract painting.  We move away from the subject, and into bones of pure visual  action.  The structure of the painting carries us along even without subject matter or explanation.  First one painting element happens, then another, then another….  it’s fashionable to avoid the word “narrative” with abstract or non-objective painting.  But there’s a story embedded in every piece, if we know how to read it.  The composition rocks and rockets us toward meaning.  

Glass paced the stage, IPAD in hand glowing like magic tablet of a new Moses, as he expounded on the world’s oldest art form, storytelling. In the story of the painting Salamander Winter, you may find Scott building salamander “houses” in our back yard.  We lay down boards on the damp winter ground on purpose to be salamander homes.  You can find two kinds of California salamanders in our yard, little wormlike Slender Salamanders and classically newty Arboreals.  We encourage them to raise their tiny, slimy, cute babies there, and we lift the  check their progress.  We identified them through this wonderful site, Identifying California Salamanders.

I'm Branka's painting now

My Ariadne’s thread is tangling here, so I have to quit. The Open Studios went well. Paintings bumped their way to new homes:  I’ve posted one here.  My thanks to all who visited and to my collectors.  The semiotic form of the blog requires that I ask you a question or two, to encourage socializing.  So I have some:  did you like my studio? huh? huh?  and, hey, did I invent the worst blog title ever, or not?  And the moral: Know Thy Salamanders.  Do you?

Mythic News:  Theseus dumped Ariadne after she saved his sorry self from the Minotaur, but a god (Dionysius)  ended up marrying her, so it all worked out.  She traded up.   The Alchemical Salamanders in my painting go through fire unscathed, faith enduring after earthly passions smolder.

Studio news:  the Open Studios were successful.  The Barracks Artists, in the old Finley Barracks in Santa Rosa, are emerging from the mist.  Guerilla artists in the mist.  Come visit me by appointment.

Open Studios, Open Hearts: 24 Barracks Artists in Santa Rosa

 Opening a studio is like cleaning  a window into the inner life of the artist.  Down the rabbit hole we go!

Saltworkstudio Nov. 2011

It’s more intimate than having people into your home, because you give your hospitality to everyone.  They can luxuriate in your colors, drink in images, and dine on your line.   The public sees the traces of your best effort and your worst nightmares,  the deep and superficial.  The artist tries to be fully with each question, from sublime to inane,  without falling into the pit of sales obsession. It’s quite the wine-and-cheese marathon.  Unless your heart is open, it can be nerve-wracking .  But when someone really sees your art– and really loves it– there is no greater high. 

 A few times people have burst into tears in front of one of my paintings.  James Elkin explores the phenomena in his Pictures and Tears:  People who have cried in front of paintings.   The book is a strange and fascinating  exploration  reactions to art when the eyes in our hearts have opened.  Museums used to have nursing stations where patrons overcome by art could recover… I think the Louvre still does.  Have you laughed or cried over a piece of art?

 Turquoise Window World is a sort of threshold or sill where the everyday table starts to tip over into the extraordinary, like the tables that the spirits move.  Strange fruit converse.  Flowers march and sprout angels, and a grove of spirits wavers in the background.  The painting expands domestic motifs as an un- still life , animated.   The turquoise paint, that bright opaque, came from my time living in India, where houses are unabashedly brilliant blue as a Kodachrome sea.   

Saltworkstudio and my friends the Barracks Artists are open  November 5-6 at 3840 Finley Ave, Santa Rosa, California.  Drop by to visit 24 artists in one location.  I’ll be painting.

In a Mythic News today, I introduce  Jeremy Joan Hewes, Caren Catterall , Mardi Storm, Paula and Cliff Strother, Kathryn Kelsey, Maris Peach, Claudia Rhymes, Monica Lee-Boutz, and Chuni Anello. We will be having a party on Saturday between 4 and 6. All our studios will be open.  Join us!

Jeremy Joan Hewes

 Jeremy Joan Hewes is a dynamic, subtle printmaker, photographer and my friend.  In her words: Sometimes you walk into a room and a discover an alluring mystery. That’s how I think of this image of subtle colors, dynamic pattern, and silhouettes, which I made at a recent workshop in Coupeville, Washington. I kept returning to that room as the day wore on and the light changed, each time taking more photographs. Color and light, with a little bit of “what is this?” thrown in.  Come see this photograph and some new mixed media pieces in studio 250 at the Barracks Artists open studio on November 5 and 6 – this weekend!

Caren Catterall ,  master printmaker, is a guiding star at the studio.  She produces a wonderful moon calendar  for gardening , as well as her  mythic prints.   Visit the beautiful print studio  for goddesses, coyotes, ravens and giants.  For a treat, relax with a cup of tea and her delightful video, The People with Spirits Strong as Stone.

Mardi Storm’s art is colorful and ethereal, with delightful Animal Angels.  She just started a new Etsy store.  Her partner’s group, Outlaw Dervish, will be playing at the reception at 4 on Saturday. See her new studio next to Caren and Jeremy! Visit Mardi Storm Artworks for a preview.

Don’t be fooled by Claudia Rhymes’ pixie glasses or shy demeanor.  Her new series of urban landscape grids over bright backgrounds rocks, and she’s a gifted, secret graffiti artist. She also has one of the new, larger downstairs studios.  Claudia is our hidden wonderchild in this Open Studio.

Paula and Cliff Strother share the studio with the most beautiful outlook on the hills.  Paula paints in acrylics and Cliff in oils. Visit this newly established studio to enjoy lush landscapes in a room with a view.

Kathryn Kelsey’s fascinating mixed media work changes every year.  Dedicated to wild animals, the environment, and indigenous peoples, her textures and materials are a delight.  I love her mixed media with dried radishes.  She is the Editor of the Barracks Bulletin and writes a blog.  Her downstairs studio is filled with the calm green light of nature, one of my favorite places to sit and relax.  

Maris Peach is our very own Joseph Cornell. I own a piece she made, the Alchemist’s Arcade.  In her words:  I tell stories using the flotsam and jetsam of life’s leftovers. Sometimes I begin with an object, sometimes I build from a concept, sometimes I fiddle and nuture a dream memory until it becomes an elaborate narrative. Othertimes the story is sparsly simple or even hidden, revealing itself through the beholder’s eye. Don’t miss her intricate, fascinating workshop and studio.

Monica Lee-Boutz is an energizing force of nature!  She paints in watercolor, is an accomplished collage artist, and has had several recent exhibitions.  Visit her studio upstairs across from Paula and Cliff.

Chuni is from Madrid, has a new studio downstairs, and absolutely unique mixed pieces using fabric, fiber, and wool.

Hade’s Choir: Mixed Media Collage Paintings in B/W

Collage is a natural for Halloween, the dark hinge in the year that creaks as something opens the door.  The bits and pieces of  paper are ghosts or forlorn spirits, no longer “alive” in their original context.   You cut them, dismember them, rip them up, seek underworld messages from scraps of text, and bury theme in paint.  You can “skin” them as well. Then, like good little ghosts, they march out and live again, speaking in paper whispers.

 Yesterday,  in the class I teach at Sebastopol Center for the Arts,  I was trying to model how to develop a series theme.  I shared to the class that in my notebook I had written that I wanted to do a series that was like “Edgar Allen Poe on acid.”  I like to read horror stories and murder mysteries;  husband Scott actually prescribes them for me as an antidote if I get too bound up in art books or my secret indulgence bonbons, preachy self-help books, which I love but invariably depress me with how much help I still need to add to Self.  I had been hanging on to scratchy black and white compositional studies for years; liked ’em but didn’t know how to take them further.    The Choirboys had been altered into a very damaged acrylic skin. I tore them up into two pieces and mounted them on two paintings, paired with a quote from a cave painting book,  and  my landscape transformed itself into the River Styx.  Mixed media included Utrecht Pro Gesso as my white paint… love the opaque chalkiness… and Derwent Inktense pencils for the purple automatic writing marks.   Payne’s Grey makes a gorgeous blue/black.  If this little group comes to your door tonight, I wouldn’t open it.

Mythic News:  Avernus, a crater lake of Italy near Naples, is supposed to be the entry to the Greco-Roman underworld.  Our own Crater Lake in Oregon is creepy enough… dead, because not fed by springs.  Dead, because the volcano crater goes down, down to the center of the earth, or near enough.  Birds and fish often avoid these lakes as well.  I’ll see Avernus around Christmas on our Italian trip.

Saltworkstudio events:  We have our annual Open Studios this weekend, November 5 and 6, 2012, at the old naval airbase , 3840 Finley Ave, Santa Rosa.  I have a new series of B/W paintings and you can see the top of a WWII bunker from my studio window.   Drop by Saltworkstudio.  I will be doing demos and would love to visit with you.

Aurochs Moon: A History of Home

A History of Home, acrylic combined media on canvas, 36" x 48", part of the Terra Incognita series

Ahhh, home sweet cave. I wanted to do an imaginary landscape that was like a child’s drawing, an aboriginal painting of mythic locations, a bright map with line engravings of the entry to inner worlds.  This painting, originally titled “Aurochs Moon”, shows various signs upon entry to the cave or just inside it.  The Aurochs was a cow almost as large as small elephant. Aurochs are the bulls and cows of the Paleolithic cave art.  They lived on until the 16th century in the forests of Eastern Europe, where the last one was eliminated as hunting game for the rich.  A variety has been genetically re-bred in France as Heck Cattle

This painting, one of a triptych called High Pastures, transformed several times.  I wanted to keep the heat of the bright orange underneath, to do a map with impossible colors.  You’ll see transfers of line drawings over all, petroglyphic elements using the paint as a wall that lets images emerge from another realm.

Why the cave? I think the cave is our brain dreaming, our true home, the hearth that underlies any location we happen, temporarily, to live. The alternate name for this one is “A History of Home.”  My own history of homes is a long one. I’ve lived in rural California (Los Banos and Merced), urban California(San Francisco Mission District, pre-gentrification),  coastal California (Santa Cruz), and now northern California (Santa Rosa).  Urban Hawaii (Honolulu and Waikiki) and rural Hawaii, Na’alehu near South Point on the Big Island.  Munich and Freiburg, Germany, and southern Norway. Bangalore, South India.  When I lived there it only had four million people, but now it has topped five million— definitely urban.

Wherever I went, there I was.  Each place had a dream at its centre, realized or not. And you, dear reader? What’s your history of home?